Why Azhar was released by BJP Govt. in 1999

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By RK Sinha

There were valid and credible reasons for releasing Masood Azhar in 1999. Masood was released on humanitarian ground, to save life of many Indians.Those who are now questioning the decision of the then BJP government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee forget the fact that there were 176 passengers on board the flight IC 814 of the Indian Airlines when it was hijacked soon after taking off from Kaathmandu for Delhi on December 24, 1999.

Life of passengers including children and women were at risk. If the then government was to be faulted it was its indecision to block the runway in Amritsar when the hijacked plane landed here for refueling. It was there for 45 minutes. It was easy for the administration to prevent the aircraft from taking off from India by blocking the runway. This would have given opportunity to the security forces to engage the hijackers for negotiation and use the time to go for commando operation to free the passengers. Here again, at the highest level of discussion this option was considered but some officials who were present in the meeting suggested that if the runway was to be blocked, the hijackers might blow the aircraft killing all in the plane including the hijackers. It could not then and cannot be ascertained now if the threat held by the hijackers was real or a bluff. But the option of blocking the runway in Amritsar airport was worth taking. It was a missed opportunity to free the passengers.

The next day, December 25 relatives of passengers joined by many other people had marched to the 7, Race Course residence of the Prime Minister to save the life of the passengers. The hijackers in the meantime had released 27 passengers in Dubai where they stopped over before taking the plane to Kandahar in Afghanistan which was under control of the Taliban. Before taking the Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar, the plane landed first at Lahore and then at Dubai. Agents of the Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan were present at Kandahar air strip when the Indian Airlines plane was forced to land there. It was ample proof of the involvement of the ISI in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane to secure the release of three terrorists lodged in Indian jail which included Masood Azhar. The hijackers had demanded the release of the terrorists as pre-condition for freeing the hostage on board the aircraft. 

Congress President Rahul Gandhi who accused the BJP for releasing the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar forgets that the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee  had convened all party meeting to discuss the hijack situation. Sonia Gandhi who was Congress President then had also expressed her opinion that everything possible should be done to save the life of the passengers who were held hostage at Kandahar. It was after due consideration of all factors that a decision was taken to free Masood Azhar and two other terrorists to secure release of the passengers.

It is an irony that a man like Masood Azhar who is basically a coward man in real life has grown to become Frankenstein of the world of terrorism. Those who interrogated him during his captivity in India had said that he was a coward man. An army officer who interrogated him had punched a hard slap at his face. Masood had cried and begged for mercy.

It can’t be assumed in entirety that had Masood Azhar not been released from Indian jail, cross border terrorism would have stopped. Terror attack on India from across the border is not only because of Jaish-e-Mohammad and its head Masood Azhar. The proxy war launched against India is because of all powerful ISI, a wing of Pakistan Army. If not Azhar, the ISI would have groomed some other terrorist to continue attacking India.

I recall the incident that took place in 1989. Vishwanath Pratap Singh was Prime Minister. He has just replaced Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre as leader of the Janata Dal after the Congress lost in the Lok Sabha elections. Mufti Mohaamad Sayeed former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir was then Union Home Minister in the V P Singh Government. His daughter Rubiya Sayeed was kidnapped by Kashmiri Terrorist organisastion called Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front to secure release of five local terrorists. It took four days to rescue Rubya Sayeed which was possible after Inder Kumar Gujral, Minister for External Affairs and Arif Md Khan, Minister for Civil Aviation negotiated the deal following which five terrorists were freed and Rubiya returned home.

It happens sometime when government of the day has to take some unpopular decision to save life of innocent people. My advice to Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition leaders is that don’t politicize the incident. It will only give undue publicity to a terrorist and his terror outfit.

I learn that China is reconsidering its stand on Masood Azhar and is likely to go along with United Nations Security Council move to declare Masood ‘global terrorist’. A Chinese envoy in Delhi on Sunday March 17 said that “issue of Masood Azhar will be resolved soon”.

(The writer is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha)

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