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January 1, 2000
Hijackers headed for Quetta: Jaswant
The five hijackers and the three released terrorists are headed for Quetta, according to External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh.
"The Afghan authorities had given the hijackers 10 hours to leave Afghanistan," he added.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, the minister said as per the information available with the government, all the five hijackers are Pakistani nationals. "There is no Nepalese among them as was earlier reported in the media," he added.
The minister added that he would take up the question of the hijackers' extradition at an appropriate time and place. He described Indo-Pak relations at the same stage as after the Kargil war and the coup. "There is no improvement since then," he declared.
Clearly hinting at Pakistan's involvement in the hijacking, the minister said that every now and then, the hijackers would call off the talks and speak over the wireless "to someone else" and then return to the negotiations with the Indian team.
"The Indian negotiators were not dealing only with the hijackers inside the aircraft but with a third force," he said, but refused specify. Asked if the Pakistani government was involved in the hijacking, he refused to comment.
The minister pointed out in the list of 35 names of jailed militants whose release the hijackers had demanded, "most of the names were of Pakistani nationals."
Singh said that he agreed with the statements of various released passengers who had said that on December 30, the situation had become desperate inside the hijacked aircraft. "In our assessment, there was an increased threat perception from December 30," the foreign minister declared.
He also said the weapons quantity and quality onboard the hijacked aircraft had increased from December 26, when the hijackers had access to the aircraft's luggage hold. "I have said time and again that the aircraft was carrying RDX. I was aware of that before I left for Kandahar," he said.
He said that the terrorists had planned to blow up the plane if it took off from Kandahar without an agreement having been reached with India.
The Taleban had also been insisting that if the talks did not make headway, the aircraft must leave Kandahar.
"But one major problem was that after having flown for so many hours - (Kathmandu to Amritsar to Lahore to Dubai to Kandahar), the aircraft was not air worthy," he pointed out.
He added, however, that the Afghan authorities concept of air worthiness was different.
The foreign minister declared that while India appreciated the cooperation of the Taleban and Afghan authorities in Kandahar, "it did not amount to a fundamental change in Indo-Afghan policy."
Asked how he could say that the Taleban was cooperating when it was they who had insisted that negotiations must end within a fixed time frame and had also ruled out any military action by a foreign power, he reiterated that the government had no complaints.
"India looked at all options, including commando action. We did discuss carrying out military action with the Taleban. However, under the circumstances, we adopted the best option available," he declared.
He further said the hijackers had reached a deal with the Taleban for a safe passage. "Normally, in any hijacking, the safety of the hijackers is the first thing to be negotiated and the Taleban gave the hijackers 10 hours to leave Afghanistan," he added.
The minister categorically stated that India's honour had not been diminished by the freeing of three terrorists for the release of the passengers and crew, nor would the morale of the security forces combating the terrorists be lowered.
"The government had stated that it was committed to save the lives of the passengers and crew, while preserving the national honour. We managed to do that under the difficult situation that we faced," he said.
He reiterated that the government was committed to fighting terrorism and that the fight would continue unabated. "No crime committed against India shall go unpunished and justice will be meted out," he declared.
Singh said that the government was trying to ascertain which particular hijacker was responsible for the murder of Rupin Katyal.
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