India Must Engage Taliban to Seek Justice for Victims of Terrorism

India must engage the Taliban to seek justice for Indian victims of terrorism & create a dedicated mechanism.

5 min read

Danish Siddiqui, the Pulitzer-winning Indian photojournalist and chief of the Reuters multimedia team in India, was killed in Spin Boldak in Afghanistan on July 16. He was on assignment, covering the ongoing clashes between the Taliban and the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). Siddiqui was embedded with the ANSF and was with a detachment of that force, which had taken on the Taliban in Spin Boldak.

The exact circumstances of his death are still unclear, at least publicly so. The Afghan authorities or their Indian counterparts have not issued any statement regarding the full facts of his death. Further, the fact that the Taliban mutilated his body has not been officially acknowledged by either Kabul or Delhi, though a report in The New York Times states that it was.


Centre Must Give A Definitive Statement

At his weekly briefing on July 22, Arindam Bagchi, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, was asked whether India was investigating the death of Siddiqui in Afghanistan and who was responsible for it. He was also asked, “A report claims that Indian journalist Danish Siddiqui’s body was mutilated by the Taliban before being handed over to the ICRC. Could this be confirmed or denied”?

Responding to the two questions, Bagchi said “I have no information on the details [of] what [is] being sought. As regards the incident itself, it’s in Afghanistan, and I don’t have any particular comment to make regarding security investigations on that. We know the circumstances in which the Taliban killed him”.

There has been media speculation on the circumstances of Danish’s killing. Reports in the Indian press based on an opinion piece on a conservative US website stated that Siddiqui was not caught in a crossfire but was captured alive by the Taliban, deliberately murdered, and his body was thereafter mutilated.

Bagchi has gone on record to state that the government is aware of the circumstances in which Siddiqui was killed by the Taliban.

It would be in the fitness of things if the Indian authorities make known what is in their knowledge about the circumstances of his killing by the Taliban and how his body was treated. That would be better than the current media speculation.

If Danish Siddiqui was killed in cold blood by the Taliban as is being reported, then the group should be openly called upon to ensure that those responsible for the crime should be brought to justice. This would be a test for the Taliban, for it is claiming that it is behaving humanely with captured ANSF personnel. If it remains in denial, then it would be exposed once again.

Just Sympathising Is Not Enough

In any event, every attempt has to be made to ensure that justice is done to Danish Siddiqui. That is an obligation of the Indian state towards any Indian national who suffers a crime abroad. If an Indian suffers an injury in a country with an effective government, then the Indian authorities should pursue justice for the Indian national through the criminal justice system of that country. If it is at the hands of terrorists, then the crime should not be forgotten or forgiven and the file must be kept open for justice being done, no matter how long it takes.

It is not enough to simply condemn a killing or sympathise with a death. In Siddiqui’s case, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla condemned his death on July 16 while addressing a UN Security Council briefing on the protection of civilians during armed conflicts. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condoled Siddiqui’s death in a phone call to his father. He also called his death a great loss to the journalism fraternity.

Siddiqui’s employers have also to explain if they took every precaution before sending him on such a dangerous assignment. It would not be enough for them to claim that he volunteered to do so. This is an aspect that also needs media attention.


A Number Of Indians Have Died In Attacks

Siddiqui’s death brings back memories of other Indians who died abroad or outside the land borders of India in extraordinary circumstances. During the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC 814 in 1999, a young Indian, Rupin Katyal, was brutally murdered in the aircraft by the relatives of Masood Azhar, who is now the head of the Pakistan based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad. Katyal was returning to Delhi with his bride after spending his honeymoon in Kathmandu. The CBI registered a case against the Pakistani killers. Though more than two decades have passed, the Indian state must not forget or forgive Katyal’s murder. The perpetrators of the crime are known and must be brought to justice irrespective of the passage of time.

The Pakistanis used terrorist groups to perpetrate two heinous attacks against Indian interests and personnel in Kabul. In the first, where a car laden with explosives was blown up in front of the Embassy in July 2008, the Defence Attache and a Counsellor of the Mission died, apart from a large number of Afghan civilians. In the second attack, which was carried out against two hotels where some Indians were staying, nine of our countrymen perished. They included two Indian army officers. These crimes should also not be forgotten.


Engaging With Terrorist Groups For Justice

While Pakistan is showing no real interest in truly bringing the accused of the Mumbai terrorist attack to justice, India must maintain pressure. That, too, is an obligation to the over 160 innocent Indians who were killed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists in November 2008. India should take consistent action to show the international community that as a state, it will never forget its nationals who are victims of criminality abroad, and that it will not rest till justice is done to them. Indeed, the government should consider creating a dedicated official mechanism for tracking all such cases. One case that certainly requires such tracking is that of the Italian marines Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Lattore, who have now to be tried by an Italian court for killing two Indian fishermen, Ajeesh Pink and Valentine Jelestine, in 2012.

The Taliban have become a major factor in Afghan affairs. Notwithstanding the killing of Siddiqui and the role of some of their factions in targeting Indian lives and interests in Afghanistan, including at the behest of Pakistan, it is essential to engage the Taliban. Such an engagement will not be contrary to seeking justice for Siddiqui, Katyal, and for those who died in 2008 and 2010. Indeed, this should be a major point in the engagement. The demands of national interest cannot be overlooked and are not contradictory to seeking justice for those who have been killed at the hands of terrorists.

(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached @VivekKatju. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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