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The Rediff Special/ Sreedhar
Pakistan's role in the hijack
The Pakistani role in the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 has to be seen within the context of the Taleban's official spokesman Abdul Haj Mutmaen's statement on January 1 that the hijackers and terrorists released from Indian jails had been left on the Pak-Afghan border near Quetta, Baluchistan. Though the Pakistan authorities announced a high alert all along the Pak-Afghan border, it is a known fact that this is a porous border.
Equally important is that the Pakistani authorities never publicly announced that the hijackers and three terrorists should not expect asylum in their country. They did not even ask the Taleban not to leave them anywhere near the Pak-Afghan border. This extraordinary complacency on Islamabad's part on a crucial issue like this made everyone conclude that they are involved in the hijack. The hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane in 1971 live in Pakistan after a mock trial. In addition, Maulana Azhar is a Pakistani citizen and lives in Karachi.
Bits and pieces of information emanating from official and diplomatic sources put together make for interesting reading. This include:
* Of the five hijackers on board, four are Pakistani. Though the Pakistan government officially denied this, the Government of India is collating all the information they are getting from various sources on the hijackers to get the complete picture.
* From the intercepted conversation transcripts made available by a friendly country to the Government of India, at every stage of the hijacking, the hijackers were in constant touch with GHQ in Rawalpindi.
* Out of the 35 terrorists in Indian jails whose release was demanded by the hijackers, more than two thirds are Pakistani citizens. Again Pakistan denied this allegation. They claim they are Kashmiri Mujahideen.
* The plan was hatched by three Pakistanis in a less known hotel in Kathmandu. When the Indian authorities tracked down this hotel, its management provided some vital clues of how the whole operation was planned on instructions from Rawalpindi via a satellite phone.
* Some of the good souls in Peshawar, disgusted with the hijack, have reported to have provided some vital links on the operation to their relatives and friends abroad.
* The hijackers possessed a very sophisticated satellite telephone to communicate with Rawalpindi. When the authorities in Kabul refused to allow the hijacked aircraft to land, which was communicated by the hijackers to the authorities in Rawalpindi, they were asked to proceed to Kandahar by the people in Rawalpindi.
While further details of this Pakistani involvement trickle down, it is being increasingly asked why Pakistan planned an operation of this type at this juncture. One explanation could be General Pervez Musharraf's domestic compulsions. It is a known fact that Pakistan's economy has gone into deep recession. With no investment forthcoming, the burden is increasing every year and Pakistan is clueless about what to do.
The harsh measures suggested by the IMF/World Bank has made General Musharraf's regime unpopular. The sectarian violence, even after the military takeover, continues. There are also unconfirmed reports originating from Islamabad that some core commanders have expressed their displeasure to General Musharraf about the way his government is conducting itself and in the process damaging the image of the armed forces in the public.
Another explanation could be that Pakistan is not reconciled to its defeat in the Kargil war. Since the end of the war in July 1999, any number of statements were issued by responsible people in Pakistan's government, including General Musharraf, that many more Kargils are on the anvil. The leaders of various terrorist organisations even talked in terms of continuing their campaign in the Kashmir valley. With winter on and most of the mountains snow-clad, the hijacking provided an ideal outlet to take "revenge" on the Indian State.
Lastly, the pressure mounted by Pakistani on the Taleban shura (advisory council) is there for everyone to see. The Taleban openly confessed to the diplomatic corps that they were in no position to withstand the pressure being mounted on them by Islamabad. If they did anything to help India, Pakistan could destabilise the entire Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The hijack provided the needed diversion; and again the Pakistani media got preoccupied with anti-India bashing.
Pakistan using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy has now become a reality. The entire neighbourhood of Pakistan has to prepare to deal with this new phenomenon.
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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