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December 29, 1999
A negotiator speaks!
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
"Do not break contact."
That's the only advice this negotiator has to give. A government official serving in Jammu and Kashmir, he was involved in the Rubaiya Sayeed hostage drama and other crises in the troubled state.
"The name of the game is contact," he says. "It has to be maintained till any hostage crisis is resolved peacefully. If contact is lost then the captors may kill the hostages in frustration."
"My effort was always to keep talking, talking, talking, just talking day and night," he continues. "Maintaining contact has a psychological advantage both for the militant and the government. The militant is calmed down by the thought that there is someone listening to him while the administration will know that the hostage is alive."
And what did he keep talking to the abductors all the time?
"I would get minute-by-minute information from the militants about the over-all condition of the hostages, what they had for lunch, breakfast, dinner..." he replies. "I was usually able to win the confidence of the abductors by the end of our first or second session."
At one time, he recollects, he even quoted extensively from the Quran that kidnapping was anti-Islamic. "By that I managed to engage the militants in lengthy discussions. My effort was always to wear them down. For that, one has to have the patience to listen to what they have to say."
Another time the negotiator had nothing to offer as the government made it clear that it would not bow down.
"But still I kept my line of communication open, buying time," he says. "I was sure that sooner or later the abductors would have so much confidence in me that they would start believing whatever I said. At that stage they may even hand over the hostages to you if you promise them that their demands would be looked into and things like that."
He adds: "Keep talking and talking -- that is the only way to assure the hostages won't be harmed."
What does he think of the way things are progressing in Kandahar?
"Well, there is the extreme frustration," comes the studied response. "One has to try to ease that a bit by giving assurances that their demands are being looked into, that killing innocent passengers will serve no purpose and such acts are anti-Islamic."
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