Hijacking Exposes India as a Weak Soft State

14 Jan, 2000    ·   307

Anand Verma, arguing against the militants for hostage deal, suggests that India could have let Taliban's diplomatic dilemmas orchestrate the hijacking's end game

The core question is whether the Govt. decision to release three militants in exchange for the freedom of 160 hostages was in the supreme national interests. Concomitant with that is the need for scrutiny of the methodology of the process in reaching that decision. Inherent in the second is an examination of each stage of the process in the hijack drama. 



Two diametrically opposite perspectives were involved. One, humanitarian, concerned with the saving of the lives of the 160 hostages. The other was capitulation to the militants demands to save these lives. Was there a way of marrying the two to safeguard the nation's ultimate interest? And if only a zero sum equation could be found, how could these interests be served at the least cost.



Admittedly, decision making in such a situation is difficult more so if past hijacks had not led to a policy being framed and guidelines issued for future attempts. Events would lead one to believe that no such guidelines had been framed or issued to members of the Crisis Management Group at the Centre or the States. The hijack of IC 814 was apparently handled without any policy parameters.



In other words, dealing with the hijack was marked by adhocism. Public and media reactions became an important input, influencing the psyche of policy makers to the extent that the early declaration of the PM of not bowing down to the hijackers got jettisoned. 



A firm indicator of how the crisis was being handled is provided by the two separate telephone calls made by the Cabinet Secretary and the National Security Adviser to the SSP and DIG Amritsar when the hijacked plane was briefly parked there. While both gave directions to stop the plane neither seemed to have spelt out clear directions, leaving nothing to the discretion of the two officers who could not take hard decisions themselves.



The ground situation at Kandahar defined the role and limits of action available. Though a creature of the ISI and promoter of Islamic fundamentalism, the Taliban government was probably taken by surprise by the hijack and got involved only when IC-814 landed in Kandahar . This created a dilemma. How could they adhere to the norms of international behavior without affecting the interests of the Pakistan supported hijackers. This dilemma severely restricted their scope of action. They could not openly espouse the cause of the hijackers nor allow harm to the plane or its passengers which included an American and some Europeans. In fact the Taliban announced that if a single hostage was harmed, they would storm the plane. Destruction of the plane and killing of the hostages would have resulted in condemnation of the Taliban. In balance, it would have been safe to conclude that the hostages, by and large, would have remained unharmed as long as they were in Kandahar . There was no way they could been sent out of Kandahar as the plane was not fit to fly out.



One is, therefore, led to believe that, if matters had come to the crunch, the Taliban would have been forced to ask the hijackers to leave the plane rather than bear the odium of its destruction on their soil.



Pakistan could also not have wished the plane to be blown up. Even though the West and the US know that Pakistan is deep into terrorism, they do not wish to focus scrutiny on Pakistan; this is what would have occurred had the hostages been killed.



For India , the best objective situation could be discerned by comparing the advantages and disadvantages of the two options. Release of the militants saved the lives of 160 hostages, but no collateral gain accrued. The release does not lessen the proxy war or the cross-border terrorism accompanies it. The aims and objectives of Pakistan vis-à-vis India and Kashmir remain the same. On the other hand, release of the militants is a victory for terrorism. The released terrorists would resume their leadership role in the proxy war against India . An impetus for more hijacking efforts would be provided.  India would appear to be as a weak soft state in the eyes of its own citizens.



The worst case scenario would have been the death of the hostages. Their numbers pales into insignificance when compared to 70,000 killed in the last decade as a consequence of the proxy war. The image of India would then be of a hard state that will not barter its supreme national interests at any cost. The reaction of the people over the release of the militants confirms that the entire nation would have been behind such a decision.



The authorities perhaps counted too much on the support of US and its allies. Jaswant Singh's dash to Kandahar , escorting the three released militants, is a curious event for which no proper explanation can still be found.