Saturday, January 1, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


S P E C I A L  E D I T O R I A L

Thank God, but questions remain
by Hari Jaisingh

The Vajpayee government has come out of one of its worst crises, but not without paying a heavy price. Notwithstanding the serious reservations expressed by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and several experts on the release of the Pakistani cleric, Maulana Masood Azhar, and other militants, the people, by and large, may take a generous view of the concessions extracted by the hijackers under extraordinary circumstances. The Indian authorities have apparently buckled under pressure after a series of bunglings in handling the crisis. The people's hearts, of course, went out to the suffering passengers of the IA flight. They fully shared their terror. What an agonising trauma it had been for the nation for days together! Public anger was understandably directed against failures, from Kathmandu to Amritsar. The ordeal of the passengers in inhuman conditions at Kandahar with the night temperature dipping to minus 10 degree Celsius was too horrifying. But the passengers and the IA crew braved it out. They deserve the nation's salute for standing the torture with fortitude.

The hijacking was an un-Islamic act. It went against all civilised norms. But the international community's response was both slow and inadequate. It is one thing to adopt high-sounding resolutions against terrorism and hijacking at world fora. But to translate the words into action in a coordinated manner is a different ball game. The USA often acts ruthlessly whenever it is faced with a terrorism-related problem involving its citizens. But its response tends to be different if countries like India have to bear the brunt of militant ire.

Be that as it may. After the Kargil success, the hijack episode has shown inadequacies in the security setup. The Indian authorities fumbled in the face of the grim challenge, in the process exposing the flaws in the system of governance and the decision-making mechanism. A close look is also necessary at the working of the Crisis Management Group. Even on the diplomatic front, the official machinery was slow in mobilising the support of the countries whose citizens were on board Airbus 300. It was also handicapped initially because of the landing of the plane in a hostile terrain controlled by the Taliban and enjoying the backing of Pakistan's military regime.

In today's global complexities what matters is the country's ability to manoeuvre men, matters and issues to its benefit in a difficult situation. This means flexibility in diplomatic pursuits and establishing communication channels even with known and unknown adversaries. Indian diplomacy, however, suffers from a mindset which often sees the world through quaint angularities. New Delhi ought to have natural interest in Afghanistan because of its geopolitical importance. But after the exit of the then Soviet Union from Kabul, India quietly withdrew itself from this crucial gateway to Central Asia to the advantage of Pakistan. This reflects poorly on India's foreign policy. The country's fate is linked with this region. But the mandarins in South Block love to look westward instead of pursuing the country's interest in this region. We hope that the Kandahar events will bring about a major corrective on India's diplomatic goals in this strategic area.

Notwithstanding brave official postures, it must be said that the hijacking has shown India in poor light both diplomatically and operationally. It is one thing to talk tough of "not bowing to the hijackers' pressure" as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee did. But the pursuit of a proactive policy requires tremendous guts and a focused and determined leadership. There is no point blaming an individual or a group. The persons at the helm have probably done their best in an acutely adverse situation. Of course, we all tend to be wiser after the event. All the same, failure is the failure. And in the hijack episode, failures are glaring. A number of questions remain unanswered. Also, it is necessary that the failures at the level of individuals and the system are sharply focused upon. A full-fledged inquiry alone will tell us how and where we went wrong from Kathmandu to Kandahar via Amritsar. We could have easily struck while the plane was at Amritsar for 47 minutes. We shall have to await inquiry reports. But, do we ever learn from our failures? Do we ever try to improve the system after a thorough probe by experts? Enough is enough. Those who failed the country must be made to pay for their lapses. If the system showed snags, they must be removed without delay. At stake is the credibility of India's system and the way it works.

Home | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | Chandigarh Tribune | In Spotlight |
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
119 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |