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December 31, 1999
The nightmare is over, but...
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Once the euphoria over the peaceful conclusion of the hostage crisis ebbs, the government is likely to face some tough questions. Most of these will be related to the national security which, many feel, has been compromised with the release of three hard-core terrorists in exchange of 160 hostages on board the Indian Airlines Flight 814.
The Ministry of Home Affairs will have a lot of explaining to do to the security forces which are fighting a tough battle with militants in Jammu and Kashmir. The release of three hardcore militants is sure to boost the confidence of ultras in the valley and this will make the security forces' task much more difficult.
"Of course, the safe return of all hostages to their families is something to cheer about. But the question that crops up is whether the country's security has been endangered in the process," a senior MHA official said.
He said the government will have to explain and what point of time and why it changed its mind after going on record saying that there was no question of bowing to the hijackers' demands.
Already, the Intelligence Bureau has reported the possibility an upswing in militant activities in Kashmir. Maulana Azhar Masood, Ahmed Omar Syed Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar - the three militants who were released today - belong to top separatist organisations in J&K.
"Their release must have come as a morale booster to the rank and file in these organisations, while a sense of betrayal probably pervades the security set up in the state,'' the official said.
The release of the three militants will also entail a complete security overhaul in the state. The official said security personnel, who had interrogated the three terrorists, would have to be replaced by others for security reasons.
"A lot of hard work by security agencies stands undone today,'' he lamented.
Meanwhile, reports reaching the MHA indicated that some "ISI contacts in Jammu and Kashmir were being contacted'' by people from across the border.
A red alert has been sounded all across the border to prevent infiltration by militants.
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