Khandahar hijack: What really transpired at Amritsar?
New Delhi, July 3: The Khandahar or the IC 814 hijack issue never appears to die down. Fresh details regarding one of the most horrific incidents that the country has witnesses emerges every now and then.
This time around it is A S Dulat, the Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing at the time of the hijack who has spoken about incident and how the Crisis Management Group had messed up.
The statements come in the wake of the launch of his book, "Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years." He has been critical about the manner in which the CMG had handled the issue.
The hijack drama ended with India releasing Maulana Masoor Azhar, the dreaded Pakistani terrorist. One of the negotiators on the flight to Khandahar was C D Sahay, the former Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing. Sahay speaks with OneIndia about the various events that unfolded during that period of crisis in the year 1999.
Casualty was the prime consideration
"The hijacked flight was supposed to go to Lahore. We felt that it will go to Lahore and come back. The Vajpayee government was a very young one and it was a difficult time. There were decisions to be taken at that time and all through the primary consideration was that there should be no casualty.
There were 166 people inside that flight and the safety of each one of them was of primary concern. The Crisis Management Group was meeting and the final call was to be taken by them. Any government does take time before launching an operation. There is a need to negotiate before one storms into the aircraft," says Sahay.
The events on the tarmac of Amritsar
"The plane was stationed at Amritsar. The hijackers were sure that they were in a place which was hostile to them. Amritsar was positively hostile for them. They began realizing that this was the worst place to be in.
As decisions were being taken by the government and the CMG, the hijackers began getting panicky. They got a call from Karachi in which it was said, " do char lasho ko gira do, tab unko samaj me aayega ( kill two to four people. Only then will they realize).
We needed to be extra cautious in the wake of that message from Karachi. The hijackers were in a panic reaction and shooting mode.
At such a time it would have been the worst decision to storm the aircraft. We believe that it was at this time and during the panic reaction that Rupin Katyal one of the passengers on the flight was killed, " the former R&AW chief also states.
What if the CMG had taken a snap decision
Sahay says that ‘the CMG has been blamed for messing up the operation. The argument is that the CMG ought not to have permitted the aircraft from leaving Amritsar.
In fact the steps were being taken to stop the aircraft from leaving Amritsar. We know it was at this time that the hijackers got the call from Karachi and they were in panic mode.
The killing of Katiyal happened at this time. One must remember that mounting an operation at such a time needs preparation time. There was plenty at stake and the primary consideration was the safety of the people. Had we lost those people due to hurried decisions, then the criticism would have been much more."
Understanding the psyche of the hijacker
"Storming an aircraft needs to be a precise operation. There is a need to understand how many hijackers are present and also their psychological state of mind. The location of the hijacker in the aircraft also needs to be taken into consideration.
Which would be the best spot to blast into the aircraft. If the hijackers are at near the cockpit area and if the aircraft is stormed from behind, then it would mean one is shooting right through all the seated passengers.
These are the various issues that had to be taken into consideration," Sahay also points out.
NSG was ready but country was not
"At that point in time all the entire country wanted was the safe release of all the passengers. None in the country were ready to lose the passengers and had they died, then it would have been a whole other story.
The NSG was ready to take over the operation. This would have meant they entered the aircraft and shot down the hijackers. This would have also meant compromising on the lives of the passengers. As I said, the NSG was ready but the country was not ready to lose any lives.
When the aircraft was at Amritsar, the NSG was in Manesar. While the NSG was at Manesar, the aircraft to carry them out was in Palam (Delhi). Here I would also want to point out that the NSG which arrived in Delhi had a lot of trouble reaching Palam as they got stuck in traffic.
It is extremely easy to say that the decision to allow the aircraft to leave Amritsar was a goof up. However certain things are easier said than done. When the intent is to save all the passengers, then harsh decisions could not have been taken at that time, " C D Sahay also notes.