The return of Father Alexis

The details of how exactly India secured the release of Father Alexis Prem Kumar remain unclear. From the little that has emerged, the Afghan authorities had managed to establish contact with the priest’s kidnappers within days of his abduction in the Herat province where he was working as part of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international Catholic advocacy group for forcibly displaced people. The priest was the country director of the group, and at the time he was seized, in the first week of June 2014, he was visiting a school run by the JRS in the western Afghanistan province, where a month earlier, the Taliban had mounted an attack on the Indian consulate. Considering that the missionary spent eight months in captivity, there might have been protracted, even on and off, negotiations that led to his release. Publicly, no ransom demands were made nor other conditions laid down by the abductors for handing over the 47-year-old priest from Tamil Nadu, but it is not unknown for militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan to have taken hostages and demanded money for their release. Though the Taliban have targeted and killed many Indians in Afghanistan, it has been suggested that the priest’s abductors may have been one of the many splinter militant groups that operate in the Afghan countryside. It is conceivable too that Iran on the other side of Herat’s border and with not a little influence among some groups in Afghanistan may have played a role in obtaining the release. All that can be said with certainty is that a combination of India’s contacts in Afghanistan, diplomacy and patience won the day. New Delhi was clearly involved at the highest levels.

The safe return of Father Alexis from what must have been a traumatic eight months for him, his family and his community is a cause for celebration and relief, so too that he appears unharmed, at least outwardly. Less than two years ago, an Indian was killed in Paktika province, and in 2010, six Indian workers were killed in a targeted attack in Kabul. Away from Afghanistan, the fate of 40 Indians captured by Islamic State (IS) remains unknown. Father Alexis’s return has highlighted that Afghanistan remains dangerous territory, and that New Delhi needs to be ever mindful of the safety of the 3,000 or so Indians working there on infrastructure projects, especially as India’s involvement in these projects is a matter of strategic choice. With the departure of the United States' and other international troops from Afghanistan ongoing, India’s role in Afghanistan is bound to come under greater strain and scrutiny than before. It is now up to the Indian government to ensure that civilians do not become the collateral casualties of the Great Game in the neighbourhood.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 3:04:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-return-of-father-alexis/article6929820.ece

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