New Delhi, Jan 14: When Maulana Masood Azhar was released in exchange for the hostages taken during the Khandahar incident, there were debates galore on whether India was a soft state. Today India has sought the arrest of Azhar for his role in the Pathankot attack.
Azhar is not only wanted by India for his role in the Pathankot attack. He was the one who masterminded and executed the Parliament attack as well.
Links of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the oufit which Azhar heads have been found in several attacks in Jammu and Kashmir as well.
When the IC-814 was hijacked, there was a single point agenda and that was to have Azhar released, says C D Sahay, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing who was also part of the negotiations that took place at Khandahar.
In this interview with OneIndia, Sahay says prior to the Khandahar episode there were four attempts made to secure the release of Azhar.
Was releasing Maulana Masood Azhar a mistake?
There have been many debates and discussions on this issue. The government of the day took a decision depending on the situation then.
Was there more to the Khandahar hijack episode?
No there was nothing more to it. There was one objective and that was to secure the release of Maulana Masood Azhar. You must know that prior to this there were four attempts made to secure his release. While there were many demands that were putforth, we realized that all the hijackers and their handlers wanted was to have Azhar released.
Was there any other way of dealing with the sitiuation?
No there was no other way. I was associated with the entire process of negotiating. There have been arguments that the issue could have been handled in different manner.
That is easier said than done. We had no other way of dealing with it because the persons who hijacked the plane had the support of the structure of a state.
The entire state and machinery was sympathetic to their cause. All through we were not negotiating with the hijackers.
We were negotiating with the Inter Services Intelligence. Every conversation that we even shared with the hijackers was being bounced back to Mullah Omar and the ISI.
It was Pakistan and the Taliban which was working together here and they were deciding on how to package the entire show to get Azhar released.
Do you feel India could have launched an assault to secure the release of the passengers onboard IC-814?
It was very difficult. As I pointed out that the hijackers had the support of a state. They were welcome in Pakistan. We could not possibly launch a commando operation.
The hijackers were welcomed at Afghanistan and not us. We were looked at as terrorists. We did the best we could at that time and our objective was to save those who were taken hostage.
This was an ISI controlled operation with just one aim and that was to release the terrorist and Jaish-e-Mohammad leader, Maulana Masoor Azhar.
There were various demands that were made, but the only thing that the ISI wanted at the end of it was the release of Azhar.
It was made to appear as though it was the Taliban which was stage managing this entire incident. All through it was the ISI which was controlling the operation and the Taliban was put in the front to do all the talking with India.
Was there any demand for money?
I was present in that room where the negotiations were taking place. The Taliban which was ruling Afghanistan had sent its foreign minister to speak with us. The hijackers had given us a list of demands which was placed before the foreign minister.
The list also included a demand for money. I saw the list myself and even conveyed the same to New Delhi. However the government was not ready to give any money. The foreign minister of Afghanistan told us that he will need to take this list to Mullah Omar the Supreme Commander of the Taliban and discuss it with him.
When the foreign minister came back to the negotiating room he conveyed to all of us present what Mullah Omar had to say. Mullah Omar had conveyed that demanding ransom against the lives of people was un-Islamic and hence that demand had to be dropped by the hijackers.
Another demand on the list was to shift the mortal remains of a fighter by the name Sajjad Afghani who had died in Kashmir. Sajjad had been buried in Kashmir and the hijackers had said that his body should be exhumed and sent to Pakistan. Mullah Omar said if the body has been buried as per Islamic rites, then exhuming it would be un-Islamic.
All through the negotiations one thing was clear and they wanted the release of Maulana Masood Azhar. The hijacking was carried out only for this purpose and this was their major demand. No money was given to the ISI or the Taliban," the former R&AW chief pointed out.