India must begin to speak to the Taliban in a language they understand
Indian negotiators arrived in Afghanistan an hour after K Suryanarayana’s body was found, decapitated. His abductors demanded that India cease its development activities in Afghanistan but didn’t wait for an answer. Quite obviously they knew that the Indian government — which has provided over US$500 million in development aid — was hardly going to give in to their demand. It was thus just PR.
Suryanarayana was a telecom engineer working for a Bahraini company. He was neither a soldier nor an employee of the Indian government. His Taliban kidnappers killed him simply because of his nationality and religion. His kidnapping may have been opportunistic or premeditated. Once he fell into the Taliban’s hands the duration of the window of opportunity to rescue him would have been between a few hours to a day or two at best. Too short, in fact, for the Indian government to maintain both a “never bow to acts of terror” policy (which is the correct one) and yet hope to rescue the hostage.
When Maniappan Raman Kutty was killed a few months ago under similar circumstances, this blog called for the stationing of troops in Afghanistan. The Indian government, which then ‘reviewed’ the security arrangements obviously failed to even put up an effort to rescue Suryanarayana. It has now promised another ‘review’. Here’s what it should do — in addition to increasing the strength of regular army/paramilitary forces securing Indian projects, facilities and development workers, it should station special force units in key locations in Afghanistan. Their command post must be located in Kabul or Jalalabad, not New Delhi. India must speak to the Taliban in the language they understand. The para commandos, for example, speak that language very well.
Let’s look at the murderers’ demands: The halting of development work does not make Afghans better off in any way. It does make Pakistan better off — at least from the ISI’s perspective. Stung by what they allege is India’s support for the Balochistan insurgents, Pakistani intelligence will certainly want to score some points in return. If the Baloch insurgency strengthens, then it is all the more likely that the ISI will take it out on Indian civilians working across the border in Afghanistan. The presence of Indian troops there will enable India to put up an effort to rescue its citizens and also increase Pakistan’s costs of pursuing its current course.
Judging from India’s responses —- from IC-814 to Suryanarayana — the Taliban and their supporters cannot be blamed for confirming their belief that, rhetoric apart, India is not only soft, but powerless. The time has come to disabuse them. Let the special forces speak.