The Taliban want Italy to quit Afghanistan in exchange for the release of a kidnapped reporter, Italian public broadcaster Rai reported today.
Rai interviewed a Pakistani journalist, Rahimullah Yousefzai, who claims to be in direct touch with the Islamists holding La Repubblica correspondent Daniele Mastrogiacomo. As well as the withdrawal of Italy’s some 2,000 troops, the Taliban wants NATO to halt an offensive unleashed Monday and release two Taliban spokesmen from jail in Kabul, Yousefzai said. However, the Italian ambassador in Kabul said Italy had received no such demands.
Italian diplomats and the country’s intelligence are working in Rome and Kabul to obtain the release of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, 52, a correspondent for Italian daily La Repubblica, gone missing while trying to talk to Taliban leaders in southern Afghanistan. Officials at the Foreign Ministry in Rome appeared certain on Wednesday that the reporter was abducted in the southern city of Kandahar by a “military structure” answering to the Taliban.
Taliban spokesmen were reported as saying on Tuesday that Mastrogiacomo, whom they suspected of being a British spy, was being interrogated. Mastrogiacomo, who has Swiss and Italian citizenship, was born in the pakistani city of Karachi, and speaks English fluently. He is a war correspondent with experience covering conflicts in Iraq, the Middle East and Somalia.
There is tension in Prodi’s coalition over the continued presence of Italian forces in the country, especially in the wake of developments this week. The Far Left wants Italy out of Afghanistan, and a defection by two senators of theirs, two weeks ago, forced Romano Prodi to resign, in order to check whether he still had a majority. Formally he has, actually he hasn’t. On Thursday the Lower House of parliament voted on a measure guaranteeing funding to 1,900 Italian troops in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the funding was granted not for a six-months’ period, but for the whole 2007. A clear sign Mr.Prodi fears his government cannot take the risk to vote every six months on such a sensitive topic.
The Far Left at the government wants the immediate withdrawal of italian troops from Afghanistan, and the funding bill must now be voted by the Senate, where the government has a razor-thin majority. Now, the Northern League, a regional party allied to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, is looking for a vote to allow italian troops to actively fight on the ground, changing their rules of engagement, whereas Mr.Prodi and his allies, the Left Democrats led by Mr.Fassino, want to keep our soldiers in their barracks, waiting for the Talibans to attack them. Put shortly, the italian government could fall again in a few days.
Meanwhile, italian military intelligence SISMI is working hard, in an extremely critical context, to try to get more information on the kidnapping, just like they did a couple of years ago to free Mrs. Giuliana Sgrena, a communist journalist kidnapped in Iraq, and freed by a Sismi officer, Nicola Calipari, killed in a shooting by U.S. soldiers.
Today in Afghanistan, just like yesterday in Iraq, insurgents try to exploit the italian Far Left stance asking for the withdrawal of Italy, and maybe getting a rich ransom in exchange. Because kidnapping an Italian could be a very important political move and/or a rich business.