May 16, 2006

Murdered Indian National Causes International Row

Submitted by haroon on Tue, 16/05/2006 - 19:05.
Matt Dupee

A diplomatic row and international scandal has now taken grip of southwest Asia with the mysterious death of Indian national K Suryanarayana in Afghanistan. The 41 year old Indian engineer’s body was found beheaded within 24 hours of his abduction on April 28th.

An employee of a Bahrain based construction firm, Mr. Suryanarayana was abducted on the Kabul-Kandahar highway along its leg in Zabul province, a notorious Taliban stronghold. Long known to be a viper’s nest of Taliban fighters and sympathizers, this stretch of road is among the most lethal and treacherous traverses in all of Afghanistan. Hours after he and his Afghan driver’s abduction by gunpoint, Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, contacted an international news outlet and delivered an ultimatum. He demanded all Indian nationals leave Afghanistan before Sunday (April 30th) evening or Mr. Suryanarayana would be killed. New Delhi quickly condemned the attack and issued a statement demanding an immediate release of its national.

Before the deadline was reached however, a headless corpse was discovered along the same infamous Kabul-Kandahar stretch of highway by Afghan highway policemen. According to Al Jazeera, the dump site was only 10km from where the Taliban abducted Mr. Suryanarayana. Upon the arrival of investigators, the headless body was quickly identified as the abducted engineer. Issuing a new statement, the Taliban claimed Mr. Suryanarayana attempted to escape early on in his detention and was shot dead by his captors. Obviously these statements do not correspond to the condition the body was discovered in.
Soon after, a piece about the murder ran on Kabul-based Tolu television. This would later serve as the driving force behind the catastrophic collision between Afghan, Pakistani and Indian political relations that are now taking place. According to the Tolu tv story aired, an unnamed Taliban commander recounted how Amir Khan Haqqani, the Taliban’s military chief of Zabul, opposed the idea of murdering Mr. Suryanarayana. The act was later carried out instead by Mullah Latif, who was operating under Mawlai Mohamed Alam Andar. According to the anonymous source, Andar received orders from Pakistan’s ISI to conduct the murder/beheading. It did not take long for Indian media to pick up and run the story, fueling the already enormous fire between Indian/Pakistani relations. Finger pointing ensued and soon Kabul joined the fray with Karzai’s chief of staff, Jawed Ludin, making official requests for Islamabad to answer the accusations of ISI’s involvement. On May 14th, a Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman, Aslam, made short order of the accusations and explained that Tolu has a history of misrepresenting stories about Pakistan and have used ‘anonymous’ Afghan officials as sources. She went on to say such stories are not worth commenting on.

Mr. Suryanarayana is only the most recent Indian national to be murdered in Afghanistan. Indian nationals, serving as contractors in Afghanistan, have been killed before, and recently, a bomb exploded near the Indian consulate in Heart city. Going back further, in November of 2003, Maniappan Raman Kutty, an Indian engineer, was kidnapped in the remote Nimroz province along with three escorts. His corpse was later found dumped along the roadside. In this case, one of his Afghan escorts was released while the other two went unaccounted for. Over the years, Turks and other Indian nationals have been kidnapped by the Taliban and suffered mixed fates. Some were released, most likely after back channel ransoms were paid, and others were murdered after demands were not met. For instance, a British engineer was abducted and quickly murdered by Taliban assailants in September of 2005 in western Farah province.

Although the evidence indicating ISI’s involvement in Mr. Suryanarayana’s death is sketchy at best, there are certain attributes to this mysterious murder that still raises the specter of outside meddling. Where is Mr. Suryanarayana’s missing Afghan driver, did he play a role in the abduction or was he in the wrong place at the wrong time? Some drivers have been let go in the past, particularly Afghan drivers, even some Indian hostages have been let go before. Why not this individual and why was he beheaded and not shot like the Taliban spokesman proclaimed he was? Why is credence given to Taliban spokesmen when they aren’t telling the truth? This abduction is clearly a counter-stability attack, a classic insurgency tactic, aimed at foreign interests in Afghanistan. If ISI involvement did take place, this would certainly serve as a motive to prevent Indian interests in an area that is West of Pakistan proper. This same notion was one reason Pakistan fought to keep communism out of Afghanistan and hence Indian interests along with it, since 1979, and nurtured the Taliban regime so candidly, knowing India could never cozy up to an Islamic fundamentalist regime and vice versa.

What also makes this slaying questionable is the beheading of the individual. Rarely have high profile hostages in Afghanistan been beheaded by Taliban kidnapping squads. The ferocity and barbarity of this attack sticks out as the first high-profile hostage beheading to hit Afghanistan, a significant development indeed. After the conflicting reports surfaced, the political atmosphere was ripe for the story that ran on Tolu tv, whether true or not, its sensational bombshell attributes garnered lots of attention from Pakistan’s critics, namely Afghanistan and India.

Since Pakistan does not want the Indians strengthening their grip on its western fringes by supporting the rebuilding effort in Afghanistan and cozying up to the Kabul government; an effective deterrent, used by Pakistan although by default, is Taliban insurgents. It’s not to say that ISI and the Musharraf directly train and fund the Taliban (although that is debated amongst all three nations as well), Pakistan only needs to keep the Taliban, and their sanctuary, alive. The semi-autonomous tribal belt that makes up all of western Pakistan is the perfect answer. Often referred to as insecurable, lawless, and out of government jurisdiction, the FATA also serves as the Taliban main forward and rear operating base. How, with 70,000 Pakistani troops dug in throughout the area, and after damaging offensives in the spring of 2004, does North and South Waziristan become the main Taliban bastion of the region? Lately, the area has seen a shift in what is now being called, Talibanization; fundamentalists’ completely controlling districts and enforcing their own standards, ethics and procedures direct from the Taliban’s short rule in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan’s inability to exert meaningful control over FATA will only allow the Taliban insurgency to nurture itself for years to come, and by doing so will also speed the radicalization of these areas, as is currently happening. In short, they are setting the conditions needed for a nationwide Islamic revolution not unlike that of Iran in 1979.

The area now serves as a militant incubator, a place where fighters launch attacks from, seek refuge in, reproduce and recruit on a daily basis. It was only days ago that an elderly Afghan woman was beheaded here, just one in a list of many who have suffered a similar fate. Her crime was an unsubstantiated report that she was a spy for the Americans (RFE/RL Newsline Monday, 15 May 2006 Volume 10 Number 87)

It is totally plausible for rouge Pakistani intelligence operatives to utilize Afghan Taliban as proxies against Indian targets; they proved to operate this way before with the use of Kashmiri jihadist groups. ISI is a veteran of dirty conflicts and is highly capable of deceptive operations, battlefield ruses and have made many strange bedfellows, the Taliban included. The ISI is not in any way shape or form under a direct and unified leadership, leaving a menacing and extremely powerful organization to set in motion its own policy, both foreign and domestic. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that time and time again various Pakistani spokespeople truly cannot answer what and what not they are responsible for. It is these conclusions that make the strange murder of Mr. Suryanarayana such a hard death to swallow for all of those involved and accused.

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