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Singh worries for kidnapped Indian Karzai sets up task force

New Delhi, Nov. 21: Two days after an Indian driver was kidnapped allegedly by the Taliban, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed cabinet colleagues to take steps to ensure the security of all Indians working in Afghanistan.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations are on to track down R. Maniappan who was working with the Border Roads Organisation, but government officials were tight-lipped today.

“The Prime Minister has directed that all efforts be made in cooperation with the Afghan authorities” not only for Maniappan’s safe return, but also to ensure the safety of all Indians working in Afghanistan, foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said.

Maniappan was whisked away on Saturday, along with an Afghan driver and two security guards, when he was going by car from Gurguri to Minar in Nimroz province of Afghanistan. The BRO is working on a road project from Zarang to Delaram.

“This incident took place on November 19 in the afternoon and the same evening an unidentified caller claimed that the kidnapping had been carried out by the Taliban,” Sarna said.

Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood met President Hamid Karzai in Kabul today. A special task force, comprising military intelligence and police officials, had been set up to ensure the safety of nearly 290 Indians working in the country, Kabul said tonight.

This morning, Singh was briefed in detail about the kidnap and steps taken to secure Maniappan’s safe release.

The cabinet secretary has set up a group, comprising officials from the home and foreign ministries and security agencies, to monitor matters.

“The embassy of India in Kabul has been in touch with the Afghan authorities to seek their urgent assistance in ensuring the safe and early return” of Maniappan, Sarna said.

The BRO was extending all possible support to Maniappan’s family, he said.

This is the second such incident that the UPA is having to grapple with. Last year, three Indian truck drivers were abducted in Iraq and freed after weeks of effort.

The difference in the two cases is that Indians had gone to Iraq ' often without government approval ' because private transport companies offered them huge sums of money. But the presence of Indians in Afghanistan is part of a political statement Delhi is making.

After the Taliban’s ouster, India had backed the US effort to install Karzai as President. As part of this policy, it has engaged in many projects, from running hospitals and schools to training Afghan diplomats, teachers and policemen.

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