Congress President Rahul Gandhi recently criticised the erstwhile BJP led NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee for bowing down to the demands of terrorists and releasing Jaish-e-mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar in 1999, Kandahar plane hijack. The terrorist later went on to mastermind several attacks on India.
The Congress President had further alleged that it was current National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, who in 1999 accompanied Masood Azhar to Kandahar. However, now sources from the security establishment have refuted Gandhi’s claims, saying that Doval was not present in the flight that took Azhar to his terror partners in Kandahar.
“He (Doval) was not on the plane on which Azhar had to be flown to Kandahar to secure the release of 161 passengers on board IC-814,” a senior source said. He said Doval, then the additional director of Intelligence Bureau, had reached Kandahar ahead of Azhar’s release to negotiate with the ISI-controlled hijackers and Taliban leaders supporting them: a claim which is in line with the accounts given by then home minister L K Advani and then RAW chief A S Dulat in their books ‘My Country, My Life’ and ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’ respectively.
Jaswant Singh, the then foreign minister, flew with Azhar and two others terrorists — Omar Sheikh, who later killed American journalist Daniel Pearl, and Mushtaq Zargar.
“The decision to release Azhar was taken by the Vajpayee government which decided to save the lives of 161 Indians whom the terrorists had vowed to eliminate if their demand for Azhar’s re-lease was not conceded. Whether it was a good decision or a bad decision can be debated. But it cannot be pinned on officers mandated to carry out instructions of the day,” the source said.
The terrorists had begun by demanding the release of 36 terrorists from Indian prisons, besides a ransom of $200 million. While Doval and other Indian negotiators, who included his Intelligence Bureau colleague N S Sandhu and senior RAW officer C D Sahay, succeeded in getting the terrorists to scale down their demand, the latter threatened to kill the hostages if Azhar and Sheikh were not released.