The recent incident of three Indians taken hostage in
highlighted once again the dangerous world we live in. Hostages have been taken
throughout history. What makes it so urgent today is its increasing link with
international terrorism. This evil is spreading and few nations will be spared
its terrible impact. It is important to be clear about what it entails and how
Kidnapping and hostage taking have emerged as a major
weapon of coercion in
Iraq. It is also
often a purely criminal act for profit. Absence of law and order, enormous
quantities of readily available weapons, little employment and something of a
‘cause’, provide enough cover for it to flourish. It is to be hoped that this
situation will end well, for it appears to be a criminal act and there is little
leverage with the terrorists. But, the Indian state has the responsibility and
indeed a duty to protect its citizens wherever they are and whatever be their
conditions and take necessary counter measures.
Let us have no illusion that this will be the last
or elsewhere. Hence, it is time to ponder Indian doctrine and policy to deal
with such an eventuality. I suggest we have had neither in the past and have
responded entirely in an ad hoc manner and seldom effectively.
The Rubaiyya Sayyid kidnapping in December 1989 is
perhaps the worst example in recent history anywhere. The complete capitulation
of the Indian state was arguably the single most important cause for the
subsequent insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir. It also set a terrible precedence. By
meeting every demand of the terrorists, the Government sent a clear message
everywhere that it will surrender if its senior officials were to be the
victims. A decade later at the Millennium eve aircraft hijack case, the plea of
the victims’ families was that no difference should be made now in their case.
The Indian state then not only capitulated once again, but the foreign minister
personally escorted the released criminals to
errors of commission and omission in both situations were staggering.
It is important and necessary to be clear about future
action. National response has to be at two distinct levels. One is operational,
that is the mechanisms and procedures for response. This will include clear
responsibilities, designated channels of command, well trained capabilities,
necessary resources, fine tuning modalities for operation, creating competence
in negotiating techniques and others. But, this cannot operate without clarity
at the first level, that of doctrine and policy.
Faced with blackmail through hostages what should be
the national response? There can only be one single option. That is: never ever
surrender to the blackmail demands of criminals. A sovereign nation that values
its honour, independence and respect among the comity of nations and wishes for
independence of action, cannot allow itself to be held to ransom. Besides,
submitting to the demands of terrorists is not a policy, but the absence of
policy and capitulation only encourages future blackmail. There is no dearth of
examples from around the world that shows clearly how each situation of
surrender only encourages future hostage taking. The national doctrine in
hostage situations must then be a clear no surrender policy.
This does not entail that there will be no negotiation.
Indeed, skilful negotiation is an integral part of tactics in evolving a rescue
plan and to break down the resistance of the terrorists. But, at all times there
should be a clear resolve that there will be no surrender to blackmail.
Following from that, the state must declare, whatever
the condition, wherever the terrorists, the nation will make every effort and
spare no resource to bring them to justice. This will not merely be informing
the Interpol, but exploring the possibility of every overt and covert means to
bring pressure on the gangs as well as individuals who perpetrate these acts.
There will be issues of international law as well as other constraints over
operations and it is not my contention that these should be violated. But within
reasonable limits every effort must be made to respond pro-actively.
This will not be a policy that will be easy to sell at
home. Long used to a soft state which can be pressured over every factional
interest and which has succumbed to pressures more often than it has resisted, a
sudden shift in policy will be neither easy to declare nor implement. But, then
we are today in a new war, which is being fought with new rules or perhaps
absence of rules, where there are no clear frontiers and no recognisable enemy.
Given these ambiguities in today’s world, doctrinal clarity and clear policy are
vital for national security.