The increasing insurgent attacks in Afghanistan have acquired an alarming new dimension, going by the spate of kidnappings of foreigners by the Taliban. The abduction of 22 South Koreans — and the death of one of them — is evidently part of the Taliban’s strategy of kidnapping foreigners of any nationality and trading them for Taliban fighters in prison. This will put Afghan President Hamid Karzai under a lot of pressure as he has pledged not to swap prisoners for hostages. The last time he did — early this year, to free an Italian journalist — he received flak from all quarters as it was perceived as weakening the Western engagement in Afghanistan. The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and the US-led anti-terror mission Operation Enduring Freedom, too, face an uphill task, battling a Taliban that is regrouping fast.
The Isaf controls only the big cities, while the mountains and the countryside still seem to be firmly in rebel hands. Whenever the Isaf manages to take ground, Taliban fighters apparently slip into areas behind them, making them vulnerable to the kind of deadly roadside bombings as in Iraq. India has reason to be concerned at these developments because New Delhi has worked hard to develop its ties with Kabul since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. New Delhi is aware that increased Taliban activity translates into a greater threat to the many Indians in Afghanistan. The danger zone lies along the 2,500-km common border that Afghanistan shares with Pakistan, where Indians have been involved in the country’s reconstruction. Unfortunately, this growing involvement in rebuilding the war-ravaged country has meant attracting Taliban attention, as the abduction of some Indian workers (and the murder of at least one), proved.
Perhaps the best way for India to contribute to the struggle against the Taliban may be to help Afghanistan strengthen its democratic institutions, which, in turn, would check the growth of the Taliban.