Millennium Post

Demolished spirits

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday told the Parliament that the 39 Indians held hostage in Iraq in 2014 are dead and their DNAs have matched with those of their relatives. The lone survivor from the 40 Indian construction workers taken as hostage, Harjit Masih, had emphasised the same four years ago as he narrated how he played dead when all of them were being gunned down by ISIS militants in Iraq. The government did not take Masih's account of the incident seriously and went on following different leads that suggested that the kidnapped Indians could be alive. The opposition parties have criticised the government's move to announce the startling disclosure four years since the incident. But, Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh responded to the criticism by saying that the government has stood by its commitment that the kidnapped Indian workers in Iraq would not be pronounced dead until there is conclusive proof. The government has now accepted that all the 39 workers are dead after their bodies were exhumed from mass graves and analysed. Their DNAs have matched with those of their relatives in India. The timing of the government's announcement is significant. In the last four years, the government was never under the attack of the opposition as it is now. The Congress and some of the NDA partners are questioning the government over-inclusiveness of the government's policies. And, there is increased hostility along the LoC as Pakistan has stepped up ceasefire violations and is trying to infiltrate militants into Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian workers were shot dead because they were Hindus. The same group of ISIS militants had also kidnapped nearly 50 Bangladeshi workers but they were freed because they were Muslims. India is on the radar of Islamist militants for a long time. Pakistan keeps instigating Islamist militancy in Kashmir. It also provides training and logistical support to jihadi elements, who in turn create problems in the restive state of Jammu and Kashmir. To keep the situation under control, India has to take strict measures against jihadi elements including the deployment of a large number of troops along the LoC and within the state. Besides strict policies against the militants and those who support them, India has to deploy a number of logistical measures to ensure that the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir does not spread beyond the borders of the state. There is a fundamental difference between the BJP's viewpoint on this issue from the other parties. BJP advocates a strict handling of the situation while the opposition parties would want a more mellowed and nuanced approach. As the government is under attack from opposition parties now that the general elections are only about a year away, through the announcement of Indian workers having been killed in Iraq where ISIS militants control a large part of the territory, the government may be trying to send the message that in the name of inclusiveness, the country cannot afford to lower the guard. Occasionally, ISIS flags are seen in protest marches taken out in Srinagar and other places in Kashmir, where the wave of militancy is still not over though it has been effectively suppressed to a large extent. The government's decision to announce, at this point in time, the death of 39 Indian workers in Iraq may have some political overtones. It will help BJP workers spread the message that if we did not tackle the problems of Islamist militancy with a firm hand, it could destabilise the country like it has done to Kashmir. The Narendra Modi-led NDA government had carried out a surgical strike well within the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) killing about 40 militants and Pakistani Army soldiers in 2016. Recently, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had announced that if Pakistan did not stop ceasefire violations, Indian troops could cross over the border. The killing of Indian workers in Iraq reminds us of the extent to which the situation has deteriorated in Iraq and some other countries including Syria and Afghanistan where ISIS and other militants are on a killing spree. International workers who have risked their lives to work in these difficult spots need to be protected. But it is not easy to offer protection to everyone when a large number of people are out with guns to create terror and anarchy. The whole world stands shocked and stunned at the merciless killing of innocent people in Iraq and Syria. For India, which is an important partner in the fight against international terror and militancy, the situation in neighbouring Pakistan is no better off. The existence of militant training camps in Pakistan poses a serious and constant threat to peace in the region. While the government should suitably compensate the families of the 39 workers who were killed in Iraq, it must keep a strict vigil against Islamist militancy taking root in the country.
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