Former Union Minister Jaswant Singh passed away on Sunday at the age of 82. Following the news of his demise, we take a look back at the time when as the External Affairs Minister of India, he had been an integral part of efforts to resolve the crisis that has become known as the IC 814 hijacking.
For the uninitiated, an Indian Airlines flight travelling from Nepal to India at the end of December 1999 had been intercepted by terrorists and was flown to Afghanistan. Having left from Katmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport, Flight 814 first landed in Amritsar airport and then Lahore Airport for refueling, then Dubai Airport before reaching Kandahar. The hijackers had demanded the release of several individuals, including Maulana Masood Azhar who would soon go on to found the JeM.
Here, we take a look at the statement put out by the External Affairs Ministry some 48 hours after the hijacking. Take a look:
December 26, 1999
It has been 48 hours since the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814. The Government's first concern remains the welfare of the passengers and crew who continue to be held captive by the hijackers. Their comfort and early safe return remains our first priority. This requires that the hijacking be terminated at the earliest. That is why, in the circumstances, we have been taking all steps that we believe are both prudent and productive towards these objectives.
Ever since the aircraft was hijacked, we have been constantly monitoring the situation. It left Dubai yesterday morning and reached Kandahar around 08-30 am. Since then, constant contact has been maintained with Taliban officials in Islamabad and Kandahar on this matter. In these contacts, we have consistently emphasised the importance that we attach to the safety and welfare of the passengers and crew.
Late last evening, a Taliban official in Islamabad informed our High Commission that two persons had come out of the aircraft. They were met by Taliban officials. They conveyed the demand for the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani national who has been in our custody, on charges of terrorism, since January 1994. Masood Azhar belongs to the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, which has been involved in terrorism in India and also in the kidnapping of five foreign nationals in India in 1994. Repeated attempts have been made by the Pakistan Government to secure his release. Additionally, some other Pakistani terrorist organizations have also, in the past, resorted to terrorist and criminal methods for this very purpose.
The Government of India like a large section of the international community, condemns terrorism in all Its aspects. We have been engaged with our partners and friends abroad, bilaterally and in addressing international fora, in addressing this menace, of which many countries are targets. The present incident of hijacking, once again highlights the need for the international community to rally as one, to address the problem.