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Jaswant Singh's version of the Kandahar hijack

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
July 21, 2006 19:41 IST
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Former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh's book A Call to Honour has taken Delhi by storm.

Though the formal release of the controversial book is slated for July 27 in New Delhi, copies that hit the market on Friday flew off the shelves as readers wanted to know what he had written about the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in December 1999.

Television channels and the print media have been focussing on Jaswant Singh's comments in his book. The Congress party has alleged that Jaswant Singh carried $120 million (about Rs 540 crores) along with three dreaded terrorists -- Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Omar Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, on the plane to Kandahar to secure the release of 161 passengers and crew on IC-814.

Jaswant Singh claims he had to ponder a great deal while writing about this most difficult time in the six-year National Democratic Alliance government's life.

'Before writing about this event, I reflected long on how I was to do it; how would I convey the enormity of the challenge that was we faced, as a nation and not simply as a government,' he writes in the chapter titled 'Troubled Neighbour, Turbulent Times: 1999'.

He refers to the notes that he made during the journey from Delhi to Lahore and what went through his mind. 'It is impossible not to jot down impressions on board this special flight. I do not really know what to term my mission -- a rescue mission; an appeasement exercise; a flight to compromise or a flight to the future,' he writes.

Jaswant Singh reveals what went through his mind during the week-long hijack drama. His thoughts swung from one end to the other and he wanted to weigh the options before his government. 'For three terrorists, 161 men, women and children. Is it right? Wrong? A compromise? What? At first I stood against any compromise, then, slowly, as the days passed I began to change,' he wrote.

He said he had gone to Kandahar to terminate the hijacking and bring back the passengers. While he was holding talks with then Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttavakil, he ensured that all the passengers were safely transferred to the relief aircraft.

'The whole system at Kandahar was chaotic, on top of which there was the hijacked plane, the hostages, the relief aircraft and now the one on which I was. I wanted the hostages to leave. And I wanted to meet all of them again -- after they had boarded the relief aircraft,' Jaswant Singh recalled.

Sharing information about the terrorists' demands, Jaswant Singh confirms that the terrorists wanted $200 million (about Rs 900 crore) along with the release of 36 of their men.

'The day the demands of the hijackers -- $200 million as ransom money, release of some 36 proven terrorists and the interred remains of a terrorist -- came to me, I shared them with the Cabinet and sought advice. The Cabinet was unanimous -- 'Reject the demands and tell the press in appropriate words'. It was a tense day, the press waited outside and I had to brief them. I repeated the demands and simply added, "I now urge all in my country and abroad to reflect on these demands." There was really nothing else or more to say,' writes the former external affairs minister.

The 426-page book published by Rupa Publications is priced at Rs 495.

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi