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December 27, 1999
Govt wants to wear out hijackers
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Is the government being slow and unresponsive to the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814?
To outsiders, it would clearly appear so. The government has just sent across its team to Kandahar, a few hours short of the hijacking completing 72 hours. In fact, so frustrated were relatives of the passengers still on board that they stormed the press conference of External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh yesterday.
Yet, behind all this madness, there is a clear method. The Indian government is trying very hard to regain and retain the initiative in its dealing with the hijackers. The aim of the government is to wear out the hijackers, to go slow on their demands, yet ensure the safety of the passenger.
"After all, this, more than anything else, is a psychological war," said a senior government official who is part of the Indian crisis management team. "We simply cannot give in pronto to their demands. If we do, it only emboldens them further."
Thus it was that Jaswant Singh declared that the hijackers had still not placed their demands before the Indian government. Clearly, the hijackers demands made through the air traffic controller, Kandahar, is not being accepted, and the government is now looking at negotiating directly with the hijackers. Which means starting all over again. The government is in no hurry to simply capitulate to the hijackers's demand.
This strategy is clearly guiding the government at present, which is still to come to terms with having allowed the hijacked aircraft out of Amritsar, and therefore forcing India to deal with the Taleban regime in Afghanistan. India has no diplomatic links with the Taleban.
The hijackers had issued a deadline that an Indian negotiating team should be in Kandahar by 1400 IST. Yet, even at that hour, the Indian negotiating team is yet to leave New Delhi for Afghanistan. However, A R Ghanshyam, a senior official at the Indian high commission in Islamabad, has already reached Kandahar, and made contact with the hijackers. However, all negotiations will be done through the seven-member Indian team, once it reaches Kandahar.
The hijackers had also made a set of demands, conveyed by Mohammad Khiber of the civil aviation department at Kandahar through rediff.com, one of which was that technical components, engineers and the foreign minister himself fly down to Kandahar. While the government has not rejected these demands, it said it will want to hear them directly from the hijackers.
"So many demands are being made. We can hardly respond to all of them. Let the hijackers contact the Indians team or the Indian official. We will do everything that is possible," said the government official.
The identity of the seven member Indian team is not known. However, the team is expected to contain senior officials from the ministry of external affairs, civil aviation, senior security and intelligence officers besides psychologists and others who are experienced in dealing with terrorists.
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