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December 29, 1999
Government determined to call hijackers' bluff
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
The renewed demand of the hijackers of the Indian Airlines aircraft for 200 million US dollars along with the release from captivity of 35 militants has not come as a surprise to the government which will continue the negotiations for the release and safe return of the 160-odd passengers and crew, government officials said yesterday.
"The government cannot be faulted if the hijackers make the negotiations a long-drawn affair," said a ministry of external affairs joint secretary while talking to rediff.com. "This is a serious incident which has captured the attention of the world community which is watching how far the hijackers will go," he added. He discounted the possibility of the hijackers carrying out their threat of killing more passengers.
Another senior MEA official pointed out that the government was looking into all aspects of the ongoing crisis in which the role of the Taliban and Pakistan had been thrown up in bold relief. He pointed out that apart from apprising the diplomatic representatives of the US, France and other countries, the government was holding top-level consultations with Russia which had come out strongly against the hijackers.
Referring to the worst possible scenario in Kandahar, this official said Russia had been apprised of the situation, so too the Northern Alliance of Rashid Dostum which was still in possession of at least ten per cent of Afghanistan. Besides, he said, Iran too had been apprised of the situation and, added that "no country should underestimate India or its capacity to confront the perpetrators of atrocities whichever country they may belong to."
The official indicated that "there is very little possibility" of either Maulana Masood Azhar or the other 35 terrorists being freed by the government because "such a course will endanger national security and embolden others that India is a soft target which could be played around with at will." He hinted that the political leadership would go to any extent, ''including an all out war with a hostile neighbouring country, if the situation demands," and added that " this was no idle boast.
He, however, declined to comment why a country like the US was not taking significant initiatives to terminate the hijacking especially when American and western leaders had been often saying that South Asia was a nuclear flashpoint with India and Pakistan as the main rivals.
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