Man who monitored 1999 Kandahar hijack admits goof-up

Kandahar hijack

NEW DELHI (TIP): The man who monitored the crisis arising from the 1999 hijack of IC-814, former RA&W chief A S Dulat, has admitted that the Crisis Management Group (CMG) had “goofed up” the operation.

While he didn’t go into the details of the goof-up and what exactly transpired at the five-hour CMG meeting on December 24 while the plane was parked in Amritsar, Dulat said that “no one in Delhi or Punjab wanted to bell the cat”. In the meantime, the plane flew away, and with it the opportunity to gain an upper hand over the hijackers. Later, Dulat says “everyone shifted the blame to each other”.

Speaking ahead of the launch of his book, ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’, Dulat said that the then Punjab police chief Sarabjit Singh, who was in charge of the situation when the plane was on the ground in Amritsar, said Delhi never told him that IC-814 was not to be allowed to take off. Singh did tell Delhi that he had at his disposal Punjab commandos trained in anti-terrorism operations who could storm the aircraft but Delhi’s response was that it did not want any casualties.

After the plane flew off to Lahore – the next stop was Dubai and eventually Kandahar – Dulat writes that the “CMG degenerated into a blame game…with the cabinet secretary being head of the CMG as one target and NSG chief Nikhil Kumar, another.”

He also criticized the handling of the hostage trade-off in 1989 when the daughter of the then Union home minister and current J&K CM Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was kidnapped. Dulat said, “Rubaiya’s kidnapping is a classic case on how not to handle a hostage crisis. We did everything wrong. Because it was such a high-profile kidnap, every friend of Mufti appeared on the scene and was busy scoring points. So instead of releasing one militant – Hamid Sheikh – which was all the JKLF wanted, we released five.” He pointed out that the release of the four others didn’t matter as much as the psychological impact of that trade-off. “They felt that they made Delhi bend.”

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