The behind-the-scenes hostage negotiations and the subsequent swap of American PoW Sgt Bower Bergdahl for as many as five Taliban men being held in Guatanamo Bay has raised eyebrows in this part of the world and stirred a controversy in the United States. Has Obama made it easier for the Taliban and various terror outfits to get their ends? It is further complicated because the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture by the Taliban are unclear. He seems to have walked out of the camp he was posted in as a machine gunner, a deserter. That was five years ago. The Taliban have periodically released videos in which he has denounced the US and said other things prisoners will say when they are made to speak for the sake of publicity. For five years, the Taliban had kept the American soldier alive waiting for the negotiations to pay off.
There is some consternation that negotiations with terrorist organisations are ill-advised. That is okay as a slogan or a stated doctrine. The reality is, negotiations always go on with some deniability built in. If there were no negotiations going on, why would kidnappings become such an industry? It is a matter of coincidence that a priest from Tamil Nadu, Alexis Prem Kumar, has been kidnapped in Herat, Afghanistan, even as the controversy over Bergdahl continues to swirl. The kidnapping comes on the heels of an attack on our consulate in Herat even as a new Prime Minister was taking office and making peace overtures to the Pakistani Prime Minister.
It is not the first time an Indian has been kidnapped in Afghanistan. It certainly will not be the last. Telecom engineer K Suryanarayana was kidnapped on April 28, 2006, in Zabul. His body was discovered two days later in a ditch, his head decapitated. There was no one who claimed responsibility. It was suspected the local Taliban commanders did it, shot him through his head and beheaded him. Maniappan Kutty, working with the Border Roads Organisation, was kidnapped the year before, in November. His body arrived at the Indian consulate at Kandahar, wrapped in a pink blanket. His head, which had to be stitched back, was still dripping blood. In his brown tunic, there was a message in English: “India, this is not America, not India. This is Ifghanistan. Who comes here for bad means, we do this with him. Leave this Ifghanistan. Otherwise we will do a forceful attack on you. This is a warning for you. Because this war is between Taliban and America. You do not interfere.” The note was signed: ‘TALIBAN’. On the other side of the note, there was a crude drawing of a telephone and a radio set. The message: Talk to us?
At the time of writing, it is not clear if the kidnappers of Alexis Prem Kumar have made an attempt to get in touch with the authorities. It is not clear if the kidnappers are open to negotiations or will deliver a similar bloody warning.
Sudarshan is the author of Anatomy of an Abduction: How the Indian Hostages in Iraq Were Freed