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January 7, 2000
The Rediff Interview/ Prof Kalim Bahadur
'Our foremost need is to change our casual attitude'
Professor Kalim Bahadur of the Jawaharlal Nehru University's School of International Studies has been studying the developments in Afghanistan and Central Asia for many years now. An expert on the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism and global terrorism, he has also kept an eye on the rise of the Taleban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Amberish K Diwanji sought his expert views on the hijacking of the Indian Airlines Flight 1C 814 and what it means for India's internal security in the coming years. Excerpts:
Was the hijacking a random event or was it a part of the continuing cross-border terrorism in the country?
The way the hijacking was carried out - the hijackers boarding the plane at Kathmandu, the aircraft hopping from Kathmandu to Amritsar to Lahore to Dubai and then finally landing at Kandahar - shows that a high degree of planning was involved in the whole operation. It is clear that it wasn't a random event. It was an act carried out with certain specific political objectives.
So whose hand do you see behind this?
There are no clear indications yet, but there is circumstantial evidence from which one can draw certain inferences. For instance, the hijackers demanded the release of an Harkat-ul-Ansar leader. Now, the Harkat-ul Ansar is one of the best organised and the most militant organisations operating in Kashmir. Their ideological mentor is Maulana Sami-ul Haq, who is based in Pakistan. He controls a very large organisation and runs schools that impart religious training. These schools are called Madarsa Haqqania and are located somewhere around Peshawar in the North-West Frontier Province.
These organisations and people have very close links with the Taleban in Afghanistan. So much so that the Harkat-ul Ansar is also known as the Pakistani Taleban. The cross-border militant organisations based in Pakistan obviously cannot carry out their activities without the active support and backing of the Pakistani army and the Inter-Service Intelligence. The support is in the form of funds, arms, logistic support etc. The hijacking, it goes without saying, could not have been possible for an organisation like the Harkat-ul Ansar without the knowledge and support of the Pakistani security agencies.
Why then was Pakistan so keen to drive the aircraft out of Lahore?
That was obviously because they did not want to be directly associated with it. The needle of suspicion, if the aircraft had been allowed to stay in Lahore, would have pointed towards Pakistan.
Do you think that the Taleban was also involved?
Let me put it this way, why should the hijackers be so keen to go to Kandahar. They could have easily carried out their negotiations from Dubai. While one cannot say whether the Taleban was directly involved, Kandahar was certainly a safe place for the hijackers. There was no way the Taleban was going to storm the aircraft, nor would they have allowed Indian commandos to do so. In Dubai, on the other hand, there was a very good possibility of the United Arab Emirates authorities using force against the hijackers.
There is another aspect. From Kandahar, which is a desolate place, it was easy for the hijackers to slip out and escape after the hijacking was over. This would not have been possible in any other city or country.
What does the hijacking imply?
Let us first understand that the hijacking was a continuation of the Kargil war. The post-Kargil period has already seen fresh infiltrations into Kashmir. The hijacking was an escalatory step.
Do you think the Government of India made a mistake by releasing three terrorists in exchange for the hostages?
The decision I am sure was not an easy one for the government. Freeing three hardcore terrorists is no doubt fraught with dangers, but it is also very difficult for any elected government to stand up and say 'Let 150 passengers get killed, we will not heed to the hijackers' demands'. After all, when the daughter of the then home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was kidnapped in 1989, the government did free seven terrorists. Later, when the daughter of Saifuddin Soz was kidnapped, again some terrorists were freed.
Why is Maulana Masood Azhar so important to the militants?
You must understand that it is not just the importance of Azhar, who no doubt is important, but also the fact that the entire hijacking has now become an international incident.
After Kargil and the hijacking, is India looking at difficult times ahead?
There are no easy answers and there are no short cuts to better times. There are many countries facing the spectre of terrorism and fundamentalism, including the United States. If you see how the plane was hijacked, there was gross ineptitude, carelessness and negligence on the part of India.
Someone pointed out the other day on television that passengers are not allowed to carry even two-celled transistors into aircraft, and here we had five terrorists carrying guns and bombs! We have to be extremely vigilant and change our attitude towards security, otherwise such problems will continue to crop up.
Take the case of Kargil. The Pakistani troops had infiltrated and occupied the heights for a long time before we responded. This 'sab chalta hai' attitude will not work. Take also the Amritsar fiasco. Even after the aircraft landed in Amritsar, we very stupidly did nothing. Surely, we could have done something at Amritsar, if not stormed the aircraft then at least kept talking.
Our foremost need is to change our casual attitude and approach to matters of security.
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