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TALIBAN DEADLINE TO INDIANS:24 HRS.

Efforts to trace an Indian national, K Suryanarayanana, allegedly abducted by the Taliban in Afghanistan remained futile till late on Saturday, with no word of his whereabouts available. Suryanarayana?s abductors threatened they would kill the engineer, kidnapped late Friday, in 24 hours unless all Indians working in Afghanistan leave that country.

india Updated: Apr 30, 2006 01:20 IST

Efforts to trace an Indian national, K Suryanarayanana, allegedly abducted by the Taliban in Afghanistan remained futile till late on Saturday, with no word of his whereabouts available.

Suryanarayana’s abductors threatened they would kill the engineer, kidnapped late Friday, in 24 hours unless all Indians working in Afghanistan leave that country.

A high-level crisis management committee, headed by Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi, and comprising officials from the External Affairs and Home ministries, met through today to discuss options and review the situation arising out of Suryanarayana’s abduction and the threat to all Indians in that country.

A team of officials left for Kabul late on Saturday night to assist Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood. It was “not a commando team”, but one with “strong negotiating skills”, official sources said.

The Prime Minister is being kept constantly informed of the situation, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said, and though the abductors have not directly contacted the government, speaking, instead, through the media, “every effort” was being made to “secure his (Suryanarayana’s) early release.”

Sood, was "constantly monitoring the situation" and has been in regular touch with Afghan National Security Adviser, Zalmay Rassoul, Saran said.

Sood has also been in touch with the US military, international security forces deployed in the region and officials of al-Moayed, the Bahrain-based company that employs Suryanarayana.

Security for all Indians working in Afghanistan has been enhanced since the kidnapping last night.

India condemned the incident, calling the abduction an attempt by the Taliban and "other hostile elements" to "intimidate Indian and other international and Afghan workers engaged in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and improving the lives of its people."

Suryanarayanana was abducted along with his Afghan driver while travelling to Qalat, capital of troubled Zabul province. The hostage, 41, is a father of three from Hyderabad who has been working in Afghanistan since January 2006. He was an employee of TCS before leaving for this assignment.

He is the second Indian kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan after an employee of the Border Roads Organisation, Maniappan Raman Kutty, was abducted and killed on November 23 last year.

India raised the presence of its security personnel in Afghanistan after the Kutty murder, sending a contingent of around 300 men from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police to secure Indian projects there. Around 2,000 Indians are now working in various infrastructure projects in the war-ravaged country. India has committed over 600 million dollars in aid to Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was removed in 2001.

President Hamid Karzai had personally assured the security of Indian nationals working in Afghanistan when the issue was raised during his visit to New Delhi earlier this month.

He ordered a crackdown on remnants of the Taliban just two days ago, to coincide with the anniversary of the Soviet departure from that country.

According to agency reports from Kabul, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, a spokesman of the outlawed Taliban fighters, accused the Indian contractor, who was abducted yesterday in the southern Zabul province, of being an "American spy."

"We warn all Indians working here to leave Afghanistan within 24 hours starting 6 pm local time (2200 hours IST) today otherwise we will kill him," Ahmadi said.

Al Moayed has been contracted by an Afghan mobile phone company, Roshan Telecom, to expand its network in southern Afghanistan.

First Published: Apr 30, 2006 01:20 IST