M A I N   N E W S

Vajpayee, Advani compelled me to
release Azhar: Farooq

New Delhi, August 27
In a stinging attack on Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani over the 1999 Kandahar hijack episode, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has accused the then Prime Minister and Home Minister of compelling him to release Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Maulana Masood Azhar for which the “world will pay the price”.

Breaking his silence on the issue, the former ally of the ruling NDA said he had unsuccessfully desired to resign in view of the compelling directives of Vajpayee and Advani instead of being seen as “one responsible for promoting terrorism in this form”. He said the Central pressure on him to release terrorists in view of the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar in December 1999 was similar to the one he underwent exactly 10 years back after the abduction of Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

“As far as Maulana Masood Azhar is concerned, the decision to release him and the two others (terrorists) was made by then Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee and by L.K. Advani,” Abdullah told Tehelka weekly in an interview.

Insisting that he had “serious reservations” to freeing Azhar, he said “it is they who compelled me to release him for the passengers aboard IC-814 that had been hijacked to Kandahar.” His comments rocked the Rajya Sabha on Friday after a member referred to the interview in the House. Vajpayee has since refuted Abdullah’s charge.

The NDA has maintained that the decision to release Azhar and three terrorists in exchange for the 167 hostages was that of the Cabinet collectively.

At the time of his arrest in 1994, Azhar belonged to the now defunct Harkat-ul-Ansar terrorist group. After his release from a Jammu jail, Azhar floated Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), one of the most deadly terror groups worldwide which has even been linked to the recent aborted plot in Britain to blow up 10 planes mid-air.

Abdullah, whose son Omar Abdullah was a minister during the NDA coalition’s rule, said that for the Vajpayee government’s decision, “not only will India pay the price but after what has happened in Heathrow, I think the world will pay the price.”

“They are going to continuously be remembering that what we did was wrong.” Noting that everyone regretted that decision, the National Conference leader said, “I am sure if you ask people who were in power then about what the world is facing today, if they are honest I am sure they will admit that they are responsible for it. Responsible for what is happening in London and in Pakistan.”

“I think our senior leaders like Advani and Vajpayee are responsible for the global terrorism that is being spread by the band of men they released,” Abdullah alleged.

Abdullah said Vajpayee “should be the first to accept the blame” and then his Principal Secretary (Brajesh Mishra), Advani and Jaswant Singh.

“I told Advani I am going to the Governor. And I went to Raj Bhavan with my resignation,” the then Chief Minister said, adding “I just felt sad and bitter that we, who were supposed to be responsible for making the future of this nation, were irresponsible and that includes me.” He, however, did not resign.

Referring to the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping case, Abdullah accused the then Prime Minister V. P. Singh of having “failed India” by deciding to release five terrorists to seek her release, which he said was the “last nail in India’s coffin”.

“Then, the tragedy was that she was the daughter of the Home Minister of India. He (Mufti Sayeed) used all his resources and all his friends and V. P. Singh,” said Abdullah, who was also the state Chief Minister at the time.

Attacking V.P. Singh, the NC leader said he (Singh) may be fighting for the rights of farmers today, “but I am very sad to say that at that time he did not defend India. I am sorry, whatever he might be doing today, if you look at it, he failed India.” Detailing how pressure was built on him, including through a team of I. K. Gujral and Arif Mohd Khan sent to Srinagar, Abdullah said he was even threatened with the dismissal of his government.

Abdullah said he also regretted not pulling out of NDA soon after the Gujarat riots. — PTI





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