Thursday, 24 September 1998

Rescue Bid if West Agrees

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999) 

National Security Guard commandos are on stand-by in Kashmir
ready to go into action in an effort to free the four surviving
Western hostages. However, the government of India is waiting
for a "go-ahead" from the United States, Britain and Germany,
before launching the operation. A high level source connected
with the effort to get the hostages released said that "our priority
is not to score political points, but to get the hostages released.
For this we are following a policy of wide consultations with the
Western countries involved and transparency in our actions", he

Home ministry sources say that Pakistan is the key to getting
the hostages freed. They can claim that Al-Faran "was
continuously in touch with Harkat-ul-Ansar, which is controlled
by Jamiet-ul-ulema Islam of Pakistan". This was why Maulana
Fazhur Rehman, a supporter of Pakistan prime minister Benazir
Bhutto, came to India in July end "after admitting that he had got
three telephone calls from the abductors". The Maulana's mission
failed, according to home ministry sources, because "he was
insistent that at least three Pakistani prisoners Sazad Afgani,
Nazrullah Langryal, and Massoud Azhar, be released in exchange
for the hostages". Interestingly, the abductors of Kim Housego
as well as those who kidnapped four foreign tourists in 1994 had
also demanded the release of the very same prisoners. An official
involved in the debriefing of the escaped hostage John Childs
and a Kashmiri guide who had been with some of the kidnapped
tourists revealed that both were clear that "of some two dozen
kidnappers, only one spoke in Kashmiri, roughly half seemed to
be Pakistanis and the rest Afghans".

Indian negotiators in touch with the abductors said that "our
message to them is simple; killing the hostages will harm your
cause, free them and you can make your way to Pakistan". They
confirmed that there was "no question of releasing any of the 
terrorists demanded by the kidnappers", adding that in the
Rubaiya Sayeed case, in which the V.P. Singh government
released hardcore terrorists in exchange for the then home
minister’s daughter five years ago, "India has paid heavily for
this deal".

While officials in the home ministry appear hopeful that
"behind-the-scene" pressure by the Western countries on Pakistan
and Pakistan financed secessionist groups in Kashmir will help
to have the hostages released, the counter insurgency experts are
sceptical. They pointed out that "releasing the hostages means
that the Pakistan hand becomes clear". Rather than this, it suits
Islamabad to prolong the crisis, thereby keeping Kashmir in the
international spotlight. They further pointed out that Islamabad
gains by the drying up of tourism in the Valley and the
consequent extra hard-ship to the local people. A senior Indian
official claimed that messages intercepted from across the border
clearly specified that "political leaders, government officials and
foreigners should be kidnapped to bring the Kashmir situation
to the attention of world media". Indian officials are however
hopeful that "because of the policy of transparency, there are few
takers for (Pakistan foreign minister) Assif Ali’s lie that India
was responsible for the kidnapping". They say that "unless
Western powers openly call a spade and demand that Pakistan
forces the Harkat-ul- Ansar to handover the hostages, the crisis
is likely to get prolonged.

When asked why a commando operation has not yet been
launched, the counter-terrorism experts pointed out that "unlike
buildings or aircrafts which are enclosed spaces, the hostages are
being held in the open, thus the element of surprise in a raid will
be missing". They repeat that the "decision whether or not to
launch a raid has to come from the three Western countries
involved, namely US, Britain and Germany". They added that
"as of now all the three countries are still trying to use their
influence with Pakistan to get the hostages released".

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