This is the story of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on India when the entire govt had to comply with the terrorist demands and release 3 captured terrorists. This can be easily counted as one of the biggest blots on the Indian govt headed by Late. Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee of that time.
The event is no less than the plot of an action-packed Hollywood thriller, the only difference is that this story ends with the antagonist winning the climax and the protagonist is left in shame. However, it is easy to comment on such a huge crisis situation but hard to handle such a situation in real time. As citizens and also as political observers our responsibility is to reflect and hold our leaders accountable for what went wrong that led to a shameful situation for the nation in front of the whole world.
It was the winter of 1999 the day was the 24th of December when terrorists pulled off one of their major attacks on India in the form of an airplane hijack. It was Indian Airlines Flight 814 or what is commonly known as IC 814. The flight was scheduled to fly from Kathmandu Nepal and land in Delhi on the evening of the 24th of December. The flight had a total of 176 passengers and 15 crew members.
The drama started when the airplane was in the Indian Air Space, the terrorists threatened the pilot by saying ‘Fly Westwards Towards Lahore Or We Will Blow Up The Plane’. There were a total of 5 hijackers on the plane who soon took positions and controlled the passengers as well as the crew at gunpoint. The code names of the hijackers were as follows: Chief, Burger, Doctor, Bhola, and Shankar. These 5 Pakistan-based terrorists held the entire nation hostage with pistols, revolvers, knives, and a few hand grenades.
The terrorists first forced Capt. Devi Sharan landed in Amritsar to refuel the plane, the plane got landed in Amritsar but was taken off without refueling due to the terrorists’ suspicion, no counter operation was allowed at Amritsar by the BJP-led NDA government to avoid innocent casualties.
The plane flew to Lahore where at first Pakistan refused them a landing stripe and switched off all the lights on their airport, only when it became clear that the plane had to crash-landed in Lahore that they allowed a landing at Lahore airport. From Lahore, the plane went to Dubai and landed at a military airport where 27 passengers were released given certain circumstances.
At Dubai Airport also, the govt failed to get any support from the UAE government, and no action involving Indian forces was allowed there. After Dubai, the plane finally landed in the terrorist safe haven of Kandahar, Afghanistan which at that time was ruled by the Taliban who are back in power now after 20 years.
The plane was surrounded by Taliban forces with high-grade weapons in hand, this was done to prevent any military operation by the Indian forces against the hijackers.
Now let us jump to what did the hijackers want? They wanted the safe release of 3 big terrorists that were captured in Indian jails, these 3 names were Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and Maulana Masood Azhar. These were the terrorists who were responsible for insurgency and militancy in the Kashmir valley and were also hand in glove in several other bombings and attacks on Indian soil.
During the waiting period in Kandahar, the Taliban acted as a mediator between the hijackers and the Indian government, many still consider it a cruel joke on India’s face that the Taliban was acting as a peace mediator.
The government saw no other option but to kneel to the demands of these terrorists and fulfill their demands. Shri Jaswant Singh who was the foreign minister at that time flew to Kandahar with the 3 terrorists and a small security delegation including present national security advisor Shri Ajit Doval. These 3 terrorists were handed over to the hijackers and the passengers were released afterward. The released passengers were flown back to India in a special plane on the 31st of December 1999.
The hijackers remained free forever and Maulana Masood Azhar reportedly plotted the 2006 Mumbai bomb blasts and the attack of 26/11 on Mumbai.
This one incident can be surely termed as the blot of Kandhar 1999 as it remains a blot on our security operations and the efficiency of our intelligence. According to former RAW chief AS Daulat who monitored the Kandhar crisis it was a botched operation from India’s standpoint and Crisis Management Group in Delhi slipped badly from delivering.
23 years later while the 3 collaborators from India have been duly punished with life imprisonment the real perpetrators remain free and out of reach.