NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke to her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani Monday and sought his help in tracing and freeing the seven Indian engineers and their Afghan driver, who were kidnapped Sunday morning by suspected Taliban militants near Bagh-eshamal village of Baglan province, which has a strong Taliban presence.
Rabbani assured her that the Afghan government was doing everything possible to secure their release. Baghlan governor Abdulhai Nemati was quoted as saying that the Taliban had kidnapped the engineers and moved them to Pul-e Khumri, 230 kilometres from Kabul. When contacted, the local Taliban reportedly said that they abducted the seven people assuming they were employees of the Afghan government.
An Indian online media house quoted Afghan sources as saying Pakistan’s ISI might be pressuring the Taliban to delay the release of the Indians “in a bid to force out Indian power companies from northern Afghanistan”. This comes in the backdrop of India and China announcing that they would participate in joint infrastructure projects in Afghanistan after the informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping last month in Wuhan. Pakistan vehemently opposes India’s presence in Afghanistan, which it considers its strategic backyard.
“Given the massive Indian crackdown on militancy in Kashmir and its increasing isolation over terror ties, Pakistan, which controls the Taliban, might see this as an opportunity to put pressure on India. But it is likely to backfire badly and further reinforce the growing international perception that it is a state in cahoots with terrorists,” said a former diplomat.
The abducted engineers are employees of KEC International, a flagship company of the RPG Group, working on a power plant project in Baglan. The names and other details of the engineers have not yet been officially released given the sensitivity of the issue. “We want to assure everyone concerned that we are working with the authorities to ensure safe return of our employees,”Vimal Kejriwal, MD and CEO of KEC International said in a statement issued Sunday evening.