New Delhi (HT): Indian aid worker and Catholic priest Alexis Prem Kumar, abducted by the Taliban in Afghanistan eight months ago, returned home on Sunday — the result of months of back-channel negotiations.
The behind-the-scenes deliberations that began after Ramzan in June in an unnamed Gulf country — the government refused to give out operational details — was overseen by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national security adviser Ajit Doval, and involved security agencies, sources said.
The priest gave the credit of his return to the PM. “This is because our Prime Minister Narendra Modi (that) I am here. He saved me. This (Monday) evening he talked to me when I was at the Kabul airport. Possibly, he took a lot of interest in rescuing me,” Kumar told reporters after arriving at the Delhi airport on Sunday.
Modi spoke to the 47-year-old priest before he boarded a flight from Kabul to Delhi and also spoke to his sister and father in Tamil Nadu’s Shivaganga district before breaking the news to the public in a series of tweets.
“Delighted at securing the release of Indian Jesuit priest Father Alexis Prem Kumar from captivity in Afghanistan,” he tweeted. “Have spoken to Father Alexis Prem Kumar. Informed happy family of Father Alexis Prem Kumar of his safe return after 8 months in captivity.”
Prem Kumar, working with the NGO Jesuit Refugee Service in the field of education, was abducted by Taliban gunmen from a school for refugees in Herat province on June 2 last year. Then began a long process of negotiation for the government, under intense pressure given the global response to the abduction.
“We are very happy. It is a government that works even on Sundays. We thank the Centre and Prime Minister Modi,” said John Joseph, Prem Kumar’s brother.
“The matter of his release was pursued by our leadership, including at the highest levels, the Prime Minister. We express our deep gratitude to all those who worked tirelessly over the last eight months to help in this humanitarian task of ensuring the safe release of one of our citizens,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.