Moto Statement by the Minister of External Affairs
in both Houses of Parliament
Hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814
February 28, 2000
I take this opportunity
to place before the House all relevant aspects of the hijacking incident
of 24 December, 1999.
Indian Airlines Flight
IC-814, Kathmandu-Delhi, of December 24th, was hijacked at around 1653
hours Indian Standard Time. The Air Traffic Control, (ATC), Delhi, received
the first information of this hijacking at 1656 hours, when it was also
intimated that the hijackers were demanding that the plane be taken
to Lahore. Upon refusal of permission to land at Lahore, the plane finally
landed at Amritsar at 1900 hours. The hijackers demanded immediate refuelling.
The plane was, however, forced (by the hijackers) to take off from Amritsar,
without being refuelled, at 1949 hours; this was also without ATC Amritsar's
permission. It landed at Lahore at 2007 hours. Permission to land was
given only when the pilot informed ATC Lahore that he would be forced
to crash-land the aircraft as fuel had got exhausted. The aircraft was
refuelled at Lahore. At 2232 hours, it took off for Kabul. Upon being
informed, by Kabul, that there were no night landing facilities there,
it headed for Dubai, landing at an air force base there at 0132 hrs,
on 25th December 1999. Our Ambassador, who had constantly been in touch
with UAE authorities, was present alongwith CG, Dubai, though not on
the airfield. Following discussions between the UAE authorities and
the hijackers, release of 27 passengers, including women and children,
was secured here. The dead body of one passenger, Shri Rupin Katyal,
who had been stabbed by the hijackers earlier, was also off-loaded here.
They were then escorted back to India by the Minister of Civil Aviation
in a special flight on 25th December. The aircraft then took off at
0620 hours and landed at Kandahar airport at 0833 hours on 25th December
1999. Thereafter, it stayed at Kandahar until the hijacking was terminated,
on the evening of 31st December, 1999. Passengers and crew who had been
held hostage for the period reached Delhi that very evening in two special
flights. The hijacked aircraft itself was able to return to New Delhi
only on 1st January 2000, at 1222 hours.
On the occurrence of the
hijacking institutional mechanism to deal with the situation were immediately
put into action. The Crisis Management Group and the Central Committee
met to address the evolving situation. The NSG Task Force was also placed
on full alert and raided for employment. The CMG received instructions
and directions from the Cabinet and the Cabinet Committee on Security,
which met that very evening, and thereafter regularly till the ermination
of the hijacking.
In handling the situation
arising from the hijacking, the Government set for itself clear priorities.
These were: (a) the earliest termination of the hijacking; (b) the safe
return of the passengers, crew and aircraft; and (c) safeguarding national
security. The manner in which the termination of the hijacking was secured
met the priorities that the Government had set out.
Soon after the aircraft
reached Kandahar, an exercise to inform the international community
about the incident was launched. Earlier, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan
had been contacted for cooperation. Authorities in the UAE, as already
informed, had also been asked for assistance in the matter. On 25th
December itself, I personally contacted several of my counterparts including
those in the neighbouring countries, member countries of the UN Security
Council and countries with nationals aboard the hijacked aircraft. The
Foreign Secretary also spoke to some of his counterparts and heads of
diplomatic missions in New Delhi. From all the 9 countries pledges of
support and cooperation were received. After the arrival of the hijacked
aircraft at Kandahar, upon suggestion, the UN umanitarian Coordinator
for Afghanistan and Representatives of countries whose nationals were
abroad the aircraft sent special emissaries to Kandahar.
International support for
India, and condemnation of the hijacking, was thereafter, further elaborated
in official statements issued by several foreign governments. These
left no room for doubt that the hijacking of IC-814 represented an unacceptable
act of international terrorism and that any action undertaken by the
Indian Government would receive full support.
As Indian Airlines flight
IC-814 had originated in Kathmandu and the plane had landed at Lahore
and Dubai before reaching Kandahar, it would be appropriate to make
a reference to the approaches of Nepal, Pakistan and the UAE towards
this incident. The Government of Nepal, soon after the incident, appointed
a committee to investigate the Nepalese end of the hijacking. While
the Committee's report has not been made public, action has already
been initiated, ncluding a departmental inquiry, against some officials
of the Tribhuvan Airport. The Government of Nepal have also conveyed
to the Government of India that they are taking all necessary additional
measures to enhance security at the Tribhuvan International Airport,
on a priority basis.
The UAE authorities, after
initial reluctance, responded positively to our request about permitting
IC-814 to land at an UAE airport. Senior authorities of the UAE were
present throughout the period the plane was in the UAE. Their intercession
with the hijackers led to the release of 27 passengers and the body
of the deceased passenger.
The Pakistani authorities
allowed the plane to land in Lahore after earlier refusing permission.
To my request for assistance, the Honourable Foreign Minister of akistan,
inter-alia, conveyed that they would act in accordance with law and
`transparently'. To facilitate the rapid move of our High Commissioner
from Islamabad to Lahore, upon my request, a helicopter was made available.
Before, owever, it could take off, the plane was allowed to leave Lahore,
at 2232 hrs. At Lahore, upon the suggestion of the Captain, the hijackers
offered to off-load some women, children and injured persons. ATC Lahore
declined. Uptill then, there had occurred no deaths, though two of the
passengers had been grievously stabbed. Shri Rupin Katyal succumbed
to his injuries en route Lahore - Dubai.
The hijacked Indian Airlines
flight IC-814 reached Kandahar at 0833 hrs. On 25th December. The aircraft
thereupon came within the control of the Taliban authorities, whom we
do not recognise and with whom we have no official ontact. This, however,
was not permitted to stand in the way of our dealing with them. Immediate
contacts were established on the ATC channel, and between the Indian
High Commission in Islamabad and the Taliban Mission in that city.
In view of the ideological
orientation of the Taliban, their close linkage with Pakistan, their
publicly expressed attitude towards Jammu & Kashmir, and their support
to fundamentalist organisations, it was essential that an assessment
regarding their approach towards the hijacking, the hijackers and the
assistance that could be expected of them in its termination be first
established. It was important that there be no misjudgement in this
regard, at this critical juncture.
After assessment, and as
a first step, an official from our High Commission in Islamabad was
sent to Kandahar on the morning of December 27. Strengthened by his
report from the spot, a team of officials, including doctors and a relief
crew, reached Kandahar, from Delhi on 27th evening itself. Concerned
officials in this group met with Representatives of the countries present
in Kandahar, UN officials, as also Taliban authorities, including Foreign
Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. Our team updated itself, in detail,
on the condition of the aircraft, the state of health of the passengers,
as also details of what had transpired between the Taliban and the hijackers
Direct discussions between
the hijackers and our officials took place between the evening of 27th
December and the 31st. The hijackers initially demanded the release
of Masood Azhar in return for 10 Indians, 5 foreigners and some other
passengers of their choice. This piecemeal approach was rejected outright
by the Government. Both the Taliban and the hijackers were informed
that until there was a formal, full and unambiguous detailing of demands,
there could be no talks. It is significant that the Taliban then advised
the hijackers to give their full demands. This was done. These were
(a) release of 36 terrorists in Indian custody including Masood Azhar;
(b) the coffin of Sajad Afghani and (c) payment of US $ 200 million.
After these demands had been made public by me, the Taliban advised
the hijackers that their demands for money and the coffin of ajad Afghani
were un-Islamic. These were, therefore, dropped by the hijackers. Our
urging thereafter that a demand for release of terrorists was also un-Islamic
was not pressed by the Taliban with the hijackers.
Thereupon the hijackers
insisted that Masood Azhar be released in exchange for 15 hostages and
such others as the hijackers may choose to release. This was again rejected
by the Government. Finally, a full package was worked out for the release
of all the hostages. Government released three terrorists i.e. Masood
Azhar, Mustaq Zargar and Omar Sheikh.
The Taliban had been told
by us that as they exercised jurisdiction in Kandahar, the released
terrorists would be brought to the Kandahar Airport, whereafter, they
would be under Taliban control but not that of the hijackers. It was
also xplicitly conveyed to the Taliban that we expected that both the
hijackers and the released terrorists, would be treated as criminals
in conformity with law. The decision taken by the Taliban to allow the
hijackers and the released terrorists ten hours to leave Afghanistan
was theirs alone.
The Taliban authorities
while adopting an attitude of correct facilitators, consistently and
clearly had their sympathies with the hijackers and their other supporters,
and acted accordingly.
There are two aspects connected
with hijacking that have since been raised in public and I wish to deal
with them squarely. The first relates to events in Amritsar, the second,
is regarding my travel to Kandahar.
Hon'ble Members would appreciate
that it was not initially known that the aircraft will land at Amritsar.
Information all along had been that the hijackers wanted to go to Lahore.
When the aircraft did land at Amritsar, concrete and specific information
in respect of the numbers, nationality, weaponry, professionalism and
commitment of the hijackers was still scanty and speculative. On the
other hand, messages being received from the hijacked aircraft were
becoming increasingly tense and demanding. The pilot had by then conveyed
that the hijackers had told him that four passengers had already been
killed, also that the hijackers had "pistols, grenades, everything".
Information was also received that some passengers had been brought
forward to the `J' Class section, their arms tied and that they were
to be executed next. While we were conscious that these messages could
have been conveyed under duress, at that time, there was no way of definitively
establishing relevant facts. Precipitate action, in the absence of even
Home Ministry has ordered
a CBI enquiry, who have been entrusted with the investigations of the
Government have brought
to the attention of the international community the role played by Pakistan
in the hijacking. Government have raised the matter with the overnment
of Pakistan, and have provided evidence to them of the involvement of
their nationals in the hijacking. Government have reminded the Government
of Pakistan that as a signatory to several International Conventions
against Terrorism, also the Simla Agreement of 1972, and the Lahore
Declaration, it has an international obligation to take the hijackers
into custody and to extradite them to India. The Government of Pakistan,
in its response, has reiterated its general position that it would undertake
to apprehend and prosecute any person or persons found on its territory
or the territory of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir who ay be suspected of
having committed offences related to hijacking. As they have at the
same time rejected our demarche Pakistan's general commitment has to
be assessed accordingly.
Government have also raised
the matter with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)
with the view to bring to the attention of the member countries the
need to adopt appropriate measures to apprehend and extradite the hijackers
The hijacking of IC-814
has made stronger our resolve to combat the menace of terrorism. Let
no one doubt our firm determination. It has also emphasised the need
of strengthening our security, Inter alia, at airports. Necessary action
in this regard has already been initiated.
Hon'ble Members would permit
me to add that the hijacking of IC-814 was an exceptionally professional
and complex operation; Kandahar, possibly the most adverse location
for us from where to address the situation; and the triangular coordination
of the incident by the hijackers, the Taliban, HUM and ISI operatives
a most demanding challenge.
The termination of the
hijacking in the manner that it was achieved, was the best possible
solution in a basket of worse alternatives.