Monday, January 3, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Hijackers cross over to Pak
Opt for Chaman border post

ISLAMABAD, Jan 2 (UNI) — The five hijackers of an Indian Airlines plane, who were given a 10-hour deadline by the Taliban to get out of Afghanistan, are believed to have crossed into Pakistan from the border outpost of Chaman, a busy crossing on the international divide between the two Islamic countries.

Earlier, reports had indicated that the hijackers and the three militants swapped by India for the release of its citizens held hostage at Kandahar, had reached Quetta en route to Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Chaman is the closest border crossing to Kandahar and logically the most likely point for crossing into Pakistan, news reports here said. Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, is a couple of hours drive from the border and the most popular route to the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) which borders Kashmir.

Border officials at Chaman, however, told mediapersons that they were ordered by the government on Friday night, when the hijack ended, not to allow the hijackers to enter Pakistan. The officials claimed nobody could have crossed over from Afghanistan at night as surveillance had been stepped up.

Afghanistan borders six countries — Pakistan, Iran, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The crossing to Pakistan is about a five-hour drive from Kandahar and the Iranian border is about 12-14 hours away. But routes to other countries pass through areas which are either controlled by the anti-Taliban forces are witnessing raging battles.

However, as the identity of the five hijackers is still shrouded in mystery, they could easily have melted into a crowd, especially at a busy place like the Chaman border. Moreover, the hijackers could have literally driven into Pakistan, bypassing the border outpost as the border between the two countries is long and porous and can be breached without much effort.

The case of Maulana Masood Azhar is different as he is not wanted in any case in Pakistan and would be able to return to his home in Bahawalpur without much difficulty. Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar, head of the now defunct Al-Umar Mujahideen, and Ahmad Omar Sheikh, a British national believed to be an expert in explosives, have no homes in Pakistan and would have to depend on Azhar and Kashmiri separatist groups for support, reports said.

The three militants are not likely to face much problem in reaching PoK, if they want to, but allowing the hijackers safe passage through Pakistan would invite stinging criticism from across the civilised world.

Taliban had yesterday announced that the five hijackers and the three militants had left Afghanistan on the expiry of the 10-hour deadline.

Taliban spokesman Mulla Abdul Hye Mutmain said the deadline expired at 4 am (local time) yesterday. “As far as we know, all eight men are no longer in Afghanistan. We had ordered them to leave Afghanistan within 10 hours or else we would throw them out.”

He declined to speculate where the hijackers had gone, saying it was none of their business.

We had made this promise during the negotiations between the hijackers and the Indian government officials and also to Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and we are abiding by it. We had declared several days ago not to give political asylum to the hijackers.”

The hijackers sped out of the airport in several four-wheeled vehicles, taking the freed militants and a Taliban soldier with them.

“The Taliban hostage has come back to Kandahar and the hijackers have gone from the country,” Taliban spokesman Rehmatullah Aga said.

Taliban’s representative in the USA admitted that the ultimate destination of the hijackers and the militants would be Pakistan.

“It is not exactly known where they are headed, but since no other country wants them, the only guess is that they are headed towards Pakistan, he said.

However, Pakistan stuck to its stand that the hijackers had not entered its territory. “Pakistan is on high alert and in case they enter the Pakistani territory, they will be arrested and tried as per established international rules and conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory”, Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider told a press conference.

“Pakistan condemns all acts of terrorism and abides by international conventions, rules and regulations”. He said he had issued clear and specific instructions to the officials and agencies of the two border provinces of the NWFP and Baluchistan in this regard.

“Under no circumstances would these persons be allowed to enter Pakistan,” he said. In case they sneaked into the NWFP or Baluchistan, they would be detained and tried according to law, he added.

Hijacking and terrorism are not acceptable and condonable in any form. This is a highly abhorrable crime condemned by the entire civilised world,” he said.


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