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#2002, 2 May 2006
Pakistan, Taliban and the Indian Stakes in Afghanistan
Happymon Jacob
Lecturer, Jammu University

The abduction and killing of K Suryanarayana, an Indian national, is yet another incident in the anti-Indian activities of the Taliban. Suryanarayana, a contractor for Afghan mobile telephone network, Roshan, was kidnapped and killed in the Zabul province of southeastern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan's Balochistan province. Earlier, Maniyappan Ramankutty, an Indian driver working with Border Roads Organization on the important Zaranz-Delaram road suffered a similar fate in Nimroz province of Afghanistan, again bordering Pakistan. Two provinces, Helmand and Kandhahar, lie between Nimroz and Zabul, and yet there are similarities in these two killings of Indians. On both occasions, the abductors had asked for the withdrawal of Indians from Afghanistan, both Maniyappan and Suryanarayana were involved in the reconstruction work in Afghanistan, both were killed by the 'Taliban' without waiting for negotiations, and, as mentioned above, both the provinces border Pakistan's Balochistan. The NWFP and Balochistan are said to be the training grounds for the re-emerging Taliban.

This clearly indicates a Pakistani involvement in the killings of Indians. A look at the significance of Zabul province - where the authority of the governor does not extend beyond the capital Qalat - in the strategy of the resurgent Taliban reveals, as the governor of Zabul once himself admitted, that most of this province is controlled by the Taliban. Around 13 districts in Zabul are said to be under the control of the Taliban. Zabul province has witnessed a huge number of attacks on aid workers, government security forces and construction workers. In the past, they have killed a Turkish engineer, assassinated Dr. Mohammad Isah, the director of International Red Crescent in Afghanistan, kidnapped Indian workers, and attacked Afghan aid workers and Afghan soldiers. One key characteristic of the attacks in this province is the growing adeptness of the attackers at launching hit-and-run assaults, typically from across the border. They refrain from directly engaging the heavily armed coalition forces. While it is claimed that around 80 per cent of the people in this province are loyal to the Taliban (in the words of the director of intelligence for Zabul province, Khalil Hotak), what is likely is that there is a direct involvement of Pakistan's ISI in these attacks.

But why are Indian reconstruction workers being attacked? One can find two plausible answers: to stop reconstruction activities in Afghanistan, in which India has been proactive with men and money and to send a message to India. As far as the first is concerned, one of the key strategies of a resurgent Taliban has been to kill aid workers and attack government facilities to instil a sense of fear and helplessness in the minds of the people. This would eventually give them leverage in the affairs of the state. In other words, the Taliban is preparing fallow grounds to establish their roots. For this, it has to strike insecurity and disillusionment among the populace by blocking aid or the benefits of economic development and reconstruction. Only then can the Taliban make political headway. For the Taliban to come back, it knows that it has to demonstrate to the people that the power of deliverance lies only in their hands.

As far as the Indian angle is concerned, it is evident that Pakistan is uneasy with Indian presence in Afghanistan. India currently enjoys good relations with the Karzai government, and is a leading donor in Afghanistan's reconstruction work. Bilateral ties between the two nations too are also growing. Moreover, India is also trying to circumvent its geographical handicap as far as access to Afghanistan is concerned by constructing road links through Iran. All this is of deep concern to Pakistan. Interestingly, Ramankutty was killed within days after the Indian government conferred the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize on Hamid Karzai. This time around, Suryanarayana's killing, a resident of Hyderabad, took place two weeks after Karzai visited Hyderabad. In short, Pakistan detests Karzai's growing relationship with India even more than the Taliban. That said, much of the Taliban activities in Afghanistan are remote-controlled by Pakistan. Having made a distinction between Al Qaeda and Taliban, Pakistan now wants to regain its lost leverage in Afghanistan's affairs.

Attacks against Indian workers and demand for the withdrawal of Indians from Afghanistan also need to be seen in the backdrop of the larger geopolitical dimensions evolving in the South Asia. The following four factors have made it amply clear that India is on the winning side of the geopolitical games in South Asia: the Global War on Terrorism, rapidly improving Indo-US Relations, Sino-Indian Entente, and India's emergence as a major power. Pakistan is bearing the brunt of the global war on terrorism and is deeply unhappy with the US' neglect for its demand for parity with India. Indeed, the perceivably zero-sum nature of these events has understandably set the stage for its reaction in Afghanistan.

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