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December 26, 1999
'India shouldn't give in to hijackers'
Onkar Singh in New Delhi
One hundred and fifty-six lives for 35 militants and $ 200 million -- is that a fair deal?
No. Releasing even Maulana Masood Azhar, as the hijackers wanted initially, would be foolish, according to M L Bhat, the former chief justice of Allahabad high court.
For the unintiated, Justice Bhat was involved in freeing Rubaiya Sayeed, then Union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's daughter, when she was kidnapped by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front militants 10 years ago, on December 8.
The state government had approached Justice Bhat then. Though he did not negotiate with the militants directly, he had figured prominently in the crisis. Rubaiya was returned after the Government of India bowed down to her abductors' demand and released five militants.
That was a wrong move, Justice Bhat now says.
"The militants received a major boost of morale and started operating with greater vengeance," he elaborates.
Should India release Azhar?
"No," Bhat replies. "I am told that this man has played a major role in bringing militancy in Jammu and Kashmir to this level. He has not only played a role in the valley but also in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It would be a mistake to release him. This may lead to further problems in the trouble-torn state."
"I am told," he continues, "that the pilot requested to land at Lucknow airport but permission was not granted. Then the plane went to Amritsar. It was there for about 40 minutes but nothing was done to prevent it from leaving Indian air space. If the plane had been in India things would have been under control," he said.
In the Rubaiya incident, the former justice says, Jammu & Kashmir's then acting administrative head Moiuddin Shah (the chief minister was abroad) had accepted the kidnappers' demand within one hour. What remained to be negotiated was how the girl was to be released.
December 8, 1989 was a sad day for the Indian political system, Justice Bhat maintains.
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