November 23, 2005

Pak behind Kutty killing, say officials

Nilova Roy Chaudhury and Sutirtho Patranobis

New Delhi, November 23, 2005

The Taliban may have killed Maniappan Raman Kutty, a driver with the Border Roads Organisation, but they are believed to have acted at the behest of their Pakistani patrons. Over India’s role in the construction of the Zaranj-Del Aram highway in Afghanistan.

A senior Afghan government official says, “It was not to Pakistan’s liking that India was helping to construct this road (the Zaranj-Del Aram highway). Obviously, they would try to disrupt the project.”

Senior officials in Kabul and New Delhi even say this was the major reason why Kutty was kidnapped and subsequently killed. “The Taliban has always been backed by Pakistan,” said an official. An analyst said: “They wanted to send a message: that the road should not be built.”

The 218-km road from Del Aram to Zaranj will shorten the distance from Kabul to the port of Chah Bahar (Iran) and on to Central Asia by about 1,000 km. While facilitating India’s access to Central Asia, the project will reduce Pakistan’s importance for both Afghanistan and India. Pakistan has the only available route for trade with the Gulf region and Central Asia.

Outraged by the "cowardly and brutal murder of a brave Indian", Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday the act reflected the "cruel and inhuman character of the Taliban and the forces they represent". Kutty had "given his life as a soldier for peace", said the PM, adding that he was "deeply grieved and outraged" by the killing.

Later in the day, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called Singh to condole Kutty's killing and assured him of enhanced security for all Indians working on projects in Afghanistan.

Rakesh Sood, India's ambassador to Afghanistan, told the Hindustan Times that Kutty's body will be sent back to India on Thursday.

There was speculation that, given the state of the body (Kutty was tortured, his throat slashed and he was "almost decapitated", an official said), his body might not be sent back to his native Kerala.

According to official sources in Afghanistan, villagers in Nimroz province recovered Kutty's body, half buried in sand, and informed authorities, as it was "not an Afghan-looking person".

Kutty, 36, had been in Afghanistan less than a fortnight. He was one of 290 Indians engaged in the construction of the highway project. Abducted on Saturday along with an Afghan worker and two security guards, Kutty was killed on Tuesday by the Taliban, who wanted work on the road project suspended.

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