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December 30, 1999
'If the hijackers refuse, we will motivate them in anyway': Taleban
Aseem Chhabra in New York
Although Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the foreign minister of the Taleban government in Afghanistan, called upon the Indian government to "accept or agree to" the demands made by the terrorists who hijacked the Indian Airlines Airbus last Friday and to swiftly end the stalemate in Kandahar, Afghanistan's leading Islamic force will continue to co-operate in the negotiations.
"We will try our best to help find a solution for the release of the hostages," Abdul Hakim Mujahid, the Taleban movement's representative in New York told rediff.com in an interview from his office in Queens.
"If no solution is found, we will ask the plane to leave Afghanistan. If they (the hijackers) refuse, we will motivate them in anyway. But it will be the very, very last option."
"The foreign minister's statement does not mean we will withdraw our co-operation," he added. "We will provide all kind of co-operation to the Indian government, whatever we can do in this critical time."
"We hope these are the last moments for the situation to be resolved and for the two parties to reach to a conclusion," he said.
Mujahid denied a report that the Indian government paid the Taleban $ 25,000 to land the Indian Airlines relief plane carrying negotiators and other essential personnel in Kandahar on Monday. He said the money was demanded as a landing fee ("a normal rent or cost of airport") by the aviation authorities in Kandahar.
"Our leadership called them (the aviation authorities) that they (the Indian team) are our guests and do not ask them for the money," Mujahid said.
He said India's deputy high commissioner had met with the Taleban ambassador in Islamabad, Pakistan, to discuss the matter. Following the meeting, the decision was made not to charge the Indian plane $ 25,000.
Press reports and Indian government officials have indicated that the hijackers dropped two of their demands -- for $ 200 million and for the body of a slain Kashmiri militant -- at the insistence of the Taleban, especially the movement's minister for civil aviation.
Mujahid said the hijackers changed their position due to the "condemnation by the Taleban."
"We told them (the hijackers) that these demands are un-Islamic," he said. "It is not an Islamic act that you are doing. It doesn't mean that we entered as a negotiator between the Indian government and hijackers."
However, he added that this did not mean the Taleban supported the other demand of the hijackers.
"Actually we have condemned the whole issue of hijacking and the threatening of the lives of the innocent," he said. "This is not the Islamic way. Today it happened to the Indian government, tomorrow it can happen to us. We do not support any kind of terrorism, including hijacking."
Mujahid seemed non-committal on the issue of whether the contacts between the Taleban and the Indian government may lead to any future relations between the two countries.
"The issues of the hostage crisis is absolutely and totally separate from the issue of recognition," he said.
He said it was the right of the Indian government whether or not to recognize the Taleban movement. That decision would be based on India's national interests and on international norms, he added.
"We certainly will not raise this issue with the Indian government at this critical time," he said, "including the fact that the Indian government has maintained a hostile and non-friendly attitude towards a friendly Afghanistan for more than two decades."
Mujahid said since the Indian Airlines plane landed in Kandahar, his office in New York had been in touch with the United Nations. However he has had no contact with Indian and Pakistani diplomats in New York.
One factor that may have an impact on any future ties between the Taleban and India could relate to the issue of Kashmir, especially in the light of reports that some Kashmiri militant groups have been trained in Afghanistan.
Mujahid denied any connection between the Taleban and the Islamic groups fighting for control of Kashmir.
"Our position on Kashmir is very clear from the very beginning," he said. "The issue of Kashmir will be resolved in the light of the resolutions of the United Nations and by peaceful means."
Mujahid did not want to comment on how the Pakistan government has reacted to the first ever contact between India and the Taleban.
"I think this is an issue that belongs to the Indian and the Pakistani governments," he said. "We would not like to interfere in this issue. They have a very large history in this regard. They know each other and each others's positions.
"Our concern at this moment is on how to solve the current hijacking problem and to save the lives of hostages. That is our priority."
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