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How safe are Indians in Afghanistan?

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May 01, 2006 17:52 IST

The killing of an Indian engineer, K Suryanarayana in Afghanistan by the Taliban has outraged India, which is undertaking long-term reconstruction and development activities in the war-ravaged country.

The slaying of Suryanarayana comes five months after Border Roads Organisation driver Ramankutty Maniappan was killed by the Taliban.

Suryanarayan, 41, from Hyderabad was an employee of the Bahrain-based company. He was abducted from Zabul province, where he had been working on a telecom project.

Suryanarayan and Maniappan became victims of the Taliban, which wants to intimidate Indian workers into leaving Afghanistan. And hundreds of Indians work across Afghanistan, building roads, bridges, power projects, government offices and health centres.

According to officials in the Ministry of External Affairs, nearly 2,500 Indians are working on various projects worth over $650 million across Afghanistan.

After Maniappan's killing last year, the Indian government had deputed Border Roads Organisation Director General K S Rao to Kabul to review the overall security of Indians working on the ongoing projects.

But now, with the Taliban asking all Indians to leave Afghanistan, it is vital to know how security for them is managed.

Before Maniappan was kidnapped and killed, India had deployed only 40 Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel to guard various projects undertaken by the Indian government in Afghanistan.

In 2003, two Indian engineers -- Murali and Vardharai -- were abducted in Afghanistan while working on a road project, forcing India to pay attention to the dangers associated with reconstruction efforts in the embattled nation.

The two Indians were kidnapped in the volatile southern Zabul province, while working on a major highway reconstruction project executed by the Hyderabad-based BSC-C&C JV, a joint venture contracted by Louis Berge Group, a US company.

Their release three weeks later came about after negotiations by Afghan tribal leaders with the Taliban militia, which was demanding the release of 50 imprisoned militants in return for the Indian engineers.

Their release then was unconditional, but the incident forced India to send a team of Indo-Tibetan Police Force to various locations in Afghanistan where Indians are working.

After Maniappan's killing, the government decided to send 200 more ITBP personnel in an attempt to beef up the security of Indians in Afghanistan. According to an ITBP officer, the force has deployed nearly 200 personnel across the war-ravaged country. "But the main problem is that most of the projects are in far-flung areas in Afghanistan, where providing fool-proof security is not just possible," the official points out.

Also, a number of private Indian companies that are working in Afghanistan say they do not get the ITBP security. "We are working in danger zones and we are provided with the Afghanistan security. But often especially on road projects, the security cover is not just sufficient," says an Indian engineer working with the Delhi-based Water and Power Consultancy Services.

In the last four years, India has pledged $550 million to Afghanistan's reconstruction. The key sectors that India is helping rebuild in Afghanistan include infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, industry, telecommunications, information and broadcasting.

  • The majority of Indians are working on various road projects, executed by several Indian companies. BRO is one of the biggest. Maniappan was working on the Zaranj-Delaram road project. India has pledged $ 70 million for reconstructing this road alone.
  • BRO is part of the global construction companies, which is building this strategic road that would connect the land-locked Afghanistan with Iran and reduce its dependence on Pakistani ports. BRO officials say the company employs nearly 300 Indian workers on this particular road project.
  • Many Indians in Afghanistan are working for private companies in semi-skilled capacities.
  • There are a number of engineers and doctors working in different capacities across the country. For instance, currently some 15 Indian doctors are working in Kabul and dozens of engineers are working in cities like Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat.
  • The largest number of personnel working for the construction of 220 KV double circuit transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a sub-station at Kabul are from India.
  • Water and Power Consultancy Services (India) Ltd, an Indian company is reconstructing the Salma Dam project, which will provide 42 MW of power in Herat province.
  • One of the projects that India has reconstructed is the Habibia School that boasts alumni like Afghan President Hamid Karzai and former Afghan king Zahir Shah. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated the school during his August visit to Kabul.
  • Besides the infrastructure projects, India has already delivered one million tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan. India has also gifted 274 buses and three Airbus aircraft to the national Ariana Afghan Airlines.
George Iype