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Afghanistan: Indian Engineers Freed by Kidnappers - 2003-12-24

Two Indian engineers kidnapped in Afghanistan earlier this month are now free, following negotiations by the Afghan government. The captors were not fighters from Afghan's former Taleban regime, as previously believed.

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali turned the two engineers over to the Indian ambassador in Kabul Wednesday morning. The two men had been working on a road construction project in the southern province of Zabul when they were abducted on December 6.

Taleban militants waging an anti-government insurgency in the eastern half of Afghanistan had claimed to be holding the men, and demanded that some of their comrades be released from government prison in exchange for the engineers.

But Mr. Jalali says the kidnappers had no affiliation with the insurgents. "Although some Taleban leaders claimed responsibility for it, there's no connection between them and those who kept them in their area," he says.

The interior minister adds that negotiations to free the men were mediated by a former Taleban commander.

The incident follows the kidnapping and subsequent release a few months ago of a Turkish engineer working on the same project. That abduction was carried out by a group of local Taleban militants.

A U.S. engineer, Bal Menon, says danger for international experts working in rural Afghanistan comes with the territory and is not something he takes very seriously. "It's all just fate. Que sera, sera - whatever happens, happens."

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai inaugurated the first phase of the road project the two Indian men had been working on. Mr. Karzai said the road, which links the capital Kabul with the southern city of Kandahar, will be a boon for Afghanistan's post-war economic recovery.