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V.BALACHANDRAN
POLICE & STATE

V. Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.

When policy is held hostage by terror

Time and again we are releasing terrorists to free hostages. How far are we justified?

fter the "coup" scare, it is the hostage release situation in Orissa that is engaging our attention. Some contrasted it with the US policy of "no negotiation" with terrorists. Others who are always dazzled by the "swift" Israeli response to terrorists lamented that India was weak-kneed. One retired major general shouted, "Why can't we just shoot the bloody Maoists?" The print media quoted the RSS journal Organizer (9 April) criticising former BJP minister Jaswant Singh for accompanying terrorists to Kandahar to secure the release of Indian hostages in 1999. The Ministry of Home Affairs is reported to have advised the Orissa government (9 April) not to rush through the "swap deal" even as the Orissa Police Association is reported to have threatened to stop work in Maoist dominated areas.

Some of us believe that India should have formulated a "doctrine" to deal with terrorism. Would this improve our handling? The traditional US policy, which was reiterated by a 1986 State Department circular, firmly says, "No concessions to terrorists holding official or private citizens hostage." Yet, there were a number of cases in which this was breached. The Los Angeles Times (2 August 1989) said that "Reagan quietly encouraged Israel to make a deal with the terrorists to exchange Israeli held detainees for American hostages." This was after the 4 June 1985 TWA 847 hijacking from Cairo by the Hezbollah with 53 passengers. Israel released 700 Shia prisoners over the next weeks. Chicago Tribune (6 October 1990) said that Israel was releasing 40 Shias as requested by President George H.W. Bush administration in exchange for six American hostages held by Hezbollah for five years. Now Al Arabiya (28 February 2012 ) was quoted as saying that the US was negotiating with Egypt to release 19 Americans in Egyptian jails on various charges in exchange for 50 Egyptians in US jails. This includes Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind al-Gama'a al-Islamiya leader, convicted in the 1993 WTC-1 bombing. Israel, which has a similar policy, released 1,027 Hamas prisoners in October 2011 in the "Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange". Some were undergoing life terms. This was in exchange for a lone Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit held in secret captivity for five years in Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who had vehemently opposed the May 1985 "Jibril Deal" between Prime Minister Shimon Peres and PFLP releasing 1,150 Palestinians for three Israeli hostages, had to agree to the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange on account of public pressure.

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Some of us believe that India should have formulated a “doctrine” to deal with terrorism. Would this improve our handling?

Reverting to the Army chief episode, it is clear that he has had the last laugh after being pilloried on TV channels by the assembled common panellists, who must have been flitting across studios, releasing the same sound bites. Quite a few discussed what punishment should be given to him. Former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra excelled others by making the most uncivil remarks: "That chap thinks he is in Pakistan", "he has lost his mental balance" and that he was "the worst Army chief so far".

Perhaps Mishra forgot his own glaring failures while in office. As National Security Adviser since November 1998 he was our unquestioned czar of security, intelligence and foreign affairs for six years, even disregarding the 1999 "Kargil Review Committee" recommendations not to combine the two busy posts of Principal Secretary to PM and NSA. The recommendation arose partly because of the inadequate "politico-strategic interaction" within the assessment process in the NSC Secretariat under him, which could not foresee the Pakistani invasion. He also failed to call an NSC meeting for policy directions till 8 June 1999, one month after the Kargil incursion was noticed. Similarly, he failed to prevent the hijacked IC-814 from leaving Amritsar airport on 24 December 1999, when Captain Devi Sharan landed it there from Kathmandu when asked to fly to Lahore. Sharan hoped that the hijacking would end there. Mishra, when questioned, said vaguely that snipers were not available. The eight-day ordeal and national shame in Kandahar could have been avoided had his security machinery prevented the plane from leaving Amritsar. In a similar situation, President Obama had fired Dennis Blair, his highest intelligence officer (DNI) in May 2010, although he was not even directly responsible for some breaches.

 
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