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Why repeatedly expose Indians to Taliban killings?

By: K Parthasarathi
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The killing of Indian workers engaged in rehabilitation and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan has assumed such a regularity that the Indian government can no longer ignore. Two BRO personnel have now been killed and a few others injured by a suicide bomber attack despite a prior warning from Afghan interior minister that the road project BRO was engaged in was on the Taliban hit list. We had lost young lives earlier too at the hands of the Taliban outfit. The circumstances and locale of their tragic ends have not varied much. Unarmed and unguarded they fell victims in the hands of the thugs for no hostile act except for doing what was expected of them in their call of duty. They were the hapless targets for Taliban to vent its anger at the Indian government.

India in its political wisdom had agreed to put in its men and money in what it considered a laudable task of developing a war ravaged Afghanistan. One reason for our continued interest in getting such road projects completed could be that they would afford easy passage to Afghanistan through Iran bypassing Pakistan. But the question remains at what cost. Obviously it did not anticipate fully the extent of animosity that Taliban nursed against India. The Taliban does not want India to be involved in the development of Afghanistan. The mad outfit dislikes India working hand in hand with US, its sworn enemy, and its Afghan president. It has been proved more than once that the threat from Taliban is real and that the vast numbers of Indian workers when they stray into the interior parts without adequate security cover are sitting ducks to these terrorists.

No government can provide the kind of security to prevent kidnapping of men by terrorists waiting in ambush or against suicide attacks. Even workers of Border Roads Organization, that is known to have protective rings around its workers, have fallen victims. It is not that Taliban had not warned Indian government. Its ultimatums that Indians leave Afghanistan for good reveal their malicious intent. The message of such dastardly killings is loud and clear that India should steer clear of any programme for development of Afghanistan and not get close to the Afghan ruling set up.

While it is agreed that no government worth its salt can submit to such diktats from ruthless terrorist outfits in shaping its foreign policies, it is expected that adequate measures would be taken to prevent loss of lives. The Minister in charge of external affairs as expected has made it clear that India would not be deterred by such threats from Taliban and would continue to assist in the development of Afghanistan. But the consequences of such a refusal to succumb to threats without adequate back up to protect its personnel have been tragic. More so when the government could not do much to secure our men"s safety even when they work in BRO protected by the large presence of ITBP troops. The safety and security of India"s workers should not be allowed to depend on the protection of local forces and the private companies. The writ of Afghan President does not seem to spread far and wide as Taliban could strike at will and his government is too weak to protect its own people, let alone the Indian workers.

The danger of an attack by the capricious and barbaric insurgents, who owe allegiance to our inimical forces, cannot be termed as unexpected. Yet our personnel are insensitively allowed to fend for themselves in a hostile environment without the kind of security ring capable of thwarting murderous attempts. Assessment of risks to the Indian workers in vulnerable areas and forewarning them is the prime responsibility of our government. Commiserating with bereaved families after the brutal murders and compensating them with large amounts may bring immediate succor to the affected families and soothe the shocked sentiments of Indian citizens but cannot bring back the valuable lives lost.

Fighting a war to safeguard the integrity of the nation and losing men in the battles is an accepted risk with the men in army trained and well equipped to protect themselves and the others with them. The country also sends its army for peace keeping operations under the auspices of UN notwithstanding the dangers involved. There is a well organized plan and strategy by the military establishment behind these operations. But the case of developing a hostile area with the help of civilian workers without the fool proof cover of armed men as in an army is altogether of a different nature.

Permitting our personnel of BRO travel in the interior parts in the company of other Afghans, who are perhaps not seen as enemies by the insurgents, is a very risky proposition. It is also no consolation that quite a number of Afghan nationals have also been killed. No government with the best of intentions can save the people once fallen in the hands of fanatical and ruthless outfits. There are lessons to be learnt from these gruesome killings. What steps are envisaged by the Indian government to prevent a recurrence of similar fate to other Indians and to ensure their full safety is not known. It is hoped that they will not be allowed to work under the care of a feeble Afghan government and exposed to the mercies of mindless Taliban.

When Afghanistan, to whose help we have gone, is unable to contain the insurgents and provide a safe climate for our men to lay the roads, it is perhaps necessary to examine de novo our earlier decision to build roads and welfare projects.. Would it not be better like many other countries to offer money and materials for its development instead of sending men particularly to such countries where there is a religious slant and hostile jihadist movements?

There is no detraction from prestige in going back on our commitment and withdrawing our men from places where they are easy targets for the insurgents. Such a denouement should not be seen as a victory for Taliban. It is a tactical move to protect our men without weakening the country"s close relationship with Afghanistan and its current rulers. India need not dilute its support for reconstruction of Afghanistan and can support it with liberal aid without exposing its men to murderous assaults. There seems no other credible way for the Indian government to prevent recurrence of such civilian tragedies in future.

K Parthasarathi

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