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'The situation has been handled admirably'

Today he may have been relegated to the sidelines as president of the Indian Hockey Federation, but K P S Gill will be best remembered for his stint as the director general of police, Punjab.

When he took over from the redoubtable Julio Ribeiro, there were doubts if he could match the Super Cop's reputation for delivering results. But by the time Gill handed over charge, the back of Punjab militancy had been broken.

His stint in Punjab then qualifies Gill as one of the foremost experts on counter-insurgency, in which capacity he joined the Rediff Chat on December 28. Did the authorities goof by letting Flight 814 take off from Amritsar's Raja Sansi airport? Is a commando operation in Kandahar viable?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:26 IST)
Hello Netizens. I'm here to answer your questions regarding the hijacking of IC 814, presently at Kandahar. To start, I would like to say that, as with all hijackings and hostage situations, indeed all terrorism, this is an act of cowardice. As we enter the new millennium, I think we should all join to condemn all manifestations of terrorism, whatever their motives.

Jinx (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:17 IST)
Hey what's this silence? Is our sardar gone to Kandahar?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:30 IST)
Jinx, I'm very much here. Tell me your correct name and I'll try to come wherever you are.

Amit (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:33 IST)
Wasn't it possible to send commandos into that flight in Amritsar itself ?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:37 IST)
Amit, what happened at Amritsar was an unforgivable blunder. The plane should, and certainly could, have been stopped there and a commando operation is not only feasible, but has, in the past been carried out at Amritsar. That was during the hijack by a Kashmiri militant in 1993.

Veekay (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:32 IST)
How feasible is a commando operation at Kandahar?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:40 IST)
Veekay, Since international relations and laws are involved, a commando operation is not feasible or possible without the fullest cooperation and clearance from the Taleban regime. However, as far as the physical feasibility of a commando operation is concerned, it could certainly be mounted at Kandahar. However, a repeat of an Entebbe type operation has to be ruled out because of the necessity to overfly Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan, and the enormous geopolitical instability of the South Asian region. Any such attempt would have unforeseen and complex consequences.

amit (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:40 IST)
Mr Gill , what options does the Indian government now have?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:43 IST)
Amit, It does not appear that the hijackers are at all well-armed. That, coupled with the Taleban's assurance that if any violence occurs against the hostages, they will storm the plane, seems to make the situation quite favourable to a peaceful outcome. It appears now to be only a matter of time.

Amit (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:36 IST)
How do you compare this hijacking with the kidnapping of Rubiya Sayeed -- I mean from the government response perspective!

peace (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:37 IST)
Mr. Gill, tell me very honestly...if there were any minister or his relative on the plane... would this hijacking drama have gone on for so long or will the government have come to a decision by now?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:48 IST)
Amit & Peace, the presence of a minister or his/her relative would not have made a difference, because it is well recognised within the country that the release of Rubaiya Sayeed in exchange for a number of hardcore terrorists was a major blunder for which we paid very heavily in Punjab shortly thereafter, leading to the death of hundreds of policemen and officers, and for which we are still paying in J&K. The Rubaiya Sayeed case sent very wrong signals to the terrorists, and the consequences continue to haunt the nation.

Karl (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:48 IST)
Mr Gill, if a militant can be let go of in exchange for the daughter of Mufti Mohamed Sayeed, then why can't we let one man go for the sake of 160 people?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:58 IST)
Karl, one blunder doesn't have to be compounded by another. Any attitude of surrender only encourages terrorists to even more brutal acts. The greatest success story against terrorism has been that of Israel. I recall that in 1974, there was a series of attacks in the wake of the Yom Kippur war, in which a number of children lost their lives. In the worst of these incidents at a school in the village of Ma'alot, over a hundred children were held hostage by terrorists armed with Kalashnikovs and a large quantity of explosives. After a standoff that lasted 14 hours, the Israeli defence force stormed the school house just before the terrorist deadline expired. The terrorists had threatened to blow up the entire school. The terrorists opened fire on the children, 84 of whom were shot, of whom 20 died. This was a terrible price to pay. But the result was international condemnation of the terrorists, and a sudden reduction in such atrocities by them.

The calculus is not 160 lives against one, but surrender under terrorist threat. One such act could result in the loss of thousands of lives over the next few months. Recall that, in the early 1990s, there were a number of hijacks, many of them just pranks by people who caused enormous nuisance. These incidents suddenly ceased after one terrorist was killed in the commando operation in 1993. Recall that 1993 was the last incident to take place in India till the present incident which, incidentally, started off in Nepal.

Sandy (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:54 IST)
Mr Gill , do you not think that for the Kashmir problem, a political solution will be better than a military one? If we can gain the confidence of the Kashmiri people , the problem can be solved easily?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:4 IST)
Sandy, What is a 'political solution'? We've had democratic elections there. If there was no export of terrorists and mercenaries from Pakistan and other countries, including countries as far away as Albania, terrorism in the state would have been fully controlled by now, and the state would have been well on the way to reconstruction. There is, today, very little home-grown terrorism in Kashmir.

I used to meet the same arguments in Punjab. People talk as if the terrorists represent some sort of inchoate democratic aspiration. But once terrorism was defeated in Punjab, the terrorist 'support base' vanished. Where is it now? These are falsehoods that only serve the terrorist cause. Terrorism does not recognise the normal conventions of politics and democracy, and cannot be countered by these. It is a completely immoral and unconstrained use of force and can only be countered by the use of force.

Neena (Tue Dec 28 1999 5:51 IST)
Mr Gill, are you still being haunted by those human right violation abuses? What are you doing for that? And how many of your former colleagues are being harassed by these HR gangs?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:10 IST)
Neena, There is a human rights industry in India that comprises unscrupulous elements who abuse the processes of the law, bear false witness, and fabricate evidence to implicate the officers who fought terrorism through the worst period that Punjab experienced. For a short while, they had gained a degree of respectability as a result of direct or covert encouragement from the courts. However, today, they stand utterly exposed. You may be aware that in the last two parliamentary and assembly elections, all those who stood for elections on a human rights platform lost their deposits. Had their allegations even a grain of truth in them, the people of Punjab would have voted en masse to empower these individuals to right the alleged wrongs. I think the truth is visible to anyone who will actually look at the facts in Punjab.

Dutts (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:3 IST)
The Pakistanis say this hijacking drama is being enacted by India to gain support. What is your opinion?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:13 IST)
Dutts, We have been noticing Pakistani statements over the period of the hijackings, especially on television, and the levity with which they are treating this grave human problem involving the lives of over 150 people is really amazing. These allegations are beyond the limits of credence.

amit (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:10 IST)
Gill Sahib , I have 2 more doubts 1. Will involving UN in this incident be good for India ? 2.What steps should be taken by India to prevent such incidents in future ?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:22 IST)
Amit, regarding your second query, we could have an independent procedure where all AI and IA passengers are double-checked by our own security personnel immediately before boarding the plane. As regards our responses to the current hijack situation arising out of duress cannot and should not commit us to any obligations. However, in international affairs there are no permanent friends or enemies, and this incident might even pave the way for a more friendly relationship with the Taliban, and could well be a beginning of an outflanking movement against mercenaries operating in Kashmir.

amit (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:17 IST)
Mr Gill , many countries are facing the problem of terrorist activities by religious fundamentalists. Do you think all these governments can work together in eliminating this menace?

Dutts (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:20 IST)
Mr Gill, thanks for answering the question. Pakistan goes scot-free everywhere in the international fora. What is the reason ?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:25 IST)
Amit, These governments have no other option. Dutts, I don't think this is true any longer. Pakistan is beginning to pay the price for its obduracy.

babu (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:27 IST)
Gillsaab, good evening, In view of the present crisis like hijack, and political corruption etc, do you prefer President's rule in India?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:31 IST)
Babu, I certainly believe that the system we have today, with all its failings, is better than the presidential form of government Amit, it is great credit to India's political parties, especially at this moment of crisis, that they are speaking with one voice. Subsequent discussion, even along party lines, is an essential part of the democratic system, and we can hardly escape that.

Olly (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:29 IST)
Mr Gill, what do you think will happen in the next 24 hours?

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:32 IST)
Olly, I am certainly very optimistic and I hope to see a favourable end to the crisis.

Mr K P S Gill (Tue Dec 28 1999 6:35 IST)
After the initial hiccups leading to the failure at Amritsar, I believe the government has handled the situation as well as it could have. Our position is now improving with each hour. Although there has been a considerable amount of frustration, and complaints from the relatives of the hostages and a number of self-styled intellectuals, I think the situation has, overall, been handled admirably. Thank you very much and good night.