Kandahar: hijack of IC-814, 1999

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Mistakes admitted in monitoring

The Times of India, Jul 3, 2015

Neelam Raaj

Man who monitored 1999 'Kandahar hijack' admits 'goof-up'

In this picture taken 30 December 1999, Taliban Islamic militia commandos ride in the rear of a truck towards an aircraft of Indian Airlines hijacked by Islamic Kashmiri militants which stands on the tarmac at Kandahar airport. (Getty Images); Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Jul 3, 2015

The man who monitored the crisis arising from the 1999 hijack of IC-814, former RA&W chief A S Dulat, has admitted in an exclusive interview to TOI 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."

Highjackers wanted to “fly west”

The Times of India, Jul 04 2015

Hijackers were willing to kill to `fly west': IC-814 pilot

Former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) chief A S Dulat has again fuelled the debate on the handling of the IC-814 Kandahar hijack in 1999 by terming it a “goof-up“ as the Indian Airlines plane was allowed to fly out of India from Amritsar. But a book on the seven-day ordeal by the flight's commander, Captain Devi Sharan, points out that the hijackers were desperados ready to kill as many passengers as required to “fly west“. According to Sharan's book -`Flight Into Fear: The Captain's Story' -the five hijackers were armed with several hand grenades, four revolvers and a knife. They stormed the cockpit of the Kathmandu-Delhi flight on December 24, 1999, with 176 passengers on board when it had been airborne for 40 minutes and was over Lucknow.

Sharan landed the plane in Amritsar where the hijackers brought in three hostages to the business class and slit their throats. “As a pilot, my first duty is to safely fly my passengers,“ says Sharan, for unless he flew, a killing spree would follow. They (the hijackers) said take the aircraft west... I told them we cannot go beyond Delhi.“

After an argument, Sha ran managed to land the plane in Amritsar, where i spent possibly the most criti cal 49 minutes of what turn ed out to be a week-long cri sis. “I asked for fuel bowser (fuel truck used for refuelling planes)... The hijackers brought in three hostages (including Rupan Katyal who later died) to the business class and slit their throats... Then they brought four more people to business class (for the same reason),“ the book says.

At this point, Devi Sharan realized that unless he flies the plane the hijackers would go on a killing spree. Then the captain started the engine and took off. The aircraft barely had any fuel and the nearest airport it could have flown to was Lahore. But initially, Lahore did not permit the plane to land. Sharan looked for a field or road to land to minimize casualties as the plane was running out of fuel.

At the last minute, authorities at Lahore airport allowed Sharan to land. After refuelling, the plane went to Dubai Military Airport where the body of Katyal ­ who was returning to Delhi after honeymoon in Nepal -was allowed to be taken out and 26 hostages, mainly children, women and senior citizens, were let off.

Doval’s role

‘Rahul’s claim not correct, Doval didn’t fly with Azhar’, March 12, 2019: The Times of India

Sources in the security establishment have refuted Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s statement that NSA Ajit Doval had accompanied Jaish-e-Muhammed chief Masood Azhar to Kandahar where he was freed in December 1999 to secure the release of passengers of a hijacked Indian Airlines plane.

“He (Doval) was not on the plane on which Azhar had to be flown to Kandahar to secure the release of 161 passengers on board IC-814,” a senior source said. He said Doval, then the additional director of Intelligence Bureau, had reached Kandahar ahead of Azhar’s release to negotiate with the ISIcontrolled hijackers and Taliban leaders supporting them: a claim which is in line with the accounts given by then home minister L K Advani and then RAW chief A S Dulat in their books ‘My Country, My Life’ and ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’ respectively.

Jaswant Singh, the then foreign minister, flew with Azhar and two others terrorists — Omar Sheikh, who later killed American journalist Daniel Pearl, and Mushtaq Zargar.

“The decision to release Azhar was taken by the Vajpayee government which decided to save the lives of 161 Indians whom the terrorists had vowed to eliminate if their demand for Azhar’s release was not conceded. Whether it was a good decision or a bad decision can be debated. But it cannot be pinned on officers mandated to carry out instructions of the day,” the source said.

The terrorists had begun by demanding the release of 36 terrorists from Indian prisons, besides a ransom of $200 million. While Doval and other Indian negotiators, who included his Intelligence Bureau colleague N S Sandhu and senior RAW officer C D Sahay, succeeded in getting the terrorists to scale down their demand, the latter threatened to kill the hostages if Azhar and Sheikh were not released.

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