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December 27, 1999
Taliban Rep in New York: 'We Will Take All Action to Rescue the Passengers'
Arthur J Pais
"We just do not want any catastrophe to happen on our land," says Abdul Hakim Mujahid, the Taliban representative in New York, discussing the hijacked Indian Airlines plane that is now stranded in Kandahar. "That was the reason why we did not want the plane to land on our soil in the first place."
He says the Taliban does not want blood spilled at the airport or anywhere on its soil or its airspace.
"Besides, we don't encourage this kind of act, we do not support hijacking or violence against innocent people."
Echoing his government's decision that the plane should leave Afghanistan soil, he said: "We will take any measure that is necessary to make sure the plane leaves our soil." He did not respond when asked what kind of ultimatum, if any, was given to the hijackers.
But if the hijackers won't leave Kandahar, he said, "We will take all action to rescue the passengers."
He also said the Taliban government refused to mediate between the hijackers and the Indian government. "And we will continue to refuse to mediate," he asserted.
Mujahid, who functions in a small office in Queens, New York spoke with rediff.com on Sunday evening. He has hardly had any sleep since the hijacking, he said.
The Taliban was displeased with the hijacking act, he continued, despite its concern for Kashmiris.
"Besides our dislike for hijacking, we do not know who these people are (the hijackers)," he said. "And we do not know who this religious leader they want to be freed."
He said the Indian government did not act "fast enough" to deal with the situation. "Our government got in touch with the Indian government as soon as the plane landed and offered full co-operation," he said. "But the Indian government did not respond."
He also said Kabul asked New Delhi to send delegates (negotiators), but "for some reason India did not respond." Kabul, he said, told New Delhi that the negotiators could independently arrive in Afghanistan or with the United Nations team.
Mujahid is waiting to be allowed to take his seat in the United Nations as the Afghanistan ambassador but throughout the weekend, he says he had been calling upon ambassadors of a number of countries, discussing with them the situation arising from the hijacked plane.
Most of the top United Nations officials were out of New York when the plane was hijacked. While the Afghanistan government refused to deal with the hijackers -- except to provide basic necessities to the passengers and the crew -- Mujahid said Kabul requested "urgently" that the United Nations should intervene. The UN mission in Pakistan, then got involved, he said, adding that UN General Secretary Kofi Annan decided to expedite the UN role on Friday evening.
Many pro-Taliban Afghans in New York said Kabul did not want to get involved in the problems of neighboring countries.
Asked about Kashmiri secessionists getting aid from Afghanistan, some of the Taliban-backers said there was a difference in supporting a people's movement and letting hijackers use Afghan soil.
"Besides, there are many groups (in Kashmir) who are fighting against Indian rule," said an Afghan livery-cab driver. "Many of them are not friends of our country. Why should we then help them?"
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