External Affairs

Indian Woman Kidnapped in Kabul, No Claims of Responsibility Yet

Judith D'Souza. Credit: Linkedin

Judith D’Souza. Credit: Linkedin

New Delhi: Less than a week after the high-profile opening of the Indian-built Salma dam in Herat, an Indian working with an international NGO was kidnapped in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Thursday night.

Judith D’Souza, a senior technical advisor on gender for the Aga Khan Development Network, was kidnapped at about 10:40 pm while on the way to her residence in Kabul. Her taxi driver, who the kidnappers did not take, alerted security agencies and the Indian embassy.

This attack is not completely unexpected. Sources told The Wire that credible threats of attacks on Indian assets and nationals had been received in the last two weeks. Indians working in Afghanistan had apparently been warned to take additional precautions, given the rising threat levels.

Prior to the opening of the dam last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inaugurated the new Afghan parliament building in December 2015. Last month, Modi went to Iran to sign a trilateral agreement that will open up a new port and land route to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

The rising Indian profile in Afghanistan and the completion of Indian development projects had been noted across the southern border. Sources added that there were even reports of special cells being created to target India-related institutions and nationals.

While Indians had apparently been warned of the danger, sources added that the international NGO D’Souza worked for had their own security protocol: being less visible and not travelling with armed bodyguards.

After the death of Mullah Mansour in a drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan and the subsequent naming of Haibatullah Akhundzada as his successor, there has been a change in the pattern of Taliban attacks against the government. There have been a spate of high-profile kidnappings with multiple hostages. On June 4, 17 Hazaras were kidnapped from their bus in the northern province of Sari Pul. Earlier, on May 31, twenty bus passengers were kidnapped in Kunduz. The latest multiple-hostage kidnapping took place two days ago on the same road in Kunduz, when 47 bus passengers were abducted.

Official sources are convinced that D’Souza was kidnapped due to her nationality and not for her role with the NGO.

So far, there has been no ransom call. The pattern in such kidnapping is that a call is made only after the hostage has been exchanged which another group, who then take him or her to a location out of the control of government forces.

Sources said that the Indian government has been in touch with her family in Kolkata and with the Afghan authorities. “All efforts are being made by Afghan authorities to secure her early release,” they added.

This was also reiterated by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj through her twitter account, adding that she had spoken to D’Souza’s sister.

She also informed D’Souza’s brother through twitter that the government was “doing everything to rescue her”.

In a statement sent to The Wire, the Aga Khan Development Network said “every effort” was being made for D’Souza. They added that they would continue their work in Afghanistan.

“On Thursday, June 9, a staff member of the Aga Khan Foundation was abducted.  An investigation by the authorities has been launched, in conjunction with security officials and various partners. Every effort is being made to secure the safe release of the staff member,” the statement said. “The Aga Khan Foundation is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and has a long standing commitment to the people of Afghanistan. It will continue to work with local communities, the Government of Afghanistan and those in need to enhance the development of the country.”