Follow @southasiaanalys


Indian security agencies have in the past handled successfully many hijackings by Sikh terrorist elements, the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, Myanmarese and Nepali political dissidents, the Japanese Red Army faction and individual eccentrics, but this is the first time they have had to deal with one by an Islamic terrorist group, of apparently Wahabi orientation.

Their hesitant response in the beginning could be attributed to their initial lack of information regarding the identity of the hijackers' organisation and the modus operandi (MO) of Islamic terrorists during hijackings.

The most characteristic feature of the incident involving the Indian Airlines Corporation (IAC) aircraft is the sheer barbarism of the hijackers in killing with a knife Ruppin Katyal, a 25-year-old newly-married man returning from Kathmandu with his 21-year-old wife Rachna after their honeymoon. They allegedly inflicted injuries on him and watched him slowly bleed to death.

An exactly similar MO was followed by the Al Faran, an off-shoot of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), while reportedly killing five Western tourists captured by it in Kashmir in 1995 to demand the release of Maulana Masood Azhar. The Al Faran terrorists slit the throat of one of them and watched him bleed to death--like the HUM did with former Afghan President Najibullah after capturing him in Kabul in September 1996, like the Algerian terrorists trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been doing with captured fellow-Muslims and like the Pakistan army allegedly did with some of the captured Indian armymen, whose bodies were returned totally mutilated with a knife.

An act of greater barbarism was their refusal to let Rachna accompany the dead body of her husband of three weeks when they released some women and children at Dubai and their retaining her forcibly with them. One goes mad trying to think why this unheard of barbarity to this young girl.

While the Govt. of India has pleaded in vain for her release, it is a million pities that there has till now been no universal uproar against this barbarism and that the governments, non-governmental organisations and women's honour activists of the world have not raised their voice loudly enough against this and protested to the Government of Pakistan, the puppeteer of the HUM, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups.

The terrorist hijackers faced by the Indian security agencies in the past at least had a modicum of humanity in that they refrained from ill-treatment of the passengers, particularly the women and children. The present group not only killed Ruppin in a cruel manner and forcibly retained his widow on board the aircraft while sending away his dead body, but also detained some women and children and denied food to the passengers for 24 hours after the plane landed at Kandahar.

The other characteristic feature of the hijacking is their total avoidance of any fraternisation with the passengers lest such interaction soften them in their attitude to the passengers and make them more amenable to a compromise.

Hijacking is viewed by terrorists as a kind of psychological warfare to get publicity for their cause, to boost the morale of their followers, to project the adversary State as soft and helpless and to damage, in the eyes of civilians, the credibility of the State as their protector.

Surprisingly, the hijackers have avoided taking advantage of the occasion and the presence of the correspondents of the BBC and two news agencies in Kandahar for publicising whatever be their cause. In fact, till now, they seem to have avoided any interaction with the world press.

Moreover, for the first two days, their only demand related to political asylum in the Taliban-controlled territory, which the Taliban repeatedly rejected. Only, thereafter, they appear to have come forward with their demands for the release of Maulana Azhar and some other Pakistanis detained in Kashmir and a huge cash payment (since withdrawn, reportedly under Taliban pressure).

An analysis of the reports from Kandahar would indicate that the hijackers are concerned over their future after the hijacking is terminated. International agreements and the instructions of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) lay down that no member-country should give asylum to hijackers and that any member-country in whose territory hijackers are found should arrrest and deport them to the country against which the offence was committed or at least try them in their own territory.

The Pakistan Government refrained from handing over to India the JKLF and Sikh terrorists who hijacked IAC planes to Lahore, but, under pressure from the ICAO and foreign governments, had to try them and send them to prison. After they had completed their sentence, they were expelled from Pakistan.

Thus, the Taliban as well as Pakistan's military Government would find it difficult to give asylum to the hijackers and no other Government might like to allow them in its territory. In view of this, even if a satisfactory solution is ultimately found on the question of the prisoners' release, the question of the hijackers' future after the release could pose a stumbling block.

India should enter into consultations with the members of the executive of the ICAO and seek their support for an emergency session of the executive to pass a resolution recommending to all member-states a suspension of the flights of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to their countries till the hijack situation is terminated.

Even if the ICAO does not agree, India should, after the hijack situation is terminated, suspend all PIA flights to its airports and all PIA overflights through Indian air space to Nepal, South-East Asia and the Far East till Pakistan guarantees that it would stop supporting such acts of terrorism against India. Most probably, Pakistan would retaliate by similarly banning Air India overflights through its air space to the Gulf and Western destinations. We should be prepared for that. Nepal's economy could suffer slightly, but we could compensate it.

When the Pakistani authorities failed to stop Hashim Quereshi of the JKLF from setting fire to a hijacked IAC aircraft at Lahore in 1971, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, similarly banned all Pakistani civil and military overflights.

B.RAMAN                                                           (31-12-99)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies,Chennai. E-Mail: