|HOME | NEWS | NIGHTMARE OF FLIGHT 814|
December 29, 1999
'Remember, he's negotiating from a position of strength'
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
What makes a good negotiator?
Patience, according to Rajendra Tikkoo. A senior Jammu and Kashmir police officer, he had played that role during the 1995 foreign hostage crisis.
A negotiator should get down to the level of the hijacker, praising him often, talking to him intimately, discussing topics other than his demands, Tikkoo continued. All the while he should keep his cool, which is the "basic essential".
Tikkoo negotiated for 72 days with Al Faran, an offshoot of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, between 1995 June and September after it abducted five foreign tourists in Kashmir. The ransom: militants including Maulana Masood Azhar, whose release has now been demanded.
Tikkoo failed to free the hostages, but it was widely attributed to a rigid government rather than his personal failing. The negotiations, over telephone and wireless, had in fact progressed well and had even reached a stage where Al Faran was ready to hand over the hostages for Rs 10 million.
"There is no hard and fast rule for negotiations," the police officer says. "First of all, you have to descend to the level of a terrorist, gauge his mindset. It takes a little bit of time to understand his psychology, and step down to a lower plane if necessary.''
"You go into negotiations with the clear understanding of what your bottom line is," he continued. "Once you are aware of it, you can stretch it left, right, or anywhere. You should have an objective. Then you act accordingly, based on what your bottom line is.''
The process is basically a bargain, a bit like the haggling one does with a shopkeeper. ''At a shop a buyer states what he is willing to pay and the shopkeeper names his price. Then both try to arrive at a mutually agreeable figure," Tikkoo clarified.
"But there is a big difference in negotiating with militants. Unlike in a marketplace, here you don't have the luxury of choice,'' he added.
Any attempt to push a terrorist too much can be dangerous. "There has to be some give and take. The rules keep changing from time to time as the negotiation progress,'' he said.
"Language is an important factor. A negotiator must speak in a language that the other party is comfortable with. If he speaks Urdu, talk to him in Urdu. If he is comfortable with English, switch to English,'' Tikkoo said.
Tikkoo warned negotiators against losing their cool. ''Remember, he is negotiating from a position of strength. Even if it is the same terrorist, his moods could change every now and then. He may not have slept last night, so in the morning he will be irritated.
"As you go on talking to one particular person, you get intimate with him. But then they get weary, because they have been told that buying time is our basic intention. So they will try to talk about specifics on the first day itself.
"It is for you to deflect his attention. You have to talk to him about other subjects. If he is an Islamic fundamentalist, talk to him about Islam. Discuss topics such as if killing has any place in his religion. You have to pin them down on these issues. But then they will change their course, trying to come back to their demands. This goes on.
"The basic essential is patience. You may sometimes get abused. You surely will get a lot of brickbats, but never lose your patience. Once in a while you will have to tell them how great they are, and praise them," he said.
And what effect would the whole process have on the negotiator?
"It can have some impact on your psyche," Tikkoo admitted. "I spoke to them for 72 days... You get tired and fed up. But my bottom line, the charter given to me, was to buy time. Everyday at a particular time I used to wait for their calls."
The designation of a negotiator is also important, Tikkoo pointed out. "There has to be someone a rank or two higher to him, who can come in case there is a breakdown. So an appropriate rank has to be selected. The other party should not feel that there is no hope left once the ongoing round fails."
He felt that in Flight 814's case, the negotiations are more hampered. "The entire thing is happening outside the country. If you were somewhere in your own territory you would have been more or less in control of things," he said. "When you are in your own territory, you are talking from a point of perceived strength. But now there is not much of help."
"When he is outside your control, he is emboldened by that fact," he added.
NIGHTMARE ON FLIGHT 814
SINGLES | NEWSLINKS | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL BOOKINGS
AIR/RAIL | WEATHER | MILLENNIUM | BROADBAND | E-CARDS | EDUCATION
HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | CONTESTS | FEEDBACK