New Delhi, Sept. 18: Terrorists from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) crossed over to Afghanistan to kill Susmita Banerjee, possibly because they suspected she was an Indian spy, Afghan officials have now told India in a twist New Delhi has described as “extremely disturbing”.
The fresh assertion, based on a series of arrests made by Afghan police over the past three days, comes after the interrogation of accused arrested earlier had pointed to the Pakistan-backed Haqqani network’s hand behind the murder of Susmita, whose book on life under the Taliban inspired a 2003 Bollywood film.
The TTP, widely known as the Pakistani Taliban, is engaged in a bloody battle with the Pakistan government and military, and has on multiple occasions in the past threatened to attack India along the Line of Control.
But it has never before been known to directly and independently target Indians in Afghanistan unlike the Afghan Taliban, that has denied any role in Susmita’s murder on the night of September 4 in the nation’s southeastern Paktika province, and the Haqqanis.
“This is extremely disturbing for us,” foreign ministry spokesperson and joint secretary Syed Akbaruddin said here today. “We will follow this case with laser-like precision.”
Suspicion on the Pakistani Taliban suits the peace efforts that New Delhi and Islamabad are pursuing because the militant outfit that virtually rules northwest Pakistan is — unlike the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis — a common enemy.
But if the Pakistani Taliban is indeed behind Susmita’s murder, the incident points to a new terror player against India in an already unstable Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal of US-led forces from that nation in 2014.
Paktika governor Moheebullah Shamim called Indian ambassador to Kabul Amar Sinha to update him about their latest suspicions two weeks after he had first told Sinha that the police suspected the Afghan Taliban of the crime.
Susmita, who lived in Afghanistan between 1989 and 1995 after marrying her Afghan moneylender husband Jaanbaaz Khan, wrote Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou (Kabuliwala’s Bengali bride) based on her life in that nation under the Taliban.
The writer had escaped from Afghanistan in 1995, after an earlier botched attempt to get back to Calcutta, but had returned to Paktika’s capital Sharana this past January without informing Indian officials at the embassy in Kabul.
The initial suspicion on the Afghan Taliban revolved around their perceived anger over Susmita’s book and her work as a woman health worker among locals after returning to Afghanistan.
But after the Paktika police arrested two men who confessed to participating in Susmita’s murder, the needle of suspicion swung towards the Haqqanis, who India, the US and Afghanistan believe are supported by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence.
India has accused the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban of terror attacks at its embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 that together left over 70 dead, and of targeting Indian infrastructure projects in Afghanistan as a part of a Pakistan-inspired strategy to combat Indian influence in that nation.
But the Pakistani Taliban have so far restricted themselves to threats against India, focusing their efforts against the Pakistan government and military through strikes like the bomb attacks last Sunday in Peshawar that killed seven Pakistani soldiers.
In 2010, the Pakistani Taliban threatened to send terrorists into Kashmir, and earlier this year threatened to join Pakistan troops — who they fight on that nation’s western frontiers — against Indian soldiers along the Line of Control after a series of firing incidents there.