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COVER STORY

21-01-2000

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Briefing

Warning signals

The choice of Kandahar and Lahore as their destinations indicates that the hijackers were sure of protection from the Taliban and Pakistan.

THE eight-day-long trauma for the hijacked passengers of Indian Airlines' Flight IC 814 at the Taliban-controlled Kandahar airport ended with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh handing over three militants - Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zarg ar alias Latram, and Ahmed Umar Syed - to the hijackers in return for the release of the 150-odd passengers on board.

It was a sad day for India. The Vajpayee Government was forced to bend following the fiasco in Amritsar on December 24: the Indian authorities had failed either to detain the plane or engage the hijackers when the Airbus A-300 landed at the Amritsar airp ort after the authorities in Lahore initially refused permission for it to land.

The inability to take decisions and the lack of courage to take responsibility for action on the part of persons on the ground led to the meek surrender. As India mulls its actions, more details are emerging about the seven days of ordeal.

The hijackers had made their links clear by first force-landing the aircraft at Lahore - in the process missing the control tower narrowly - on the night of December 24, and then planning to take the plane to Kabul or Kandahar (which do not have night-la nding facilities).

And then, clearing all doubts about their intentions, after being forced to land at a military base near Dubai, the hijackers took the plane to Kandahar the following day.

For full 24 hours, until the United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan, Erik de Mul, reached Kandahar on December 26, it was the Taliban leaders who interacted with the hijackers. What transpired during that crucial period will, perhaps, never be known to the outside world.

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As pressure mounted on India to send a team of negotiators, New Delhi waffled on whether or not to despatch some officials in the flight that carried Erik de Mul. Finally it was decided not to send a diplomat from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. The Government decided to wait for an assessment from de Mul. This obviously was part of its "negotiating strategy".

Four Western countries, who had their nationals on board the hijacked plane, sent their Islamabad-based diplomats to Kandahar along with de Mul. As the hijackers started acting tough, these diplomats criticised the Indian Government.

Erik de Mul held five round of talks with the leader of the hijackers, who spoke Urdu with a Punjabi accent. The "leader", who was stationed in the cockpit, did all the talking. The other four hijackers spoke to none. It was all part of their strategy.

In his conversation with de Mul, the 'leader' referred to the Indian Government's record in Kashmir. He spoke of the alleged atrocities committed on 25,000 women by the Indian security forces there. He spoke as if he was delivering a sermon, and at the e nd of it told the U.N. official that it was useless to talk to him.

In response to de Mul's appeal to release the women, children and the sick, the hijackers freed Anil Khurana, a diabetic. Khurana, whose health was in a bad shape, vomited throughout the night he was released.

On December 27, A.R. Ghanashyam, Commercial Counsellor at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, was flown to Kandahar. He landed close to a deadline announced by the hijackers. Shortly before Ghanashyam arrived, the hijackers took two foreign passenge rs into the Club Class area and tied them up; they threatened that they would kill them if India did not immediately open negotiations. The diplomat managed to convince the hijackers that a team of negotiators was on its way from Delhi. The desperadoes t hen suspended the deadline, which was to expire at 1.40 p.m. Indian Standard Time.

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An Airbus A-320, with 52 persons on board, including a seven-member negotiating team headed by Ajit Doval, a senior intelligence officer, arrived that evening and opened discussions with the hijackers. Information available to Frontline suggests t hat some National Security Guard (NSG) commandoes were on board the Airbus A-320, ready to storm the hijacked aircraft if the Taliban gave permission.

In the meanwhile, New Delhi, through its High Commission in Islamabad, was working on a strategy to win over the Taliban. Essentially, India wanted the Taliban to agree to a storming operation, which the Taliban firmly refused. When it became clear that the Taliban would not play ball, the "honeymoon" between India and the Islamic militia ended. In fact, New Delhi established direct contact with Mullah Omar, the Taliban's Amir-ul-Momineen.

On the evening of December 27, the Indian negotiators appeared "very tense" as they began talks with the hijackers. They were also unsure of the kind of reception they would get from the Taliban, who are avowedly anti-India.

The hijackers refused to allow any food on board for 24 hours, a clear tactic to pressure the Indian negotiators. It was only on December 29, around noon, that they allowed food to be served to the passengers.

The negotiations dragged on through December 28, continuing in fits and starts. That evening Jaswant Singh announced that the hijackers were demanding a $200 million ransom and the release of Masood Azhar and 35 other militants.

Apparently, on occasion, the leader of the hijackers would speak for an extended period of 15 to 20 minutes, to which Ajit Doval would respond with an even longer reply. A typical exchange would be the leader launching into a long diatribe against what t he Government of India was doing in Kashmir, to which Doval would reply that the "excess" of hijacking could not be condoned as a gesture of redressing perceived excesses in Kashmir.

The conditions on board the aircraft deteriorated with the engines remaining shut for a full two hours. An Indian engineer, R.K. Sharma, was finally allowed into the cockpit to fix the auxiliary power unit. The engines, which had been running since take- off from Kathmandu, were restarted after he carried out the repairs. As Sharma worked on the engines, one hijacker held a gun to his head and the other to the lower part of his body.

Three employees of the Kandahar airport were allowed to board the plane on December 28 to clean the aircraft, which had begun to stink. The passengers asked them the obvious question: "Where are we now?" But the hijackers were ever alert. When they foun d the three cleaners assembled at one place in the aircraft, they pounced on them and searched their person for any weapons, before letting them off. (The aircraft was a shambles, by all accounts. Chicken bones were strewn all over the cockpit's panels; remnants of the food brought on board lay everywhere, and the place stank.)

On December 29, the Taliban got the hijackers to give up their demand for the $200 million ransom and the body of Sajjad Afghani, a Harkat-ul-Ansar leader who was killed in Kashmir.

Positive signs started emerging after this. Erik de Mul said that the prospects of a negotiated settlement had improved. "It looks as if the talks are moving in a positive direction," he said.

After making the hijackers to climb down, the Taliban began to put pressure on the Indian authorities. "If the Indian side does not peacefully solve the problem, our next step will be to ask the hijackers to leave Afghanistan immediately. If they don't, we will force them to leave," Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil told newspersons.

That night, the Taliban Shoora (ruling council) went into session and decided that no foreign power (read India) would be allowed to launch any commando operation to free the hostages. Clearly, the Taliban feared that India might launch some operation to end the hijack drama.

As a follow-up, the Taliban leadership sent a clear message to India, which expedited the negotiation process. Crack Taliban troops and a multi-barrel rocket launcher and two tanks were deployed on the tarmac around noon on December 30.

The barrel of the rocket launcher was pointed towards the Indian relief aircraft; the tanks too took up vantage positions overlooking the Airbus A-320. The Taliban, it appeared, were rattled enough to stage this show of strength, with the message clearly directed at the Government of India.

During all this, the negotiating team was haggling with the hijackers in a bid to get their demands whittled down. The Indian side, in what appeared to be a bargaining ploy, asked the hijackers to give more details about the militants whose release they sought. The deal itself was clinched on the night of December 30. Initially the Indian Government insisted that it would release only Masood Azhar in return for all the passengers. It is clear that the final deal was struck only after the Taliban began t o deploy its troops and weapons. Before the settlement was announced, the Taliban Foreign Minister stated that discussions were on about the future of the hijackers. Mutawakkil also said: "They (the Indians and the hijackers) are still negotiating on the number of prisoners to be released."

On December 31, the end-game began. Jaswant Singh travelled to Kandahar in a Boeing 737 to wrap up the deal, taking with him the three terrorists named by the hijackers. Soon after the Boeing 737 landed, around 4 p.m., Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Zargar and U mar Syed were taken down, bundled into a Taliban vehicle and taken close to the hijacked aircraft. One hijacker climbed down the engineer's ladder, took a good look at the released terrorists, and then signalled the other hijackers to come down.

With the hijackers leaving the aircraft, the transfer of passengers to the other two Indian planes began.

Significantly, Jaswant Singh, flanked by Mutawakkil, announced that the hijackers had been given 10 hours to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban put pressure on Jaswant Singh to make this announcement in order to ensure that India did not accuse the Taliban o f agreeing to give the hijackers safe passage.

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There is little doubt that the entire hijacking operation was a "professional job". The manner in which the hijackers conducted themselves indicated that they had planned every move.

The choice of destinations - Lahore and finally Kandahar - indicated that both Pakistan and Afghanistan were countries that would afford them protection.

For the record, the Taliban said that the hijackers and the released militants were no longer on its territory and were now in Pakistan. However, verification of this claim is almost impossible.

The destination of the five hijackers, who left Kandahar in a Taliban vehicle, has become a major issue in India-Pakistan relations following a report in the newspaper Jang on January 1 that they had left for Pakistan on the evening the hijack dra ma ended. Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen told Jang, the largest circulated Pakistani newspaper, that the hijackers had left for Quetta, along with the freed militants and a Taliban hostage. (The Taliban hostage was reported to have returned s afely.) However, 36 hours after the report was published, the Taliban denied it.

The Taliban statement perhaps came as an embarrassment to Pakistan, which is a co-host, along with the student militia, of a large number of militant groups. The clear inference is that Pakistan got into the act and asked the Taliban to deny the statemen t.

Given the fact that Pakistan is a known backer and supporter of militant groups, it will come as no surprise that the hijackers and the released terrorists are now in Pakistan. "Yes, there is a possibility that the hijackers may have entered Pakistan. Th e (Pervez Musharraf) Government may say what it wants to say," Lt. Gen Hamid Gul (retd), one-time chief of the Inter-Services Ingelligence (ISI), told Frontline.

According to informed sources, the hijackers belong to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, with which Masood Azhar has been associated in its previous incarnation as the Harkat-ul-Ansar. The Harkat, as is well known, operates from Pakistan and is headquartered at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

"Unless the hijackers reveal their individual identities, nothing will be known about them. They have been very clever in hiding their identities," Gen. Gul maintained. (The identities of the three released militants, of course, is well known).

If the Taliban's claim that the hijackers will not be given sanctuary in Afghanistan is correct, then the only country which will afford them shelter is Pakistan. The border town of Chaman in Pakistan is a couple of hours drive from Kandahar.

However, given the sensitivity of the operation, the hijackers, in all likelihood, will avoid known routes and instead hole themselves up in safehouses or camps of the organisations to which they belong.

The Pakistan-Afghan border is a known smuggling route, crossing which does not pose any difficulty. Even if Pakistan placed its border checkposts on alert, the hijackers and the militants would have crossed over a few hours after the hijack drama ended.

A report in the newspaper Dawn on January 3 quoted Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen as refuting the claim that the hijackers and the released militants had entered Pakistan via Quetta. "They (the hijackers) left Afghanistan within the stipulate d deadline. They are not in Afghanistan. We are not bound to reveal their whereabouts," he was quoted as saying.

Another report in Dawn, with a Muzaffarabad dateline, said that members of the Muzaffarabad-based Al-Omar Mujahideen, to which Mushtaq Zargar belongs, had reportedly gone to Afghanistan, to receive their one-time chief. An office-bearer of the gro up told the newspaper that Naeem-ul-Haq, acting chief of Al-Omar, and Latif-ul-Haq, chief commander, had gone to Afghanistan.

The report also quoted a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen leader in Muzaffarabad as saying: "God willing, they (the released militants) will come here."

Sajjad Shahid, office-incharge of the hardline organisation, claimed that the "freedom fighters" were still in Afghanistan.

PAKISTAN, meanwhile, claimed that the hijackers would be tried in a court of law if they came to the country. However, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar has been quoted as saying: "I can tell you with full responsibility that the hijackers have no t entered Pakistan." The hijackers, he added, would be tried in a Pakistani court if they entered the country.

The manner in which the Pakistani establishment responded to the hijacking by saying that the whole episode was "stage-managed" by India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was also a give-away. It indicated that Pakistan somehow wanted to protect the ide ntity of the hijackers. Pakistan needs to be asked what the need was to release the three terrorists and also provide safe passage to the hijackers, who killed Rupin Katyal in cold blood, apart from making the lives of 150-odd passengers miserable, if th e whole affair was stage-managed.

Given the fact that the Pakistan government and its intelligence agencies are deeply involved in supporting, fostering and funding all kinds of terrorist groups that operate in both Afghanistan and Kashmir, its bid to pin the blame on RAW is understandab le. However, in this case the facts have exposed Pakistani propaganda for what it is.

For India, there is a message in all this. The hijackers informed their interlocutors that this was the "first" action of its kind. More could follow. The warning from Kandahar is all too obvious.

The Government of India, its security agencies, and the State police forces need to pull up their socks. Given the kind of enemies the country is up against, there is no room for complacency.

Of theology and terrorism

cover-story

Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani national who received training in a seminary and preached terror, played a pivotal role in coalescing terrorist groups in Kashmir.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

IF it had not been for a faulty fuel gauge, Harkat-ul-Ansar general secretary Maulana Masood Azhar might never have been arrested.

On February 11, 1994, on his second day in Kashmir, Azhar was returning from a meeting with terrorists at Matigund village, near Anantnag. Sajjad Khan, the Harkat-ul-Ansar's supreme commander in the Kashmir Valley, better known by his code name Sajjad Af ghani, had just turned their car on to the National Highway to Srinagar when the engine spluttered to a halt. It turned out that the car had run out of petrol. Azhar, Khan and their bodyguard Farooq Ahmed had no choice but to take an autorickshaw back to the nearest petrol pump, at Khanabal.

Five minutes down the road, the three ran into a Border Security Force patrol. Ahmed had nowhere to hide his gun, and opened fire. He escaped, but both Azhar and Khan had no time to run. When the BSF personnel searched Azhar's briefcase, they found $1,20 0, a fake Portuguese passport and identity card and an Indian Airlines ticket to New Delhi, booked for February 13. Interrogators soon learned who Azhar was, and the fact that he had come to Kashmir to negotiate the merger of two far-right organisations, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI), into the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA).

It looked as if Azhar's luck had run out. Of course, it had not.

MASOOD AZHAR was born to Allah Baksh Sabir Alvi and Pukia Bibi on July 10, 1968, the fourth of five brothers and six sisters. Alvi had retired as the headmaster of a school in Bhawalpur, Punjab (in Pakistan), and runs a poultry farm along with his eldest son, Mohammad Tahir. Azhar studied at the Government School in Bhawalpur until the seventh grade, but when it was time for him to go on to secondary school at nearby Rahimyar Khan, the decisive shift in his life came about. Alvi's brother Mufti Syed sug gested that the boy be sent instead to a seminary in Karachi. Azhar passed out of the Jamia Islamia seminary in April 1989 and started teaching there immediately afterwards.

Deobandi ultra-conservatism suffused the Jamia Islamia seminary. Students from West Asia, Sudan, Bangladesh, South Africa and Zambia were on its rolls, and the HuM's jihad in Afghanistan was seen as the practice of all that they had been taught. In June 1992, Azhar met the HuM's chief, Maulana Fazalur Rahman Khalil, for the first time. Khalil invited him to join the HuM training programme at Yavar, in Afghanistan. Azhar did learn to use a Kalashnikov and Russian-made Zokai machine guns, but the portly s eminary student just could not make it past the first week of the arduous 40-day commando course. He was put to work, instead, running a monthly magazine for the HuM.

Sadai Mujahid was priced at Rs. 5 and had a print run of around 1,000 copies, most of which were, in fact, distributed free at mosques in Karachi. The magazine became an important instrument of HuM recruitment, targeting the frustrated youth of di sintegrating Karachi. Khalil was by then impressed enough with Azhar to send him on fund-raising trips to Saudi Arabia and Zambia. In Lusaka, helped by local fruit merchant Ibrahim Lambert, the Sadai Mujahid chief editor managed to raise the equiv alent of over Rs.20 lakhs. In October 1992, Azhar visited the United Kingdom, addressing HuM gatherings at mosques in Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Sheffield.

The year 1993 saw Azhar rise to the top of the HuM hierarchy. With the end of the United States-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan, much of the HuM's cadre had become redundant. Several West Asian governments, notably those of the United Arab Emirates and Sa udi Arabia, were less than enthusiastic about the return of volunteers from Afghanistan. At one point, the Pakistan Government itself jailed some 500 Afghan volunteers. Most of the HuM recruits left for Somalia, fighting with the Ittehad-e-Islami. Soon, the HuM found itself at war with the United States-backed United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Somalia, which included a contingent of Pakistan soldiers.

The HuM desperately lobbied against the use of Pakistan troops in the U.N. force in Somalia. After a field visit to Kenya, where several HuM cadre had fled, Azhar organised a media campaign against the Pakistan troops' involvement. The chief editor of Zindagi weekly, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman Shami; Urdu Digest editor Altaf Husain Qureishi; and prominent Urdu journalist Mustafa Sadiq were among those whom Azhar recruited to write on the Somalia situation. All three, along with Azhar and Khalil, vis ited HuM cadres in Kenya. Although Pakistan never did withdraw its troops, the campaign helped the HuM gain mass legitimacy in Pakistan.

BACK in Pakistan, Azhar was given a central role in organising the HuM's Kashmir campaign. Early in 1993, using a genuine Pakistan passport, he travelled with Sajjad Khan to Bangladesh. Khan, whom Azhar had first met at the Yavar training camp, had becom e among the HuM's most respected military leaders and was assigned charge of the organisation's Kashmir operations. Since the border routes into India were closed due to winter snow, Azhar's job was to get Khan across the Bangladesh border. Khan and Azha r arrived in Dhaka on an Emirates flight, where they were received by Maulana Karimullah, a graduate of the Jamia Islamia seminary.

Azhar took two days off to relax at a hotel in Dhaka after Khan was pushed across the Bangladesh border. He needed a break. Back in Pakistan, a furious dialogue was under way on the future of the HuM. The origins of the organisation lay in two Deobandi r eligious bodies, the Jamait-ul-Ulema-e-Islami and the Tabligh-i-Jamaat, which had set up the HuJI in 1980, at the outset of the Afghan war. Khalil later broke away from the HuJI to form the HuM. Kari Saifullah Akhtar stayed on to lead the HuJI, but it so on split again, with Maulana Masood Kashmiri starting a third splinter group, the Jamait-ul-Mujaheddin (JuM). Azhar was at the centre of protracted negotiations to get the three back together.

Maulana Khalimullah Khan, the chancellor of the Jamia Farooqui seminary, and Mufti Rafi Usman, chancellor of the Dar-ul-Ifta-Wal Irshad, were the two top seminary leaders heading negotiations among the HuM, the HuJI and the JuM. The religious heads succe eded in persuading the three armed organisations to put their personal disputes aside, along with their recriminations over misappropriation of funds. In November 1993, the HuJI, the HuM and the JuM merged into the Harkat-ul-Ansar(HuA). Maulana Sadatulla h Khan was the notional head of the HuA, but real military power lay with its first Naib Amir, Khalil. At just 25, Azhar became the HuA's general secretary, empowered with overall organisational charge.

The Portuguese passport that Azhar used to reach India was brokered through a United Kingdom-based contact; it arrived stamped with Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi visas in January 1994. The HuA general secretary was now Wali Adam Issa, a Portuguese na tional. Azhar left Karachi on January 26, 1994, having ensured that his Pakistan visa had been stamped to show that he had arrived there from Europe. He waited two days in Dhaka before boarding a Biman flight to New Delhi. Early on the morning of January 29, Azhar was in New Delhi. When a curious immigration official at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi told Azhar he did not look Portuguese, the HuA leader replied that he was born in Gujarat.

Ashraf Dar, a Srinagar-based carpet exporter, was Azhar's contact in Delhi. Dar received a call from Azhar on the night of January 29, from the HuA leader's room in Ashoka Hotel in Delhi's diplomatic enclave, Chanakyapuri. The next morning, Azhar, escort ed by Dar and the Doda district commander of the HuM, Mohammad Musa, travelled to Deoband. They spent the day visiting the shrines of the Deoband intellectuals and the graveyard of Maulana Massiullah Khan at Jalalabad. After spending the night at a mosqu e, the three returned to New Delhi. Azhar checked in at Hotel Janpath in New Delhi's central shopping district, Connaught Place.

In the remaining time that Azhar spent in New Delhi, he visited injured HuM terrorists, who had been brought to the city for treatment, at Hotel Usman near the Jama Masjid. Azhar then travelled to Lucknow by a night bus on February 6, hoping to meet the highly-regarded Muslim theologian Ali Mian. Ali Mian was unavailable, and an impromptu visit to religious writer Manzoor Nomani's residence also drew a blank. February 8 was spent shopping for gifts. Among other things, Azhar purchased 12 compasses for t hose he was scheduled to meet in Srinagar.

Azhar arrived at the Madrassa Qasmian in Srinagar on February 9, flying Indian Airlines. Khan, along with HuM deputy commander Amjad Bilal, arrived in the evening. He briefed them on the formation of the HuA and asked for a meeting to be arranged with th e leadership of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Before that, however, the most important work had to be done. On February 10, a meeting of 19 leaders of the HuM, the HuJI, and the JuM was called at Matigund village, in the Anantnag forests. Azh ar's ideological and operational address to the group began late that evening, and continued until 9 a.m. the next day. It was while returning from that meeting that Azhar was arrested.

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INTERROGATORS in the BSF knew they had arrested someone important, but it took them time to comprehend just how important he was. Azhar's arrest was followed in quick succession by the kidnapping of British tourists Tim Housego and David Mackey. HuA terr orists demanded Azhar's release, along with that of Afghan war veteran Nasarullah Langriyal. In the event, intense diplomatic pressure on Pakistan ensured that both Housego and Mackey were released unharmed, 17 days after they were taken hostage. India, for its part, flatly told the United Kingdom that it would under no circumstances consider a hostages-for-terrorists swap.

More kidnappings soon followed. In October 1994, British national Ahmed Umar Syed Sheikh, who has now been released as part of the hostages-for-terrorists exchange in Kandahar, organised the abduction of four British nationals from a guest house in New D elhi's downmarket Paharganj area. The victims were driven to a safehouse near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, where intelligence officials located them on October 31. A shoot-out followed, in which Uttar Pradesh Police commando Abhay Singh Yadav was killed. Sheikh and his accomplice, Pakistani national Abdul Rahim, were arrested. All four hostages emerged from the rescue operation unharmed.

Finally, in July 5, 1995, a shadowy outfit called Al Faran took five Western tourists hostage from Pahalgam. One of the hostages, Norwegian national Hans Christen Ostro, was beheaded early on by the kidnappers, in a move to pressure Western governments t o force India to bring about Azhar's release. Keith Mangan and Paul Wells of Britain, Donald Hutchings of the U.S., Dirk Hassert of Germany are widely believed to have been shot dead on Christmas Day in 1995, shortly after HuA chief Hamid Turki was kille d in an encounter with the Indian Army near Doda. Frustrated by their failure to secure the prisoners' release, and angered by Turki's death, the kidnappers are believed to have given orders for the hostages' execution.

Interestingly, despite persistant denials by both the HuA and Pakistan of complicity in the Pahalgam kidnappings, The Sunday Times of the U.K. reported in March 1998 that the U.S. was long aware of the facts. According to the newspaper, a series o f meetings with the HuA's Khalil were held at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad. This dialogue broke down because the HuA leadership was angered by the Americans' inability to push India into a deal. "The Harkat commanders became so angry that they were dete rmined to deny Americans any success, and sent a message through to Kashmir that the remaining hostages should be disposed of," The Sunday Times recorded.

To the credit of the Government of P.V. Narasimha Rao, it persistently refused to negotiate on Azhar's future.

In September 1999, Khan and Langriyal led a group of terrorists in Kot Bhalwal into a plot to dig a tunnel under Azhar's overall supervision. Again, the tunnelling was detected. When police officials went into the barracks, 11 jailed terrorists threw st ones, leading to a lathi-charge. Khan was killed, and over a dozen policemen were injured. Terrorist groups, however, charged that the HuM commander in fact died during interrogation. Whatever the truth, prison officials had reason to crack down hard. In October 1998, three Pakistani nationals had succeeded in breaking out of Kot Bhalwal, sparking off serious concerns over prison security.

SAJJAD AFGHANI'S body now lies in a graveyard just a couple of hundred meters from Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah's official residence in Jammu. It is unlikely that his remains will ever be moved, as the Kandahar hijackers had demanded. He was not, in an y case the first terrorist to die for Masood Azhar's cause. Several members of the HuA group which carried out the Pahalgam kidnapping were subsequently shot dead. Nazir Chhan, a member of the HuA group involved in the tourists' murders, has been in jail for three years. Sheikh spent six years in jail before his release; there is no sign of his associate Rahim's release.

Rupin Katyal became the fifth civilian to die at the hands of those who wanted Azhar free. One police officer also gave up his life. How many more deaths Masood Azhar will now preside over remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the last of his vio lent story is yet to be heard.

Crime as business

cover-story
PRAVEEN SWAMI

MUSHTAQ AHMED ZARGAR could not be more different from the two Harkat-ul-Ansar militants with whom he has been released under the hostages-for-terrorists deal at Kandahar. Unlike Masood Azhar, Zargar had no theological leanings and, by most accounts, litt le interest in religion. And if Azhar never fired a gun after a brief training stint in Afghanistan, Zargar revelled in violence. He is charged with responsibility for over three dozen murders in downtown Srinagar and had a reputation for brutality, even outright sadism.

Zargar became known in Srinagar by the nickname "Latram", which emerged from his frequent use of the phrase "latram, shatram" (talking nonsense). The son of a lower middle-class family which lives near the Gani Mohalla in Srinagar's Jamia Masjid area, he never made it past primary school. Zargar set up a partnership to polish copper and brass utensils, but his introduction to crime came early. In 1984, aged just 17, he had his first brush with the police when he was picked up for anti-social activity.

In 1988, Zargar was introduced to the world of terror by Zahoor Sheikh, an Anantnag resident and activist of the secessionist People's League. That August, he crossed into Pakistan through Trehgam and received training at a camp organised by the Jammu Ka shmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Zargar went to Pakistan for a second training stint the next May and returned through Uri. He then made a name for himself, carrying out several attacks on security force personnel and executing a series of murders of Kashm ir's Pandit community.

But Zargar's ego did not let him stay on in the JKLF for any length of time. In December 1989, he set up the Al-Umar Mujahideen, with a membership made up largely of recruits from downtown Srinagar. The organisation soon had an office in Muzaffarabad and with the patronage of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan it flourished. Without its own apparatus firmly in place in Jammu and Kashmir, the ISI saw in Al-Umar an instrument through which the ascendancy of the JKLF, which favoured independ ence for Kashmir, could be challenged. Zargar proved only too willing to do the job.

Most observers believe that the Al-Umar chief's motives were transparent. Zargar began using his influence to intervene in local business and property disputes. At least seven kidnappings for ransom are attributed to him. Even Srinagar businessmen who we re sympathetic to anti-India organisations complained bitterly of extortion. In one infamous instance, he ordered a ban on the use of Maruti vehicles in Srinagar. The ban immediately benefited a Srinagar businessman who held the dealership for a rival mo tor company, and whose daughter referred to Zargar as bhaijaan (brother).

Money and power had come Zargar's way, but few had any real respect for Al-Umar's brutal leader. What he did have was the tacit endorsement of Srinagar cleric Maulvi Umar Farooq, after whom the organisation was named. Maulvi Farooq saw in Al-Umar a line of defence against far-right groups such as the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which had little respect for his religious authority. Indeed, one plausible explanation for the hijackers' keenness to secure the release of Zargar is that the ISI now hopes to use him t o pressure Umar Farooq, who has in recent months been advocating dialogue with India.

Zargar was arrested in May 1992. The fact that he is the only resident of Kashmir (under Indian control) on the list of 36 prisoners whose release the hijackers had sought offers some indication of the precise use that terrorists across the border hope t o put him to. Zargar's undisputed organisational skills and his residual apparatus in Srinagar city will be put to work to escalate violence in Jammu and Kashmir's capital. Such an escalation of violence would also serve to silence Maulvi Umar Farooq, wh ose father died for not toeing the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen line. Just how many people will have to pay with their lives for Zargar's freedom should become clear in the not-too-distant future.

Crisis and mismanagement

cover-story

The government's handling of the hostage crisis and the terms on which it was resolved have led to sharp differences within the National Democratic Alliance government, which could have far-reaching consequences.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi

THROUGHOUT the eight-day-long hijack drama, the crisis management efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government were characterised by a shocking disunity of purpose and absence of cohesion. Incongruence of opinions on matters of policy and operati onal details were accentuated by sharp differences that had their origins in a crude attempt at power play by sections within the political establishment. The disharmony in the top rungs of the government only served, along with other operational factors , to prolong the ordeal of the hostages at the hands of the hijackers. In the final analysis, it served as a crucial factor that led the government to strike a potentially damaging deal with the hijackers.

In a grim moment of national crisis, the government's responses to rapidly unfolding developments were shown up to be far from sharp. The few efforts at crisis management that were initiated also proved to be ineffectual and failed to inspire trust. Furt her, during the first few days of the hijacking, the government responded with callous insensitivity to the fears and concerns of relatives of the hostages.

There were serious disagreements within the Union Council of Ministers and among leaders of the ruling coalition on the terms on which the release of the hostage should be secured. So serious were the differences that a few Ministers were kept out of sub sequent confabulations on the hostage crisis; a few others, who perhaps felt that their opinions were not being given due consideration, opted to stay away. The failure to take Opposition leaders - and even members of the Union Cabinet - into confidence on the contours of its negotiating strategy drew sharp criticism. Observers believe that the bitterness engendered within the government, and particularly within the principal constituent of the ruling coalition, is bound to have unpleasant long-term con sequences.

CLEAR signals of the disunity in the government came to light at a meeting of the Union Cabinet on December 31, which was held even as steps were under way to implement a deal with the hijackers and secure the release of the hostages. According to highly placed sources in the government, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes were outspoken in their criticism of the manner in which the hostages-for-terrorists deal had been finalised and the terms of the arrangement. Such a deal, Advani is reported to have said, would "only reinforce India's image as a soft state"; that, he added, was not what "people expected" from the National Democratic Alliance government.

Following up on this, Advani is believed to have sent a two-page handwritten note to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee recording his reservations over the government's handling of the hostage crisis and the specific terms on which the deal was finalised. Acco rding to informed sources, the note also criticised the failure to detain the hijacked plane at the Amritsar airport, where it landed on December 24.

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Neither the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) nor the Home Minister's Office would confirm or deny the contents of the purported note (or even whether Advani wrote such a note). However, sources in the BJP confirmed that the note was indeed written; in their opinion, the document would set off ripples in the political establishment in the near future.

Defence Minister George Fernandes, who was forced to keep a low profile throughout the crisis, has also come out against the government's failure to drive a "hard bargain" during the negotiations with the hijackers. He is reported to have stated at the C abinet meeting on December 31 that the Crisis Management Group (CMG) constituted under Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar and coordinated by Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, had from the beginning failed to take into consideration all the strategic factors while dealing with hijackers. He is reported to have said that the Prime Minister's initial position - against negotiations with the hijackers and the Taliban - had failed to reckon with the possibility that India might be requi red to negotiate with them at a later date. Fernandes argued that the Prime Minister's stand had in effect weakened the government's bargaining power and ultimately compelled it to accept a deal that was unsatisfactory in many ways.

According to a few leaders of parties other than the BJP within the NDA, at the Cabinet meeting Advani and Fernandes articulated their criticism of government policy with a vehemence that would normally be associated with Opposition leaders rather than w ith key members of a ruling coalition.

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By all indications, not all this criticism was motivated by differences on policy considerations; evidently, personality factors too were at play. Both Advani and Fernandes are believed to have been miffed at the manner in which a group consisting of Ext ernal Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra took charge of the crisis management efforts, pointedly excluding all others. It was this group, backed by the PMO, that was calling the shots right from Day One. Even officials of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing, who come under the Home Ministry, were made to report to this group. The Prime Minister had underlined the primacy of this group even at the first meeting he held on December 24.

At the December 24 meeting, which was attended by Advani, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan, Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav and Fernandes, Brajesh Mishra and Prabhat Kumar presented a briefing. Significantly, Ministers other than Jaswan t Singh and Sharad Yadav were not assigned specific tasks at this meeting. Sharad Yadav was given the limited role of going to Dubai on December 25 to accompany the first batch of hostages who had been released by the hijackers. Jaswant Singh was involve d in the minute-to-minute operations on the crisis management front. The precise reasons for excluding Advani and Fernandes from the crisis management efforts are not known, but sources in the bureaucracy said that it was linked to the "incompatibility b etween these senior ministers and the Prime Minister's favourite group".

Neither Advani nor Fernandes directly questioned the wisdom of handing over an operation that was overwhelmingly related to the Home and Defence Ministries to a group of bureaucrats and the External Affairs Minister, but their displeasure was evident. Fe rnandes went to the northeastern region in the line of duty, and Advani proceeded to Chennai for the BJP National Executive meeting. Consequently, Advani, who is considered to be the Number Two in the government, did not participate in three Cabinet meet ings during the crisis period.

Significantly, leaders and activists close to Advani and Fernandes gave voice to their criticism of the actions of the CMG. The succession of bungles by the CMG ensured that these critics had adequate ammunition. The failure to capitalise on a situation in which the hijacked aircraft had landed on Indian soil, at Amritsar, came in for particular criticism. It was clear that the CMG had devised no coherent action plan to deal with the hijacking even though by then two and half hours had elapsed since the time the hijackers had commandeered the aircraft.

Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra directly handled all sensitive matters connected with the government's efforts to end the hostage crisis. As part of these efforts the CMG undertook initiatives to use sections of the Deoband-based Muslim clergy to influe nce the Taliban government of Afghanistan. According to Home Ministry officials who were involved in these operations, many among the CMG were clueless about Deobandis or other sections of the Muslim clergy, and the exercise took quite a while.

EVEN as this group was grappling with the fine details of opening a channel of communication with the Taliban and the hijackers, the Prime Minister's public statements showed up an incoherence in the government's approach. The government, he said, would not buckle under acts of terrorism; the hijacking, he added, had "brought home with its full impact the horror of terrorism". He then exhorted the people to "face the terrorist challenge with determination and self-confidence."

However, during his interactions with the relatives of the hostages, the Prime Minister himself betrayed a lack of determination and self-confidence. Evidently exasperated by the barrage of questions on just what the Government was doing to secure the re lease of the hostages, Vajpayee reportedly concluded the meeting with a statement to the effect that if the government's actions failed, "gala kaat ke phaansi chada do" (you can slit my throat and hang me). Needless to say, this acerbic remark did nothing to lift the morale of the hostages' relatives or infuse any degree of determination or self-confidence in them.

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Another aspect of the CMG's operations was the extremely secretive manner in which they were carried out. Not only Opposition leaders but even Ministers were kept in the dark about many vital questions connected with the negotiations. So much so that at one of the Cabinet meetings, Trinamul Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee castigated Jaswant Singh for withholding information from Cabinet members.

THE experience of Opposition leaders was even more curious. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet told Frontline that the government seemed to be playing a game of hide and seek during the operation. "Even th ough the Prime Minister spoke to me on the telephone after the deal was finalised with the hijackers," Surjeet said, "he did not give any details. All that he told me was that the Foreign Minister was going to Kandahar to bring international pressure on the Taliban government and the hijackers. However, later I learnt about the real purpose of the visit." He was at a loss to understand the government's action in hiding such crucial facts, he said.

Other Opposition leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and A.B. Bardhan of the Communist Party of India (CPI) too criticised the government on this count. Mulayam Singh Yadav told Frontline that the fact that the govern ment took three days to convene the first all-party meeting was adequate evidence of its insincerity about securing the cooperation of the Opposition. "The government had a duty to keep the Opposition informed of various measures it was taking on a natio nal crisis like this. They did not do it. And now the prestige of the country has been lowered," Mulayam Singh said.

Surjeet said that at the all-party meeting on December 27, the first convened by the government, he had emphasised the importance of ensuring the safe return of all the hostages without compromising on national interests. Surjeet said that the deal as fi nalised represented a compromising of national interests. He demanded an independent inquiry to uncover all the facts and fix responsibility for this "blunder". Bardhan said that the Government had painted itself into a corner and eventually had no alter native but to give in to the terrorists.

Congress(I) spokespersons too have raised questions about the hostages-for-terrorists deal finalised by the government. In all likelihood, the Opposition parties, including the Congress(I), will close ranks to question the government on its actions durin g the hijack crisis.

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A combined onslaught by the Opposition would doubtless be an embarrassment for the government, but from all accounts, it is not the only quarter from which the government will face criticism. A forceful attack against the Prime Minister and the group of politicians and bureaucrats who handled the crisis management effort is welling up within the NDA and, more significantly, within the BJP. A section of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation, is believed to be supportive of this o ffensive, which could take the form of a virulent campaign against Pakistan and Islamic fundamentalist organisations and gradually acquire a Hindu communal character. The message of such a campaign would be that the Prime Minister is too weak to handle t he situation and that the country needs a "strong nationalist"' with "character". Clearly, this campaign is bound to create a new situation within the BJP and the NDA, the outcome of which is hard to fathom at the moment.

A city and its hovels

The impoverished residents of Mumbai's slums find several ways to survive, but there is no escape for them from economic hardships and shrinking opportunities.

IN the movies, the Mumbai slum is full of possibilities. The slum boy can discover a separated-at-birth millionaire twin, turn underworld lord, or at the end of the story, marry a tycoon's daughter. "Bollywood" images suffuse the imaginations of many you ng people in Mumbai's slums, where half the city lives. Imitation Nike shoes and Levis jeans are worn almost as uniform; posters of film stars and fast cars decorate shops and homes.

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Cooper Hospital Naka is one of the places where this fantasy ends. By 6 a.m. hundreds of workers from the slums that sprawl across Andheri, a suburb, gather there, hoping someone will hire them for a day's work. Every few minutes, customers drive by in s mall trucks and even autorickshaws, depending on how many workers they need. Dozens of desperate workers mob them, offering to labour for just about anything. Wages start off at up to Rs.120 a day but dip to Rs.50 towards noon. Then, for the many workers who do not find work, it is time to trudge back home.

Ramanna Govindappa used to work in Lower Parel, Mumbai's industrial heartland. His job at Srinivas Mills earned him upwards of Rs.700 a month in 1983 along with benefits like Provident Fund and medical care. But that year Srinivas Mills closed down in th e wake of the Mumbai textile workers' strike of 1982. As other factories followed in quick time, hundreds of workers in the west Andheri slum of Dangarwadi were rendered jobless. Since then Govindappa has spent every morning at Cooper Hospital Naka. He i s getting older, and work is now harder to come by. If he finds work for 10 days a month, Govindappa counts himself lucky.

"I hoped that my children would follow me into a steady job," says Shankarappa Veerappan. "I wanted to educate them so they could have a better life." Instead, Veerappan himself lost his job when Madhusudan Mills closed down. He now works as a carpenter, earning Rs.120 a day for some 10 days a month. "I cannot afford to educate my children," he says. "It is much tougher to find proper work now than it was in 1977, when I came to Mumbai." Even those residents of Dangarwadi who still have work find times are hard. Bhimappa Topanna spent 10 years as a temporary worker at Phoenix Mills, earning Rs.160 a day. Phoenix Mills recently placed Topanna on a contract, which binds him to work 12 hours a day, instead of a regular eight-hour shift, and for no extra p ay.

In the wake of the industrial closures, Dangarwadi found other, sometimes distasteful, ways to survive. The slum rapidly grew into one of suburban Mumbai's main centres of bootleg liquor production. Media attention rapidly led to political intervention and brought an end to this cottage industry. When the Mumbai Police raided Dangarwadi after this year's Holi festival, more than 300 family-run stills were shut down. "Everyone is scared to resume the business," says Shivlingappa Thayappa. "But this is t he only work available here. We could make perhaps Rs.100 or Rs.150 every other day selling liquor. Now, all we can do is starve."

Gilbert Hill never had a large number of organised sector workers. This predominantly Muslim slum colony made its living from odd jobs and from the incomes of women working in nearby apartment blocks. A decade ago, opportunity seemed to beckon. Maqbool G arments was set up during the first flush of liberalisation to stitch shirts for garment export houses. A welter of smaller stitching units sprang up at Gilbert Hill, but Maqbool Garments, with 200 machines, remained the local giant. Now, it lies idle. " For the last four years," says foreman Nisar Khan, "we have not had work for more than 10 days a month, and we have not had a single order in the last two months."

Businesses such as Maqbool Garments were advertised as examples of how even slums benefited from the Government's policy of economic liberalisation. But the lived experience of workers at the unit suggests that liberalisation has in fact brought only pai n. Raju Chowdhury came from Gorakhpur five years ago to work at the unit. Piece work pays between Rs.3 and Rs.14 for every garment he stitches. So a typical 16-hour day would fetch him up to Rs.150. Since a one-room, eight-foot by 10-foot hovel in Gilbe rt Hill rents for Rs.700 a month and an up-front Rs.10,000 deposit, Chowdhury slept on the company's premises. That meant he could save enough to send a few hundred rupees home each month. Now, there is barely enough money to pay for food. The workers at Maqbool Garments survive on loans from its owner and spend their days wondering just how long this lifeline will hold out.

Even businesses not linked to global trade have been pushed to the wall. Ten years ago, Pankaj Nair along with four friends set up a small motor repair workshop. They did good business until Mumbai's stock-market-fuelled boom collapsed a few years ago. " Customers used to come to us because they could get their work done cheaper than elsewhere," explains Nair. "But now, even though people say things have started to improve, we have very little work. Larger businesses, which can offer credit, have started attracting all the business." Nair's partner Zubair Sheikh says: "A skilled welder demands up to Rs.3,000 a month. The point has come where I cannot afford to pay the workers."

The decline in the organised sector has hit Gilbert Hill. Mohammad Husain lost his job five years ago when the Mumbai soft drinks factory he worked for decided to contract out its driving operations. He now gets work occasionally, when extra hands are ne eded to make deliveries. "When he finds work," says Husain's wife Lalbi Begum, "we make enough money to see the day through. On other days he sits around playing cards."

The family survives on loans and Lalbi Begum's income of Rs.1,400 a month, earned by working as domestic help. Of this, Rs.800 goes towards repaying a loan taken to purchase a television set, leaving little for the children's education and other things.

After Ram Sharan Huriya, 47, moved to Mumbai from Varanasi, he made enough money in five years to buy a tenement at Gilbert Hill. Like Husain, he lost his job in a company to contract labour. Huriya's new job as a taxi driver provides him with no retirem ent benefits, and he is worried about the future. A surgical operation in 1994 decimated the family's savings. Huriya's son, the oldest of three children, has found work in a factory which makes glass curios, but the job brings in just Rs.600 a month. Hi s elder daughter earns Rs.30 a day checking plastic toys for quality. "If I were to start off in Mumbai today, there is no way I could have saved money or bought this room," Huriya says. "In 1969, things were much easier."

Looking for work in the Gulf countries is one route of escape. A few homes in Gilbert Hill have television sets and even the odd refrigerator, purchases made after years of work in abysmal conditions in Dubai, Sharjah or Dhahran. Anwar Sheikh saved enoug h money to start a textile business, but found his savings go down the drain in the recession two years ago. He paid a broker Rs.35,000 to find him a job in Mauritius, but was cheated. Two months ago, Sheikh put his last Rs.2,000 into a scheme, the Saki Naka Consumer Network, which promised loans. He received kitchen goods worth that amount, but no loan.

WOMEN have been the worst hit by the narrowing of opportunities. Shabana Rahman, 17, left her alcoholic husband a year ago and returned home. But her ailing father, Zafar Rahman, has been unemployed since he lost his factory job 10 years ago, and the fam ily is struggling to survive. Along with her sister Fatima and mother Chand Bi, Shabana stitches clothes for a garment dealer. A skirt brings in Rs.5 and a blouse Rs.3. If she makes Rs.300 a month, Rahman counts herself lucky. Saraswati Gupta weaves plas tic-wire baskets on a wage of Rs.8.50 apiece. If she spends on the baskets every minute she can spare after running her home, she can put together just six each day.

If cash is hard to come by, it also buys less and less each day. Maharashtra's collapsing public distribution system is on display at Gilbert Hill's ration shop 25-D-62. Sugar, for some reason, is almost never available against ration cards, but can be b ought here on credit at Rs.20 a kg; that is, at prices higher than that paid by middle-class consumers in nearby markets. Rice is sold, but only in the unlikely event that families can afford to buy 10 kg at a time. Husain Bi, a local resident, told F rontline that her family received only 12 litres of kerosene against its entitlement of 18 litres until a recent agitation led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Even now, the ration shop staff sometimes insist that kerosene is out of stock, and sell it at black-market rates.

Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that undernourishment is common in Mumbai slums. That is not the only problem. None of the tenements this correspondent visited in Dangarwadi and Gilbert Hill had its own toilet, and the municipal facilities were clogge d with refuse. Drains in both colonies were overflowing, flooding shops and the municipal school in the main market area. Although the slum residents pay for the drinking water supplied by the municipality (at rates, which economist Madhura Swaminathan p ointed out, are higher than those fixed for other Mumbai citizens), they receive it for only a few hours each day. "For the first two hours each morning," says Lalbi Begum, "you only get a filthy yellow trickle. After that, there is barely enough to wash ourselves, let alone our clothes and dishes."

Gilbert Hill has over a dozen clinics. "I spend Rs.500 to Rs.600 each month on medicines for my four children," says Husain Bi, who lives in the Durai Chawl slum cluster, home mainly to Tamil migrants. Tending to sick children means women have less time to work, which again hits family incomes hard. Going to government health facilities at Cooper Hospital means taking time off from work, which is often difficult. Access to Cooper Hospital is also expensive because there is no bus service from Gilbert Hi ll. Municipal authorities are simply uninterested in addressing the roots of the health problems and the poor water supply and sanitation facilities in the area.

Some young people do try to escape the hardship. Early this year, Raushan and her younger sister Yasmeen were approached by a woman they knew only as Shameem to work full time as domestic help in nearby apartments. They took the job and left with her. When their father tried to trace them, he was told that the girls' employer was away on vacation. Increasingly desperate as the weeks went by, he tried to press his case at a mosque gathering. He was told by a small-time Congress(I) politician that he mu st have sold his own children. The police, too, were not of much help. The father faced a community boycott, which forced him out of his traditional occupation of chopping wood.

Recently, when the younger sister escaped from a brothel on Grant Road, the family learned the truth. Two other girls from the neighbourhood too had been forced to work in the same brothel. One of the girls died in November of AIDS (Acquired Immune Defic iency Syndrome). Helped by local CPI(M) activist Mahendra Singh, one of the sisters was taken for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) tests at Cooper Hospital. She tested positive. Doctors at the hospital advised a course of treatment, but her family cann ot afford the medical expenses.

This is the other side of Mumbai, the one that is not made up of spanking new office blocks, multinational banks and upmarket leisure arcades. The story did not feature on newspaper pages, which are full of aspects of Mumbai's supposed economic miracle.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

BULLDOZERS knocked down 180 homes in the D.N. Nagar slum in Mumbai's West Andheri area in September. Their residents were moved to a transit camp nearby. If officials are to be believed, in 18 months these people will be able to move back into new homes complete with tiled bathrooms and running water. But not everyone in D.N. Nagar is convinced. Despite threats, residents of 15 houses have refused to move out until they have credible guarantees.

In 1998, Housing Minister in the Shiv Sena - Bharatiya Janata Party government Suresh Jain hit upon one of the most bizarre slum rehabilitation schemes. Slum land, he argued, could be handed over to builders for the construction of commercial complexes , with the builders in turn using part of their profits to build new houses for the residents of the slum. Jain set up a corporation, the Shiv Shahi Punarvasan Prakalp (SSPP), to execute the project. A Rs.600-crore loan to fund the SSPP was extracted fr om an extremely reluctant Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority (MHADA) and the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA).

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By the time the Shiv Sena-BJP Government was voted out of office in October 1999, not one of the 25,000 flats it had promised to build in September 1998 had come up. But before the new Nationalist Congress Party-Congress(I) government took office, the bu lldozers moved into D.N. Nagar. The idea was evidently to get the dwellings demolished for the construction of the first phase, which involved moving out 300 of the slum's 905 families. Most residents vacated quietly when R.K. Developers, the constructio n company, told them that the houses would be demolished in any case.

Anjuna Nalavare was among those who were less than convinced that the developer's deal was fair. A member of the Sitaladevi Cooperative Housing Society which negotiated with R.K. Developers on behalf of the residents, Nalavare believed that the develope rs were not putting all their cards on the table. All that the residents were offered was a photocopied agreement to sign, not an original document on stamp paper. The agreement promised to provide transit accommodation and a 225-square-foot residence in 18 months, but it was silent on just how many houses were to be built and where the residents would stay if the work was not completed as scheduled.

These were not the only problems. Although clause 3 of the agreement required the slum's residents to confirm that "he/she has taken full, free and complete inspection of the said sanctioned plans, drawings (and) designs" as well as "the booklet and othe r printed material in respect of the said guidelines," no plans or material was ever made available to them. The agreement itself is in English, a language almost no one in D.N. Nagar can read. The residents' society was not represented by legal counsel, giving R.K. Developers an obvious, and unfair, advantage.

In effect, the residents of D.N. Nagar were being asked to give up their dwellings in return for the promise of better houses. They have no guarantee that the promise will be kept. Rajiv Jain, a resident of the colony, claims that when he checked with th e MHADA, he was told that the Authority would not allow the transit camp to be run after 18 months. Moreover, the municipal authorities do not seem to be aware of the new construction plan, for in spite of the demolition, water and electricity connection s to the slum remain operational.

When Nalavare and Jain protested, reprisal was prompt. "A policeman showed up," she recalls. "He took me to the police station and advised me to sign the agreement." Jain received a visit from Shiv Sena workers on November 3, who, according to him, threa tened to evict him forcibly. He alleges that the construction company owner himself showed up on November 7 and spoke in a threatening manner.

Coercion is not the only problem with the D.N. Nagar project. For one, slum residents were not consulted about their housing needs before the building plans were prepared. Experience shows that inappropriate design often forces slum residents to sell th eir holdings and set up new tenements elsewhere. It is also not clear how the relatively high maintenance and operational costs of the high-rise apartments will be met by D.N. Nagar's poor residents. Clearly, the only people with any real interest in SSP P-type enterprises are builders, who would get prime land at relatively cheap rates.

The 15 families that have refused to vacate are fighting back. Jain has met Deputy Chief Minister Chhaggan Bhujbal, who has promised to investigate the affair. But without a review of the SSPP's basic premises and a commitment to make slum resettlement p rogrammes democratic, Bhujbal's promised involvement is unlikely to make a difference. The money being used to bulldoze slum houses and replace them with high-rise buildings could be better spent on improving the living conditions of slum dwellers.

A flawed tale

other
SUSAN RAM

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester; HarperCollins, 1999; pages 242, $7.99 (paperback).

SMALL of dimension, its text presented in a font size akin to that of the dictionary of its title, this book arrives with an impressive cargo of literary plaudits. It is, the front cover announces, the "phenomenal New York Times bestseller", judge d by no less than William Safire to be "superb... the literary detective story of the decade."

Flicking the book over, we discover on the back cover further encomiums from the review pages of major American broadsheets ("an elegant book... a narrative full of suspense, pathos and humour"; "a fascinating, spicy, learned tale"; "marvellous"). Openin g the book, we confront a page of similarly fulsome approbation. We are, the reviewers tell us, about to enter an "oddball slice of history" stalked by "madness, violence, arcane obsessions, weird learning, ghastly comedy, all set out in an atmosphere of high neo-Gothic."

Few readers could resist such an invitation, even if the commercial purposes behind the publishers' spin are obvious (selective quotation from reviews is a long-established marketing strategy.) But to enter this book is to find the reviewers' hyperbole b elied by the contents. What is intriguing about Simon Winchester's book is not so much its "oddball" theme as the type of response it has elicited from those supposedly in possession of critical acuity. For, what we have here is a tale flawed by overwrit ing, imprecision, dizzy flights of speculation, prose episodes of the deepest purple, and the relentless reduction of human motivation and the world of the mind to something approaching psychobabble. The results are all the more disappointing because of the intrinsic fascination of the story Winchester has to tell.

THE bones of the story are as follows. In the late 1870s, Dr. James Murray, newly appointed editor of the project to produce the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a gargantuan scholarly undertaking that would not be completed until 1928, recruited the ser vices of Dr. William C. Minor, a retired United States Army surgeon living in rural Surrey. Minor was one of a legion of volunteer readers whose input into the compilation of the dictionary was to prove vital to its comprehensiveness and definitive char acter. But Minor quickly placed himself beyond the ordinary run of readers, sending to Oxford an accelerating flow of research slips that, on the basis of a unique methodology, kept wonderfully in step with the work in progress and seemed to anticipate w hat was required at any particular stage.

Intrigued by this gifted, prodigiously precise and productive contributor, Murray subsequently discovered Minor to be an inmate at the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane, incarcerated for life as a convicted murderer. The two men met within the c onfines of the institution and there developed a friendship which continued until Murray's death in 1915. Murray seems to have played a role in the decision, by the Home Secretary of the day, Winston Churchill, in 1910, to release Minor from Broadmoor an d repatriate him to the U.S., where he died ten years later.

THE story, then, is about - or might be assumed to be about - an improbable, enduring literary friendship forged by pioneers tackling the slopes of a lexicographical Everest. To flesh out such a story, a researcher would need access to primary sources. W inchester indicates the existence of "official government files" locked away for more than a century but which he has been allowed to "see." He also refers obliquely to the survival of some of the correspondence between Murray and Minor. But rather than let his two protagonists, to the extent possible, tell their own story, he elbows them aside in favour of a very different kind of narrative undertaking.

A murder, grisly, full-bodied and random, always draws in the punters, and Winchester is not about to throw away the opportunity. The story, as he tells it, opens in the Lambeth marshes, in a miasma of scene-setting murk, disease and depravity. After pag es of elaborate description establishing Lambeth as the apogee of vice in a Victorian London rather more authentically depicted by Dickens, the journalist lays out his murder (Dr. Minor is, of course, the perpetrator) in bloodcurdling detail.

This choice of starting point is crucial. For Winchester's book is less a reconstruction of an unusual literary collaboration and friendship than it is a "whydunnit." For all the worthy information the author provides on Murray, the dictionary project an d the intellectual-political context in which it inched towards fruition, one senses all the time that his real interests lie elsewhere. Why did Minor, the quiet, studious (but simultaneously licentious and debauched) surgeon, turn killer? Were his passi ons inflamed by glimpses of buxom, beach-wandering "native" girls during his Ceylon childhood? Was it something to do with his experiences as an Army surgeon serving in the American Civil War? Why (if not for the purposes of therapy) did Minor, the certi fied and incarcerated madman, then choose to immerse himself in arcane lexicographical pursuits? And why was it, towards the end of his Broadmoor years, that Minor saw fit to inflict on himself a spectacular act of self-mutilation?

These are puzzles which even a modern-day specialist in mental health would hesitate to pronounce upon. Winchester the journalist nurses no such inhibitions. "Guilt - perhaps a frequent handmaiden among the peculiarly pious - seems to have intervened, ev en more than a teenager's shyness or natural caution," he asserts on page 49. "From this moment on in William Minor's long and tormented life, sex and guilt come to appear firmly and fatally riveted together." There is more, much more, in the same banal vein.

It is not only the author's inept encounters with psychiatry that test the reader's endurance. For a book ostensibly about the making of a dictionary, with all that such a project implies about linguistic accuracy, precision, attention to detail and meas ured, careful prose, Winchester's offering is singularly cavalier. The two adjectives that spring to mind are overwritten and breathless. Never one to pass over a redundant adverb, the author regales us with the "dauntingly highbrow", the "irritatingly p edantic" and the "preternaturally anxious." He is lavish with cliches: "in fine fettle" is followed by "a stone's throw", while on page 93 we are told, inventively, that the new dictionary "would sell like hot cakes." There are linguistic infelicities th at will stop discerning readers in their tracks: the "seamless syrup of insanity" invoked on page 158 is a case in point. Patience is also stretched by the author's repeated resort to the literary cliffhanger: thus, "the truth about his new American corr espondent was a great deal stranger than this detached, innocent and other-worldly Scotsman [Murray] could have ever imagined."

IN combination, Winchester's overblown style and boundless appetite for speculation can prove awesome. On page 133, the author enters the mind of the incarcerated Dr. Minor, now getting into his lexicographical stride, and offers this picture of what he finds there: "After a decade of languishing in the dark slough of imprisonment, intellectual isolation, and remove, Minor felt that at last he was being hoisted back up onto the sunlit uplands of scholarship." The problem with this type of writing is not simply its power to grate on readers' nerves. It also detracts from the story, so rich in human and intellectual interest. Nor are matters helped by the heavy infusions of research Winchester introduces into his text in a quest for weightiness and histo rical authenticity. His discussion of the OED project, for example, is preceded by a review of the history of British lexicography that is replete with repetition and padding. There is much of interest in this account, but the reader must labour to ident ify the nuggets relevant to the story.

Early in the book, Winchester lays out the guiding principle of the OED undertaking - a principle that has elevated it far beyond the modest, utilitarian concerns of the run-of-the-mill dictionary. As the author explains, the massive, multi-volume OED is based on "gathering quotations from published or otherwise recorded uses of English and using them to illustrate the use of the sense of every single word in the language." Through this method, the project sought to achieve comprehensiveness and precisi on and also to capture the evolving character and usage of words in their march through history. The method, as Winchester points out, was singularly labour intensive, requiring inputs from an army of researchers equipped with literary knowledge and the willingness - and aptitude - for the immensely detailed, painstaking and precise work required of them. That in a number of cases these unpaid contributors were eccentric individuals with obsessive predilections seems entirely plausible.

That Dr. Minor the "madman" proved one of the doughtiest of these unsung heroes is a moving story of such intrinsic drama that it could almost tell itself. In the hands of a more sensitive writer than Winchester, it might have stood a chance of doing so.

Preventing heart diseases

other
Interview with Dr. Arun Chockalingam.

Heart disease will become a major cause of death and disability in the new millennium. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) already claim some 15 million lives every year, 10 million of them in developing countries . According to Dr. Arun Chockalingam, Adviser to the Canadian Ministry of Health, the prevention of cardiovascular diseases acquires great importance in a situation in which most developing countries have an annual health-care budget of not more t han $25, (about Rs.1,050) per person.

The abysmal health-care infrastructure in developing countries, which have few programmes for the control and prevention of CVDs, was highlighted by a World Heart Federation (WHF) report, "Impending Pandemic of Cardiovascular Diseases - Challenges and Op portunities for the Prevention and Control of the Disease in Developing Countries and Economies in Transition." Dr. Chockalingam is the chief editor of the report. According to the report, inadequate legislation on such issues as tobacco sales and food l abelling, which are crucial to the prevention of CVDs, has caused a CVD pandemic in these countries and that warrants urgent attention.

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A member of the Geneva-based WHF, an international body of cardiology societies and heart foundations, Dr. Chockalingam was elected a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology this year. His epidemiological surveys and patient awareness programmes, wh ich bring together professional associations and voluntary agencies, have led to a pragmatic approach to preventive medicine.

Several Canadian and international research groups have sought the expertise of Dr. Chockalingam, who combines in him an engineer (he is an M.S. in biomedical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai) and a doctor (he has a Ph.D. in c ardiac physiology and pharmacology from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada).

Dr. Chockalingam is special adviser to the Executive Committee of the World Hypertension group; chairman of the Patient Educating Project in Canada, and co-director of the WHO Centre for Research and Training on stroke prevention, epidemiology and survei llance in Saskatoon, Canada. He is on the advisory committee of several journals; he was the editor-in-chief of Hypertension Control from 1991 to 1994. Dr. Chockalingam has to his credit over 150 papers published in international journals. He has written some chapters of three textbooks on cardiology.

Recently in Chennai to deliver the second E.S. Krishnamoorthy Endowment Lecture, Dr. Chockalingam spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on the WHF report, the risk factors of heart diseases, their occurence, and the ways to prevent CVDs. Excerpts from the in terview:

What is the purpose of the recent report brought out by the World Heart Federation?

One of the major initiatives from a global perspective is the anticipated and growing incidence of heart diseases, particularly in developing countries. In fact, the magnitude of the problem is such that we do not call it an epidemic, but a pandemic. No single agency or government can tackle it. The problem is global and the solution has to be global. So, to initiate a process, the WHF surveyed 143 developing countries and economies-in-transition.

Basically, the report says that heart diseases are on the rise in developing countries, particularly in India and China. The West suffered from this problem for 40 years but now it is on the decline there.

What causes these cycles - the rise and fall in CVDs?

Many developing countries are going through an economic transition, which is accompanied by an epidemiological transition. People moving from rural to urban areas compete for space, water and other infrastructure. In multi-storeyed buildings, where there used to be just one family, between 25 and 30 families live now. In India, for instance, the infrastructure - the sewage system, hygiene and health care facilities - was planned for 50 years ago. But even as the economy grew and people shifted from rura l to urban areas, the issue of infrastructure was not addressed. All these led to the re-emergence of infectious diseases.

So, a country like India faces a double burden - death and disability due to infectious diseases and a new wave of non-communicable diseases, particularly cardiovascular. Unless we address the fundamental problem and arrest the progress of these diseases in the next 20 years, India will face problems of unmanageable proportions.

What are the reasons for the rise in the incidence of non-communicable diseases?

There are many reasons. First, urbanisation and the rat race. There is no time to eat a proper meal, to exercise. Food habits change and one ends up eating less nutritious food. The lack of physical activity leads to obesity. For humans, the energy intak e should equal the energy output. If there is no such balance, the excess energy will accumulate in the body as fat. This increases the risk of CVDs.

What other issues does the report address?

Since CVDs are assuming pandemic proportions globally, the major issues we try to document are the resources, infrastructure and systems available in developing countries and the economies-in-transition of Eastern Europe, where CVDs are going to be a maj or problem in the next 20 years.

The book also pins down the responsibility of various international and national agencies. It spells out the role of the government, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, healthcare professionals, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the society and the indi vidual in dealing with the pandemic. It also suggests strategies to deal with the impending problem at the global level. It puts on developed countries the responsibility to help developing nations deal with the problem.

What was the response of developing countries to the survey?

We sent out a questionnaire to all developing countries and economies-in-transition in mid-1998, but the response was not good. The questions were simple, such as: 'Have you done any health survey in the last five years?'; 'Do you have data on cause-spec ific mortality rates?'; 'Do you have any guidelines to deal with hypertension?'; 'Is there any legislation against tobacco?' and so on. They had to just answer 'yes', 'no' or 'don't know'. Yet, only 10 per cent of the countries responded. This most likel y meant that the rest did not have the data but did not want to admit it.

We sent a letter again to these countries telling them to say 'no' if they did not have the data, and that it was equally important. After much persuasion, the response rate went up from 10 per cent to 45 per cent. Most of them either said 'no' or a 'par tial yes'. We were then able to make some inferences.

How long did the survey take? About 12 months beginning mid-1998.

Apart from getting information on preventive measures, did the survey deal with clinical information?

Yes. We asked the countries details about the number of doctors and cardiologists they had, the number of procedures such as open heart surgery and angiograms they did, the number of nurses they had for every 1,000 people, and so on. For this, the respon se was better, with 60 per cent of the countries replying. We got some meaningful information on the clinical resources of the countries.

This is our first attempt at documenting the health resources of developing countries and we hope to do a similar one a few years later. We plan to make the countries aware of their relative conditions and hope that on seeing the comparative picture, the countries that have poor health resources will start doing something about it.

Why did you deal only with developing countries?

First, health data are poor in these countries. Second, the population growth is going to be enormous. We already have evidence that out of a population of five billion in the world, 15 million deaths occur every year owing to heart diseases, 10 million of which are in developing countries. We may be fooled when we take percentages. For instance, if we say that the death rate of people with heart diseases is 17 per cent, it appears low. But in absolute numbers, it translates to about three million peopl e. They include people who die young, indicating the loss of valuable productivity time. This need not happen. Cardiovascular diseases, in particular, can be controlled and even prevented. If the disease is identified in time, one can be saved the bother of expensive procedures as well as the pain.

How can we prevent or control cardiovascular diseases?

There are six fundamental risk factors: Smoking, hypertension, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), sedentary lifestyle, diabetes and obesity. These can be modified and controlled. Other risk factors, which are not modifiable, include genetics, sex and age . Thus, if we try to modify the risk factors that are controllable, we can avoid the disease and prevent premature death.

Does the book outline ways of tackling the problem nationally and globally?

That is the last part of the book. If we do not act now to control the disease, all the statistics and analyses that are put out will be mere garbage. We have thus provided a strategy. As the problem is global, the solution has to be global. The develope d and developing countries have to work together. Though the problem is in developing countries, it is in the interest of the developed nations to help the former avoid the problem.

How can developed countries help developing nations in tackling the problem?

In several ways. One, financially. Two, by providing the technology and imparting knowledge about the preventive measures they practised when they faced the ordeal between the 1930s and the 1980s. The lessons learnt by developed countries in bringing dow n mortality due to cardiovascular diseases - from 60 per cent to 30 per cent - can be imparted to developing nations, which can adapt them to suit their cultural, economic and local needs. The risk factors and problems arising from them are the same eve rywhere. Only such factors as genetics may differ. To that extent the strategies can be modified and applied in developing countries.

But unless you know what the problem is, you cannot tackle it. So, baseline data are a must. And they are lacking in many countries, including India.

Are there no epidemiological data on cardiovascular diseases in India?

There is no coordinated national level data in India. There are some pieces of information in some pockets. But as the methodology is not similar, they are not even comparable. The data are not difficult to get. It requires the right mindset and the coop eration of the people. Prof. K. Srinath Reddy of AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences), Delhi, is doing excellent work in this area. But this needs to be replicated throughout the country.

Apart from global partnerships, what needs to be done within a country?

Internal consistencies are important. Various groups must work together - the policymakers and bureaucrats need to be sensitised, the public must be made aware, professionals should be willing to work together. The patient must be made aware of the probl em. It is the responsibility of physicians to tell their patients what the numbers mean. It is important to come out with a committed policy. This needs partnerships at various levels.

Even within a government, various departments, such as health, agriculture, industry and environment, need to work together. For example, if the Industries Department gives subsidy and support to the tobacco companies while the Health Department works to wards banning smoking, then they are working at cross purposes.

Recently, in New Delhi, a move was made to forge a global partnership when Dr. Srinath Reddy got together some of the best doctors in the world to share their experiences so that the developing world can learn from them.

Coming back to the issue of controlling modifiable risk factors, how does one do this?

First, people who smoke need to be persuaded to quit smoing or at least reduce smoking.

Second, owing to economic development there is a section of the urban population that has a sedentary lifestyle and is prone to heart diseases. The projections for the year 2025 are that half of India's population would be living in the urban areas. So, those exposed to heart diseases will also increase. Thus it is important to encourage physical activity.

Third, check your blood pressure regularly. If it cannot be controlled by physical activity, plenty of medicines are available.

Fourth, high cholesterol, or high fat content. If that is not reduced, the walls of the blood vessels will narrow and constrict the blood flow, which will cause hypertension. At some point the narrowing blood vessel is going to close, stopping the blood flow and leading to a heart attack. A heart attack means that the cells around that area are dead.

The most common risk factor is diabetes. Type Two diabetics are non-insulin-dependent. This is owing to increased sugar intake. This can be tackled easily by consuming less sugar and at the same time taking lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. This sugar crosses the blood barrier at a much slower rate than refined sugar, which increases sugar levels.

Blood pressure can also be controlled by reducing salt intake. Vegetarians get heart problems primarily because most often the food is over-cooked and leaves no nutrients. This requires education not of the patient alone but of the person who cooks.

Thus, there are several proven methods of controlling and avoiding heart diseases. And, as can be seen, it is a multi-factor, multi-partner effort even within society and a family. It is just not an issue of money from developed countries.

What is the effect of Dean Ornish's methods of yoga and meditation on heart diseases?

They play a very significant role. One of the factors that could increase blood pressure or the chance of a heart attack is what is commonly called tension.

What happens clinically when you have 'tension'?

The amount of hormones generated by the pituitary glands or hypothalamine (adrenalin) rises and they increase the activity of the heart by raising the blood pressure. By doing yoga, you can calm the mind and allow the enzymes to be released at normal rat es. We have studies that show that when one gets angry the blood pressure shoots up and when one is under constant pressure, it is always high, and the hormones activate the retention of fat in the blood stream. There are several such hypotheses. Yoga an d meditation are certainly helpful.

Developed countries confronted this problem in the 1930s. How did they tackle it, and what was their experience?

There was a clear correlation between the sale of tobacco and the rise in the number of people with hypertension. But by the 1970s, public awareness had become such that people started demanding smoke-free zones and many people started giving up smoking. All this was possible basically because of public awareness.

Who created this awareness among the people?

Non-governmental organisations and the medical community played a major role in generating awareness. In the United States and Canada there are associations for physicians against tobacco. A number of organisations work together to curb tobacco use. Ther e is also a lobby to fight with the government against giving subsidies to tobacco companies. These factors have led to a decline in tobacco sales. Multinational tobacco companies are now dumping tobacco in countries such as India and China. The governme nts of these countries are sacrificing the health of the people by letting in these multinational companies. It is a short-term gain for a long-term drain of the economy.

Also, with the advent of drugs and preventive measures for conditions like obesity, hypertension and hypolipidemia, there is an associated decline in the incidence of heart diseases.

Thus, the number of deaths due to heart diseases was brought down in the developed countries by a multi-factor strategy. India has to learn from their experience and act immediately before it drains its economy.

KRISHNAMOORTHY SRINIVAS

Health is the supreme foundation for the performance of one's duty (dharma), acquisition of wealth (artha), gratification of the (legitimate) pleasures of life (kama) and the achievement of salvation (moksha). Diseases are the destroyers of health, go od life and even life itself.

- Charakasamhita, Sutra 11:4,

as quoted in Dr. K.S. Sanjivi's book Only One Life.

PREVENTION was a dirty word at the turn of the 20th century. It gained respectability thanks to the pioneering efforts of Geoffrey Rose, an epidemiologist, and Sir Richard Doll, a Fellow of the Royal Society who did path-breaking work on the harmful effe cts of smoking. Sir Horace Smirk showed in a small country like New Zealand 50 years ago how preventive measures could bring down the risk of mortality in cases of coronary artery disease and stroke.

In the United States, the rate of mortality from stroke and, therefore, morbidity, has come down considerably owing to the control of hypertension. In the case of an individual with uncontrolled hypertension the risk of stroke is seven times higher than in the case of a normal individual of the same age.

Smoking does enormous damage. The awareness of this truth has increased tremendously in developed countries. India is one of the countries where the smoking habit, to say the least, is terrible.

Studies at Harvard and other institutions abroad have shown that moderate intake of alcohol protects the heart and the brain. But the question is: what is 'moderate'? In the Indian setting, no clear studies are available. Excess intake of alcohol is a ri sk factor for the brain and the heart.

Dr. K.S. Sanjivi, Professor of Medicine and the founder of the Voluntary Health Service, a Chennai-based institution, was clearly ahead of his time. In his book Only One Life, he advocates prevention and moderation.

M.C. Subramaniam, a Gandhian, founded the Public Health Centre at T. Nagar, Chennai. The very name of the institution suggests that prevention was one of his main goals.

Dr. Arun Chockalingam points out in his interview that prevention is not a substitute for cure. A lot of preventive work is necessary to deal with 'infections'. The watchword seems to be public education in the local language, through the media. It would appear that unless something is done urgently, India will be saddled with diseases that erupted in the early part of the 20th century and also newer diseases.

Thwarted nuclear ambitions

science-and-technology

Mismatch between the Government's nuclear policy and actual funding of projects has considerably slowed down India's nuclear power programme.

R. RAMACHANDRAN

THERE are some people in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) who hold the view that the nuclear weapons programme was pursued all these years in the hope of securing adequate governmental support for the nuclear power programme and not because of any f irm belief in the need for nuclear weapons for strategic reasons. Some people would actually argue otherwise - but not say it openly - that the raison d'etre for the nuclear power programme is actually the weapons programme. There is, however, no gainsaying that both points of view seem perverted in their logic.

At the turn of the year 2000, the installed capacity is a mere 2,280 MWe - nowhere near the ambitious target of 10,000 MWe projected in the mid-1980s. In the post-Pokhran-II phase, it is worthwhile taking a look at one of the important reasons for this s tunted and blunted profile: the lack of government commitment to nuclear power and funding for the programme.

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While the euphoria and hype over Pokhran-II are still high in the Government there is as yet no clear-cut expression of a renewed commitment to nuclear power after over a decade of indifference and inadequate funding. The Parliamentary Standing Committee s on Energy in the last few years have addressed this issue and made suitable recommendations. But, judging from the recently released report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), these have been of no avail. The report provides an insi ght into the huge gap between the Government's nuclear power policy on paper and the actual implementation of the nuclear power programme. This, more than anything else, seems to have adversely affected the build-up of nuclear power capacity in the count ry.

However, observations made in the CAG Report are somewhat misplaced. Perhaps because the CAG cannot question fund allocations by the Government, it has ended up faulting the DAE and the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC), the public sector undertaking under the DAE which operates the power plants, for their failure to ensure adequate fund availability. Also, by failing to highlight the recent positive achievements of the programme, the CAG report does not present a balanced perspective. But the importance of the CAG report is in its implications for a long-term nuclear power policy of the Government.

In 1984, after Unit-1 of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS), the first indigenously built pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR), went into commercial operation and heavy water plants at Tuticorin and Kota began production, the DAE drew up the 'Nucle ar Power Profile' with a target of 10,000 MWe by the year 2000. The DAE felt that all the necessary support for the country's future nuclear power programme based on PHWRs was within the reach of Indian R&D and industrial capability. PHWRs use natural ur anium as fuel and heavy water as moderator and coolant. Indian PHWRs are based on the Canadian CANDU design and the two units of 235 MWe PHWRs at the Narora Atomic Power Station (NAPS), Uttar Pradesh, which were set up after MAPS during 1991-92, represen t the "standardised Indian PHWR design".

The DAE's "long-term profile" in 1984 envisaged an addition of capacity of 7,820 MWe beyond the operational/ongoing projects up to the 2 x 235 MWe units at Kakrapar (KAPS) in Gujarat. Unit-1 of KAPS went into operation in 1993 and Unit-2 in 1995. The oth er power plants that were in operation before KAPS are: the 2 x 210 MWe Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) units (which use slightly enriched uranium and light water as moderator and coolant, based on U.S. technology); the 2 x 220 MWe PHWR units at Rawatbhatta (RAPS) in Rajasthan (based on the Canadian design, on which Unit-1 was built by the Canadians and Unit 2 was virtually built by India after Canada pulled out of the agreement following Pokhran-I); the 2 x 235 MWe units of PHWRs at Kalpakkam (MAPS) and th e 2 x 235 MWe units (of standardised Indian PHWR design) at NAPS. The installed capacity until KAPS totalled up to 2,270 MWe.

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It must be pointed out that TAPS reactors were derated to 160 MWe each in 1989, RAPS-1 to 100 MWe in the mid-1980s and RAPS-2 to 200 MWe in January 1991, and all the indigenous 235 MWe PHWRs to 220 MWe in January 1992. While others were derated apparentl y on "operating experience" with these plants, RAPS -1 was derated because of problems of end shield cracking and is treated as "prototype PHWR". In terms of the above derated capacities, the total available capacity up to KAPS-2 comes down from 2,270 MW e to 1,940 MWe. Twelve 235 MWe PHWR units and ten 500 MWe PHWR units, amounting to 7,820 MWe, were proposed to be built during 1985-2000 to achieve the target of 10,000 MWe up from 1,940 MWe. (In terms of derated capacities of the Indian PHWRs, the addit ion envisaged would be 7640 MWe.) At 1983 prices, the estimated cost was around Rs.14,000 crores.

Until 1984, the Power Projects Engineering Division (PPED) of the DAE executed the various power projects. For the speedy implementation of the "10,000 MWe by 2000 AD" profile, the PPED was reconstituted into the Nuclear Power Board (NPB). Subsequently, in September 1987, given the need for a managerial structure that would be capable of executing large power projects across the country, the NPB was cast into a corporate entity called Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPC), with the requisite flex ibility and autonomy. This structural change was based on the October 1986 recommendations of the J.C. Shah Committee constituted by the DAE.

Accordingly, as recommended by the Shah Committee, the 1962 Atomic Energy Act was also amended to enable a body other than the Government to produce power from nuclear sources. When the NPC was formed, it was recognised that given its small generating ca pacity, it would not be able to raise sizable surpluses to fund future nuclear power projects. So the Government agreed to a pattern of funding new projects, including works and interest during construction (IDC), that would be on a 1:1 debt-equity (D/E) ratio basis, with Government equity flowing initially.

In July 1988, the DAE appointed a committee to update the long-term profile and make recommendations for the implementation of projects, including the investments required. Despite the delays in the ongoing projects, the Committee reported in November 19 89 that the target was still achievable. However, in view of the advantages of going in for 500 MWe plants instead of the smaller 235 MWe plants, the Committee recommended that instead of the four 235 MWe units on which no action had been taken until the n, two 500 MWe units be built. This meant that the capacity addition to MWe by the year 2000 became 7,880 MWe (or 7,760 MWe in terms of derated capacities). Measures such as the advance procurement of material had already been initiated in the case of th e other eight 235 MWe units. The projection made by the Committee is given in Table 1. As can be seen, at 1989 prices, the funds required were placed at Rs.16,661.50 crores (about Rs. 2 crores/MWe).

When the Committee had drawn up this projection in 1989, financial sanction for four 235/220 MWe units - two in 1986 (Kaiga-1&2) and two in 1987 (RAPS-3&4) - of the 20 plants envisaged had been given and, according to the CAG, an expenditure of Rs. 213.0 7 crores had been incurred on them. The projections had apparently been made on the presumption that 10 of the remaining 16 would be sanctioned during 1989-90. The profile thus included, besides NAPS and KAPS, which were already under construction, the a bove sanctioned projects of 4 x 235/220 MWe and new start-up schemes for Kaiga 3-6 (4 x 235/220 MWe), TAPS-3&4 (2 x 500 MWe) and RAPS 5-8 (4 x 500 MWe), for which funds had been hoped for, and 6 x 500 MWe units for which sites had not yet been identifie d.

But the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents began to have their impact on the projected growth of nuclear power. Detailed reviews, elaborate procedures for safety and environmental clearances were put in place leading to time overruns. At the same time the programme began to experience a severe resource crunch, with governmental sanctions for projects not easily forthcoming. Table 2 gives the annual requirement of funds, funds proposed under the plan and funds actually allocated to the NPC. It is clear that the gross mismatch between proposed outlays under the plan and the actual budgetary support as equity in the NPC has been one of the chief reasons for the shortfall in realising the envisaged capacity under the "long-term profile".

Only Rs.2,617.41 crores had been allocated, which included a government loan of Rs.250 crores in 1993-94, against a requirement of Rs.15,006.50 crores up to 1997-98 for 20 plants and ongoing projects in the profile. And the expenditure incurred was Rs.5, 291.48 crores, according to the CAG. That is, Rs.2,674.07 crores (102.16 per cent) more than the allocation. A sum of Rs.3,586.30 crores had been spent on the four 235/220 MWe plants (Kaiga-1&2 and RAPS-3&4) under construction and Rs.1,705.18 crores spen t on the remaining 10 plants (Kaiga 3-6, TAPS-3&4 and RAPS 5-8) as envisaged in the "profile". Government funding as equity towards these respectively was only Rs.1,578.40 crores and Rs.1,039.01 crores, the latter in fact less than what is required for a single 500 MWe plant.

As a result, the original target of 10,000 MWe was scaled down to 5,700 MWe in August 1990. This envisaged an addition to capacity through TAPS- 3&4 (2 x 500 MWe), RAPS-5&6 (2 x 500 MWe) and Kaiga 3-6 (4 x 220 MWe). Accordingly, an Eighth Plan Outlay of Rs.14,400 crores (Rs.2.53 crores/MWe) was proposed, based on this revised profile. Against this, the approved outlay was only Rs.4,119 crores, less than a third. This included financial sanction only for the two 500 MWe PHWRs at Tarapur (TAPS-3&4), estim ated at Rs.2,427.51 crores, which was issued in January 1991. This cost was, however, revised in December 1997 (at 1996 rupee value) to Rs.6,421.00, which includes an interest during construction (IDC) of Rs.1,580 crores. Taking the IDC into account, the revised cost implies an escalation of 99 per cent. According to the CAG, until March 1998 no further sanction had been issued.

As a result of this continued decrease in funding, the DAE reduced the target capacity for the year 2000 to 3,720 MWe in March 1994. This reduced target envisaged only Kaiga-1&2, RAPS-3&4 and TAPS-3&4. However, only Kaiga-1&2 and RAPS-3&4 are likely to b e commissioned before the end of 2000. The total installed capacity at the end of the century is, therefore, likely to be only 2,720 MWe (see Table 3). The first 500 MWe reactor at TAPS-3 is likely to go on stream only around 2005 or so.

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According to Dr. Y.S.R. Prasad, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of the NPC, the sharply dropping value of the rupee was the main reason for the escalated cost of TAPS-3&4. Although there was no final financial sanction for Kaiga-3&4, work had starte d on TAPS-3&4 as well as Kaiga-3&4, he said.

These are now expected to be completed only by 2006-7, taking the total installed capacity - assuming that funds for Kaiga - 3&4 will come in - to 4,160 MWe. This year about Rs.800 crores has been provided mainly for the sanctioned TAPS-3&4, the remainin g works of RAPS-3&4, and pre-project activities of Kaiga-3&4, according to Dr. Prasad. In addition, there is the 2 x 1,000 MWe Koodankulam project, to be executed by the Russians under a joint Indo-Russian Cooperation Agreement, to which finances have be en committed (these include a soft loan from Russia to cover 80 per cent of the cost).

As a result of the Government's failure to adhere to the funding commitment, the NPC has been forced all these years to borrow funds from the open market at high interest rates of between 12 and 17 per cent. This higher expenditure, the CAG has observed, included Rs.1,443.77 crores to meet the interest payment on borrowed funds.

According to the DAE, since budgetary support was not adequate, the borrowing became necessary for the committed expenditure towards "advance procurement of materials". The cash flow problem had also been aggravated by the failure of the State Electricit y Boards (SEBs) to pay outstanding energy bills. Today, according to the NPC, the outstanding dues from the SEBs amount to over Rs.1,000 crores even after some recoveries were made in the last couple of years.

Owing to the reduced budgetary support, the NPC has, in fact, of late been forced to adopt a D/E ratio of 2:1 for its ongoing projects - not a healthy sign for any commercial enterprise. But the catch here is, as the DAE had submitted to the Parliamentar y Standing Committee, on the one hand, given the long gestation periods of nuclear projects, borrowing from the market is not an easy proposition. On the other, if the borrowings increase, the interest burden increases and would lead to debt service prob lems for the company. This had, indeed, led the Standing Committee to observe: "Large borrowings at higher interest rates, low budgetary support and longer getstation periods for the completion of projects would lead the Corporation into a debt trap unle ss the Government steps in with higher equity support."

The concept of advance procurement of materials was being implemented because it was felt that one of the prime causes of delays and long gestation periods in nuclear power projects was the long lead times in the delivery of critical equipment and materi al. For importing raw material and for the fabrication of finished goods, it took a lead time of three or four years, according to Dr. Prasad. Accordingly, the DAE/NPC had obtained financial sanctions for Rs.1,511 crores between 1986 and 1991 towards adv ance procurement of material/equipment for the six 500 MWe units and four 235/220 MWe units envisaged as part of the profile. Against these approvals, an expenditure of about Rs. 1,366 crores had already been incurred as of March 1995 as follows: TAPS-3& 4 - Rs.802 crores; RAPS 5-8 - Rs.265 crores; and Kaiga 3-6 - Rs.299 crores. However, owing to reduced budgetary support, equity paid by the Government towards advance procurement was only Rs.710 crores and the balance of Rs.656 crores was spent out of ma rket borrowings.

The DAE had told the Parliamentary Standing Committee that the interest burden on the borrowings alone was about Rs.262 crores until March 1995. Furthermore, these committed orders have resulted in a cost escalation to the tune of Rs.950 crores because o f foreign exchange variation, duty/tax changes and so on. The DAE had also stated that attempts were being made to short-close or cancel orders placed, limiting the supplies required only for two of the 10 units. Efforts would also be made to divert or d ispose of equipment/material procured beyond two reactor units, the DAE told the Committee.

Dr. Prasad, however, said that since the equipment and material were custom-made and specific to PHWRs, disposing them of would not be easy. He said that all work relating to reactors except TAPS-3&4 had been stopped and all related contracts closed. Fab rication continued only for TAPS-3&4, he said. "Of course, material and equipment procured will be used as and when funding becomes available for the power plants they are meant for because the profile is still valid. Only the time-frame has changed. Mor eover, these equipment would, in fact, cost more in the future because of cost escalation, exchange rate variation and so on," he said.

However, the CAG took a different view of the expenditure incurred towards advance procurement of material. Pointing out how various equipment and material worth Rs.1,069.61 crores, procured between January 1986 and September 1992, were lying unused at v arious sites, including manufacturers' sites, and in conditions leading to the deterioration of these, the CAG criticised the DAE and the NPC for trying to implement the profile without setting proper milestones."While the availability of funds was a con straint, no effort was made to reduce the number of plants and their capacity to match with the availability of funds. As a result, material had been procured for 10 plants whereas civil works had not commenced for any of them," the CAG said.

The timing for at least part of power generation, in CAG's view, could have been advanced within the resources available if matching action had been planned for all the related activities than merely concentrating on advance procurement that blocked subs tantial amounts of money. "Had the material been procured according to availability of funds and other related factors such as procurement of land, civil works and infrastructure been given corresponding importance, at least a part of power proportionate to the funds available could have been generated," the CAG remarked.

"It is their perception," is how Prasad reacted to the CAG's observations. "When a commitment for funding a particular planned programme has been made by the Government, one will go only according to that. How does one presume that money will not be made available. And any change in the plan will have to go through yet another process of review and approval," he said.

The fund-policy mismatch, therefore, raises the larger question of how to manage large projects of this nature which have longer gestation periods and where the technology is still nascent for private sector participation even though the Atomic Energy Ac t allows it now. Given that market borrowings are not easy, the government has an important role to play in the growth of nuclear power with proper funding or low interest loans.

Specifically, in the absence of an assured long-term funding, the policy of advanced procurement of materials would need a relook.

A criticism of the Government's funding policies, which the CAG could perhaps not make, was made by the 1995-96 Parliamentary Standing Committee in its December 1995 report. It said: "It is obvious from these successive downward revisions that unaccepta ble ad hocism has ruled the nuclear power programme of the government. It is evident that no serious thought has been given to financial planning before launching the programme. What is even more worrisome is that the synergetic consequences of cutting d own this programme appear to have not been fully recognised."

The consequences that the Committee referred to, besides the in-built escalating interest burden arising out of market borrowings, were that: the nuclear infrastructure, uranium mining, fuel fabrication, heavy water production and so on, developed at gre at cost, would remain under- or unutilised; the heavy investment made towards setting up specialised shop floors and developing a skilled manpower base by the public and private sector industries participating in the nuclear power programme would go wast e; and the indigenous nuclear R&D and technology base built over four decades would be "irretrievably lost".

The continuing lack of full commitment on the part of the Government has led the NPC to consider new strategies to ensure the continuance of the power programme. According to Dr. Prasad, experience with the Indian industry has shown that in civil constru ction and electrical engineering components of the nuclear power plant, a maturity now exists to handle large subsystems on their own. "In our country, we do not have architectural engineering enterprises, like Bechtel, to perceive and design the entire power plant. The NPC has to take up that role and develop expertise in architectural engineering. We will now do that and award contracts for building entire large subsystems - turbine and other electrical equipment, civil works and so on - to industries . They will then not be dependent on cash flow from the NPC. They can raise money in the market, procure materials and equipment and build for any project that has government sanction in principle. Industry is ready for it and the Nuclear Industries Foru m was formed with this idea. The core nuclear part can be handled by NPC," says Dr. Prasad.

Whether this is a feasible idea remains to be seen as the Indian nuclear power programme sets up targets for the next century. The target year for 10,000 MWe has now been pushed to 2020. As of now the fund gap is staring the NPC in the face though the op eration of the plants during the last couple of years has shown a marked improvement in the management of the programme. Maintaining a fairly consistent high-capacity factor in the plants, the successful en-masse coolant channel replacement in RAPS-2 in quick time (and that too with entirely in-house techniques and technology), the quick commissioning of Kaiga-2 and RAPP-3 in spite of use of new material in the reactor dome (after Kaiga-1 concrete delamination incident in May 1994), the imminent commiss ioning of Kaiga-1 and RAPP-4 in the year 2000 and the successful trial operation of RAPS-1 for over a year at a higher power of 150 MWe - achieved by improved integrated plant operation software - are indicative of better management. However, the increas ing capital cost of over Rs. 6 crores/MWe and a tariff of Rs. 3.8 per KWh when RAPS-3&4 go on steam - largely due to the funding mismatch - are indicative of a governmental failure in supporting the nuclear power programme.

Ayodhya

other

The demolition of the Babri Masjid was indeed a terrorist attack ("Ayodhya Agenda," January 7). The Bharatiya Janata Party must be regretting its decision to put Ram temple construction on its agenda. But what is done cannot be undone. The only way the B JP can hope to sustain the National Democratic Alliance is by disowning all family ties with the other members of the Sangh Parivar.

Samir Mahajan New Delhi * * *

The NDA came to power with a common National Agenda for Governance(NAG). In a 24-party alliance there are bound to be strains. Apart from pinpricks from partymen, such as members introducing private member's Bills on controversial issues, allies also wil l create problems for the BJP during Assembly elections in Bihar and Orissa. In Karnataka, the Janata Dal(U) has snapped its ties with the BJP at the State level and decided to go it alone in the zilla panchayat elections. However, so long as the BJP is strong and sticks to the NAG, the government will not face problems. But organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal may not allow it to adhere to the NAG which does not feature issues such as the common civil code and Article 370.

A. Jacob Sahayam Karigiri, Tamil Nadu Koyna

This has reference to the story on the Koyna disaster ("Dams and earthquakes," January 7). It is not just the reservoir-induced seismicity (RIS) that is at issue. Forests are infinitely superior to dams and perform all the functions that dams are suppose d to perform and much more. Large dams destroy rich forests, fertile agricultural lands, permanent pastures and other grazing lands.

So far, live storage equivalent to 47.5 Sardar Sarovars has been created by the large and medium dams in India. And 25 of them have already silted up. The remaining will silt up in another 65 years. But forests regenerated on a third of India's land area at a dry biomass density of 20 kg/sq.m. would help recharge as much groundwater as all these dams could do.

Ashok Kumar Mumbai Agricultural research

In his interview, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan discusses the state of agricultural research in the country ("For an Evergreen Revolution," January 7).

The Indian agriculture research system has actually been undermined by the menace of inbreeding. Most of the faculty members joined the universities as graduate students and never left them. There is no inflow of new scientific ideas. This is a dangerous trend.

Abishek Upadhyay, Received on e-mail Mavoor

The decision of the Grasim Industries to close down the factory at Mavoor is regrettable ("A stand-off in Mavoor," December 24). The factory should not have been run at the cost of local people's health especially when modern technologies are available f or pollution control and waste disposal. The management's statement that it is running a business and not a charity is highly reprehensible.

The company seems to have ignored the need to adopt safety standards for the past many years, thanks to the State administration's lackadaisical approach. It is a relief that trade unionism is not as aggressive as in the past thanks to the high rate of u nemployment in the State.

M.B. Madhu Kochi Capitalism and competition

This refers to the article "Global double standards" (December 10). The supporters of globalisation should be aware of the limits of liberalisation. Liberalisation should not impose a disguised form of capitalism on the democratic set-up of India.

In a capitalistic society work gives neither satisfaction nor happiness to workers. What motivates them is the desire to earn a livelihood. Their creative potentials are suppressed because the type of work they perform does not require much thinking or i magination.

Capitalism generates competition not only between the owners of the means of production but also between labourers working under different capitalists.

I support the author's argument that the labour laws prevailing in countries of advanced capitalism cannot be applied to Indian society. If India wants to become a developed country, it must develop small-scale industries.

Sudhakar Prasad Patna India and the West

The way in which our leaders and the elite kow-tow to the West is in stark contrast to China's approach. Although China has refused to submit to pressures from Western powers, it is respected by them. While paying lip-sympathy to our democracy the West t reats us with disdain.

Gandhi has warned us that the descendants of those who had sat on the fence during the struggle for Independence would appropriate power and misuse it in the guise of representative democracy. Hence he sought to disband the Congress and advocated a parti cipatory form of democracy in which power would be decentralised to the villages. This, he believed, would enable our people to lead a humane and civilised life. This is in contrast to the aggressive, materialistic European culture which has ruthlessly e xploited the planet's wealth using the power derived from science and technology.

India also had first-hand experience of such exploitation by one of the European powers, which used military power and the strategy of 'divide and rule'. A new strategy for economic domination of Third World countries like India was devised at Bretton Wo ods in 1948. The new methods of domination adopted by advanced capitalism are called globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation.

The struggle is now between survival and extermination. Can India show an alternative path? This alternative can emerge only from the common people, not from leaders who are corrupt and greedy.

Dr. N.H. Antia Mumbai Two weddings and a lesson

When I read about the ostentatious wedding of Laloo Prasad Yadav's daughter (Update, January 7), an anecdote came to my mind. When I was a post-graduate student at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi in the 1970s, one day I saw my P rofessor paying extra attention to a young man who was wearing a slightly torn shirt. After he left, the Professor told us that the young man was the son of the then Chief Minister of Bihar, Karpoori Thakur. He also narrated an experience that the then G overnor of Bihar had with Karpoori Thakur. The Chief Minister gave his son's wedding invitation to the Governor but later requested him not to attend the wedding. The reason: he was a poor man and hence could not afford to entertain many guests.

Dr. R. Vishvendra Rao California, U.S. Art exhibition

Suneet Chopra's observations do not add credibility to the article, "O Jerusalem" (January 7). We call Mahatma Gandhi the Father of the Nation and it does not follow that we did not exist before Gandhi's time or that we were fatherless. Any good Bible di ctionary anywhere in a Christian bookshop will contain the archaelogical and theological information on the meaning of Jerusalem being the "City of God". This kind of methodology has several parallels in Indian history too. Because we happen to accord ma ndatory status to the Asokan Lion Pillar, we do not obliterate the Harappan and Vedic heritage of the nation.

Rev. Philip K. Mulley Coonoor, Tamil Nadu Jerusalem

Suneet Chopra decries the recently shown City of David exhibition at the National Museum in New Delhi as "evidence of dubious historicity to proclaim that Jerusalem was the City of David" ("O Jerusalem!", January 7). In the guise of a learned article res ponding to what he implies was a political event, he in fact makes his own political - inaccurate, at that - statements with regard to a world-renowned scientific collection.

Some of what Chopra writes is simply incorrect and misleading. He claims that the exhibition is "largely of copies whose historicity one cannot vouch for". However, every single exhibit except one is an original finding, some dating as much as 5,000 year s back. What, then, are the 240 original exhibits if not historical?

Chopra says that "there is not a scrap of evidence to show that anyone called David ever ruled the area." It is true that there is a scientific debate on the question whether David was in fact as great a king as he is projected to have been, and on the h istorical value of the parts of the Bible. There is a vast range of opinions on this issue, some of which were recently reviewed in the weekly magazine of Ha'aretz, one of Israel's daily newspapers (available in English at www.haaretz.co.i1) whose depth and seriousness do not fall short of those of Frontline. As in every debate, each party is entitled to its opinion, at least until proven wrong. However, Chopra seems to dismiss any opinion which does not conform with his own. Furthermore, Chopra who claims that the Bible as a whole is little more than a collection of myths, suggests that the story of Abraham's non-sacrifice of Isaac indicates the historical end of the practice of human sacrifice. So perhaps even the early parts of the Bib le do offer something beyond myth, even according to Chopra.

In any case, the exhibition does not purport to prove the role of King David in history. Its title is derived from the fact that "the City of David" was the synonym for Jerusalem for over two millennia. Perhaps a misnomer - but a nomer nonetheless. Someo ne once argued that Shakespeare never existed and all his works were written by someone else. Would Chopra claim then that Romeo and Juliet or The Tempest have no literary value?

Most disturbing, though, is Chopra's claim that the exhibition is "Zionist propaganda" aimed at projecting Jerusalem as the City of David and not as that of peoples other than the Jews. This argument requires special attention at a time when delegitimisi ng one community to advance another is high on the agenda all over the world. Again, Chopra not only does not support this claim, but ignores the plain facts:

The excavations unearthed pieces covering 5500 years, from the Chalcolithic period to the Muslim period. For scientific and exhibitory reasons, the exhibition itself is limited to the findings from the settlement of the Eastern hill until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 BCE. This period, lengthy in itself, covers much more than the period of the Jewish civilisation. It covers life under the Canaaties, the Jebusites, the Israelites (the Jews), the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greek s.

Christianity did not emerge until a century later, and Islam, only seven centuries later. The exhibition does not deny the roles of these two religions in Jerusalem (in fact, their role is specifically mentioned in the exhibition's catalogue and is the s ubject of the article quoted by Chopra and provided to the media by the Embassy of Israel). It simply concentrates on some periods in the life of Jerusalem and not on others. Will an exhibition of Indian art under the Rajput kings be condemned for not pr esenting Mughal artefacts? Fortunately for both India and Israel, their heritage is so vast and varied that it cannot be presented all in one go.

Finally, Chopra quotes as affirmation of his position, the dilemma raised by Prof. Werblowsky, who inquires whether we should make use of symbols that draw from a mythological roots (to justify what Chopra calls "Zionist propaganda"). The question of myt h versus reality aside, Chopra fails to mention Prof. Werblowsky's own reply, who says that this is not an easy question, "for symbols cannot always be dismissed with a cavalier wave of the hands as mere slogans or mythological anachronism. Sometimes the y are the repositories of both the conscious and the unconscious life-giving truths of a community." Yes, Jerusalem is the symbol and realisation of the very basic tenets of both Judaism and Zionism. Israel need not apologise for it. We wish to share wit h the Indian public this sentiments, which have kept the Jewish people alive after more than 2,000 years of persecution.

Do not condemn a history of millennia which has created symbols. It is precisely that which constitutes culture.

Yael Ronen, Spokeswoman, Embassy of Israel New Delhi

TERROR LINKS

cover-story
When the hijackers of the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 demanded the release of 36 top terrorists, 33 of them Pakistanis, from Indian jails, acceptance of the demand would have amounted to nullifying the successes registered by Indian security and int elligence agencies in the past one decade in their anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir and putting national security at peril. Here, Praveen Swami gives brief profiles of the 36, including those released whose names have been highlighted.
The terrorists the hijackers wanted out of jail
Name Organisation Arrested on Profile
1 Abdul Hai Malik @ Umar Farooq s/o Mohammad Ajmal r/o Punjab, Pakistan Harkat-ul-Ansar November 18, 1996 After joining the Harkat-ul-Ansar at the instigation of religious leader Maulvi Attah Ullah, Malik was infiltrated through Kupwara in July 1996. He was tasked to disrupt the elections of September-October 1996. He is also charged with the attempted murde r of a resident of Maisuma in downtown Srinagar.
2 Ahmed Umar SyedSheikh s/o Syed Ahmed Sheikh r/o London, U.K. Harkat-ul-Ansar October 31, 1994 A British national, Ahmed Sheikh played a major role in raising funds and organising support for the Harkat-ul-Ansar in the United Kingdom. In October 1994, he organised the kidnapping of four foreign tourists from a hotel in Paharganj, New Delhi, to sec ure Masood Azhar's release. All the hostages were subsequently rescued from Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in a joint operation by Delhi and U.P. police commandos. One U.P. police official, Inspector Abhay Singh Yadav, was killed in the operation. Two other terrorists, British national Sheikh Omar Sayeed and Pakistani national Abdul Rahim, were arrested.
3 Alam Khan s/o Behram Khan r/o Muzaffarabad, POK Al-Umar November 20, 1991 Although Khan was a trained terrorist, his services were used mainly as a courier and guide for arms shipments by Al-Umar, an organisation close to Pakistan's Sardar Abdul Qayoom Khan and named after Srinagar religious leader Moulvi Umar Farooq. He was p icked up by the Army in Kupwara.
4 Basharat Ali @ Assadullah Ikramullah s/o Ali Asga r/o Mirpur, POK Kashmir Freedom Movement January 2, 1995 Trained at Mirpur in POK, Ali was briefed by Pakistan Army officials before entering India in August 1994. He visited several parts of the country, including New Delhi and Muzaffarnagar, to build his organisation's network.
5 Farooq Ahmed Raja s/o Mohammad Sher Khan r/o Kotli, POK Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front April 19, 1995 Having joined the JKLF in June 1992, and trained in Afghanistan, Raja entered the Kashmir Valley through Kupwara in August 1994. He was subsequently kidnapped in the course of a dispute with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and disarmed. He stayed with Yasin Malik at the JKLF's overground office in Maisuma, Srinagar, before his arrest in a covert operation.
6 Ghulam Mohammad Bhat s/o Hatta Bhat r/o POK Al-Jehad December 20, 1994 Indian records list Bhat's name as Gulla Bhat. He was principally an ideological worker for Al-Jehad, motivating and indoctrinating recruits.
7 Jaffer Ali s/o Sabir Ali r/o Kotli POK Al-Barq June 30, 1996 Indian records list Jaffer Ali's name as Zaffar Ali, code-named Abdul Rashid. Ali was motivated by his uncle, Khazir Mohammad, who worked as a cook in an Al Barq training camp. He is described as highly motivated, and deeply religious.
8 Maulana Masood Azhar, s/o Allah Baksh, r/o Kauser Colony, Model Town, Bhawalpur, Pakistan Harkat-ul-Ansar February 11, 1994 A religious evangelist of the Deobandi school, Azhar recieved military training in Afghanistan before arriving in India via Dhaka on January 29, 1994. Travelling on a fake Portugese passport and claiming to be a journalist, he toured the country, exhorti ng Muslims in several areas to participate in jihad. As Secretary-General of the Harkat-ul-Ansar, he was responsible for motivating Sajjad Afghani to lead its military operations in Kashmir.
9 Mohammad Arif Khan @ Walid @ Rashid Ahmed Bhat s/o Alam Din Khan r/o Dastgir Mohalla, Karachi, Pakistan Harkat-ul-Ansar May 4, 1995 Trained at the Harkat-ul-Ansar camp at Maskar in Afghanistan, Khan was inducted into the Kashmir Valley in May 1994 through the Lolab area. He participated in several armed actions in 1994-1995. However, evidently disenchanted with the war in Kashmir, he applied to his commanders for permission to return to Pakistan. The request was met. Khan was arrested by the West Bengal Police while trying to cross into Bangladesh from where he was scheduled to fly to Pakistan.
10 Mohammad HassanShafiq @ Abu Jindal s/o late Imdad Ullah, r/o Chinant Jhena, Pakistan Harkat-ul-Ansar May 12, 1995 Although the hijackers identified Abu Jindal as Mohammad Hassan Shafia, police records list his name as Mohammad Shafi Malik. Malik was present at Chrar-e-Sharif when the shrine burned down in 1995, and it was his interrogation which made clear that Mast Gul had ordered its destruction. The terrorist was trained at Khost, Afghanistan. He holds a post-graduate degree in Arabic.
11 Mohammad Iqram Balouch s/o Mir Dalal Kha r/o Quetta, Baluchistan, Pakistan Hizb-ul-Mujahideen October 1, 1995 Balouch was active on the border from 1990, mostly smuggling arms from Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was once arrested by the Pakistan Police for gun-running. Trained in Afghanistan, he was persuaded to join the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen by the Jamaat-e-Islami i n Peshawar. His official dossier describes him as "desperate by nature", a person who can "stoop to any level".
12 Mohammad Ishfaq Rajput s/o Mohammad Shafi, r/o Sialkot, Pakistan Muslim Mujahideen January 2, 1995 Rajput entered the Fateh Gali in Baramulla with a large consignment of arms and explosives, but for reasons that did not emerge during interrogation, he immediately wished to return to Pakistan. Rajput was deserted by his companions, and was found wander ing aimlessly in the forests.
13 Mohammad Nazir Khan @ Salahuddin Saifullah s/o Hajlal Khan, r/o B-79 Block F, Qausar Niyazi Colony, Karachi, Pakistan Not available Not available Khan was arrested by the Delhi Police for involvement in a planned series of bomb blasts in the city. A Karachi resident, he is believed to be affiliated to far-right groups in that city. He is now being held in Tihar Jail.
14 Mohammad Sofi Jamat s/o Buland Khan r/o Kotli, POK Al-Barq/JKLF February 17, 1996 Although the terrorists gave Jamat's place of residence as Kotli, official records list it as being Kel in POK. A plumber by profession, and a long-time activist of the Jamait-ul-Tulbam, Jamat was recruited by the Inter-Services Intelligence and sent int o the Kashmir Valley in September 1994.
15 "Mohammad Yusuf Khwaja @ Asif s/o Mohammad Ayub r/o Nakoti Wadi-e-Lippa, Muzaffarabad, POK Harkat-ul-Ansar August 31, 1996 Khwaja was among the Harkat-ul-Ansar's top arms couriers, handling shipments of weapons into the Kashmir Valley.
16 Mohammed Syed Khan @ Farooq, s/o Mohammad Suleiman r/o Noman Pora Bagh, POK Jamait-ul-Mujahideen August 21, 1994 Trained at the Yawar training camp in Afghanistan, Khan served principally in the Kupwara area. His tenure was marked by feuds between his unit at the local, mainly Kashmiri, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen attempted to assassinate him on thre e occassions.
17 Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar @ Latram s/o Ghulam Rasool Zargar, r/o Jamia Masjid, Srinagar. Al-Umar May 15, 1992 A coppersmith by trade before he trained in Pakistan, Zargar continues to be the head of the Al-Umar. Zargar is responsible for over 40 murders and was a key figure in the terrorist ascendancy in downtown Srinagar. The Al-Umar chief also imposed a ban on Maruti vehicles in Srinagar, allegedly at the behest of a political figure who owned a dealership for a rival company.
18 Muzzamil Ahmed Dar @ Sohail s/o Ghulam Mohammad r/o Kotli, POK Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front April 19, 1995 Having entered the Kashmir Valley through Athmuqam, Dar participated in attacks against troops in December 1994 and January 1995 in Srinagar's Batmaloo area. He owes allegiance to the JKLF's Amanullah Khan faction.
19 Nasarullah Mansoor Langriyal, s/o Mohammad Shafi Langriyal, r/o Jalal Pur, Gujarat, Pakistan Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami November 16, 1993 Participated in a massive action against the Border Security Force in June 1993 at Deesa, Doda, in which 10 troops and 6 civilians were killed. Langriyal was also responsible for the kidnapping and murder of another BSF trooper. A highly motivated operat ive, Langriyal fought in Afghanistan from 1983 to 1992.
20 Nashi Ullah @ Jangzua s/o Nazir Ahmed r/o Bazaraq Parwan, Afghanistan Lashkar-e-Taiba July 13, 1993 Nashi Ullah, listed in Indian records as Nasrullah, is one of the few Afghan terrorists to have surrendered to the Indian armed forces. He was infiltrated into the Jammu area in May 1994, but came to realise his comrades were indulging in criminal activi ties, not fighting a jihad.
21 Nasir Ikram @ Abu Ubaid s/o Qazi Ikram-ul-Haq r/o Mastaloo, Rawalpindi, Pakistan Jamait-ul-Mujahideen August 21, 1994 Ikram was arrested almost immediately after entering the Kashmir Valley. He was trained at the Yawar camp in Afghanistan.
22 Nasir Mohammad Soudozi @ Aftab s/o Sakhi Mohammad r/o Nawab Goru, Police Station Palandiri, Rawalkot, POK Harkat-ul-Ansar April 29, 1996 Trained at the Yawar camp in Afghanistan, Soudozi first worked at the Harkat-ul-Ansar office in Muzaffarbad, handling inter-organisational coordination in liaison with the ISI. He was brought into Kashmir to handle funds transfers from Pakistan.
23 Nassir Ahmed Gujjar @ Azim s/o Mohammad Bashir r/o Mirpur, POK Muslim Mujahideen April 2, 1996 Trained in Pakistan, Gujjar was tasked by his handlers to attack Indian Army posts in the Rajouri area.
24 Navaid Iqbal Bhat @ Tahir s/o Mohammad Iqbal r/o Sumani Mirpur, POK Kashmir Freedom Movement January 2, 1995 Bhat belongs to a little-known and marginal group, but is highly motivated and trained. After entering India illegally, he visited several cities, issuing press notes and pamphlets seeking public support. He is currently held under the Public Safety Act.
25 Nisar Ahmed Rajput @ Wasim @ Tariq s/o Mohammad Zaman, r/o Dhana Kotli, POK Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami April 19, 1995 An active member of the Harkat-ul-Ansar, Rajput was briefly released in October 1999 when one set of criminal cases against him collapsed. The Pakistani national was immediately rearrested on fresh terrorism-related charges.
26 Rahil Ahmed Hashmi s/o Mohammad Mushtaq Hashmi, r/o Bhag, POK Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front September 12, 1995 One of the JKLF's better known ideologues and organisers, Hashmi was arrested from Bemina in Srinagar.
27 Saifullah Khalid @ Mohammad Ubaid s/o Sher Khan, r/o Mong, Palandhari, Poonch, POK Jamait-ul-Mujahideen October 14, 1993 Trained at Khost in Afghanistan, Khalid started off with All Barq before joining the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen. He was tasked to establish high-altitude forest hideouts in Anantnag at the time of his arrest.
28 Shahid Latif @ Shaheen Bhat s/o Abdul Lateef, r/o Bagh, POK Jamait-ul-Mujahideen January 21, 1994 Latif was among the terrorists trapped in the first siege of the Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar, and benefited from the subsequent "safe passage" deal. He was again sent into Kashmir in August 1994, this time to eliminate terrorists of Kashmiri origin who had negotiated the Hazratbal deal. Apart from several attacks on security forces, Latif is responsible for the murder of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operative Mohammad Ayoub in the Wader forests.
29 Shahid Mohammad Mughal @ Abu Darda s/o Ali Afsa r/o Bangni, Rawalkot POK Lashkar-e-Taiba January 2, 1995 Trained in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, Mughal is personally close to one of the Markaz Dawa wal' Irshad's top Amirs, Warris Khan. He was inducted into India along with a group of 25 Lashkar terrorists and 17 Al-Barq terrorists, along with arms and explosi ves. Mughal was arrested from Chhanapora in Srinagar.
30 Sohail Ahmed Kataria s/o Shahbaz Ahmed Khan r/o Kotli, POK Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front October 29, 1996 Kataria was involved with half-a-dozen attacks on security force positions, throwing grenades in crowded public places, and along with a terrorist named Mushtaq Kotru, with the killing of a BSF trooper at Habakadal in Srinagar in March 1996. He is also c harged with the murder of JKLF terrorist Umar, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen terrorist Bitta, a Chinese tourist, and Srinagar resident Shabir Ahmed.
31 Sultan Ahmed Miyan @ Umar s/o Ghulam Jeelani r/o Abdul Hakim Faberwala, District Kahniwal, Pakistan Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami September 14, 1994 Like Rajput, Miyan was released from jail on November 16, 1999, but rearrested shortly afterwards because of continued terrorist activities. He was trained at the Liza camp in Afghanistan, and was arrested in Anantnag.
32 Syed Khalid Hussain @ Sajad Hussain s/o Khadim Hussain Bukhari r/o Adamsheri, Muzaffarabad, POK Islami Jamait-ul-Tulba / Hizb-ul-Mujahideen January 12, 1995 Hussain was trained in Khost, Afghanistan, and was issued weapons by the ISI before he was launched into India.
33 Syed Sajid Sajjad Bukhari @ Sajjad @ Ali Bhai @ Sajjad Afghani s/o Syed Shah Pal r/o Mandyari Kotli, POK Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front June 6, 1995 Bukhari was responsible for the murder of the Assistant Manager of the Uri Hydel Project on October 4, 1995.
34 Syed Salahuddin Qazi @ Mohammad Yousuf s/o Ghulam Rasool r/o Faisalabad, Pakistan Muslim Liberation Army July 27, 1992 Although a member of a relatively small organisation, Qazi was a top terrorist, charged with the Muslim Liberation Army's training programmes at Tattapani in POK. He crossed into Rajouri before being arrested with four others.
35 Syed Waqar Shah @ Imran s/o Imam Shah r/o Abottabad, Pakistan Harkat-ul-Ansar March 26, 1996 Shah was inducted to strenghten the Harkat-ul-Ansar network in Rajouri and Poonch, which in 1996 was minimal. He was subsequently ordered to disrupt the parliamentary elections that year through explosions and selective assassinations.
36 Zulfikar Ali Shah @ Amar s/o Ziarat Ali r/o House No. 137,Block B, Latifabad,Hyderabad, Pakistan Islami Inquilab-e-Mahaz February 7, 1993 A dropout from a diploma course in Mechanical Engineering, Shah took part in the Afghan war from 1991. He arrived in India in late 1992, and was arrested shortly after he participated in an encounter with the Indian Army in Poonch in February 1993.
@ = alias r/o = resident of s/o = son of POK = Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir

Spirited resistance

economy
SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY V. SRIDHAR

THE campaign for the privatisation of banks by corporate interests has found some support because of the general perception that the productivity of bank employees is low, that they earn far more than what they deserve, and that serious problems in the b anking industry, such as the high levels of Non-Performing Assets (NPA) of public sector banks, are the making of bank staff and their unions.

In fact, productivity in banks, possibly defined in terms of earnings, profits or other such parameters per employee, is not just a function of the bank employees' "efficiency". Whatever the employees do, banks are made or broken basically by the investm ent decisions of a few top-level officials. Essentially banks make their earnings from the spread between the cost of the funds they mobilise and the return they earn on advances to clients.

If decisions on loans are made by a select few, and, particularly, if they are influenced by political or corporate pressures, the productivity of workers or officers can play hardly any role in determining a bank's fortunes. Leaders of both the All Indi a bank Employees Association (AIBEA) and the Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI) told Frontline that the unions were willing to accept that the employees and officers had a role in making banks friendly and accessible to clients. But this, t hey said, was different from saying that they should pay with their jobs for the way banks had been wrecked by predatory business interests.

Tarakeswar Chakraborti, general secretary of the AIBEA, says that Indian banking regulations are extremely lax to corporate entities. "The law," he says, "allows entrepreneurs, whose own stakes in the companies they float are low, to draw advances from p ublic financial institutions and banks and then bleed the companies to death before opting for other businesses, where they repeat the same process."

The unions have suggested several measures to check this practice. These include, the publication of the list of defaulters who have borrowed over Rs.10 lakhs, making wilful defaulting a criminal offence, enacting stringent legislation to enable attachme nt of the assets of defaulting companies and their directors, and barring defaulting companies from selling their property and taking loans from any other bank.

"Bank laws," says Santi Ranjan Sengupta, general secretary of the All India Bank Officers' Confederation (AIBOC), "date back to 1948 and companies take advantage of this." He said that legal reforms were "desperately needed".

Sengupta said that 78 per cent of the deposits in banks were from the general public, 6 per cent were industrial deposits, and the remaining 16 per cent were from others, including financial institutions. "When private sector houses default," says Sengup ta, "public money is looted. This should be made a criminal offence."

The bank unions are divided on the ongoing wage negotiations with the Indian Banks Association (IBA), the forum of bankers. However, Santhi Bardhan, general secretary of the BEFI, told Frontline that the BEFI was exploring the possibility of launc hing joint struggles with other unions to defend jobs and also to resist the privatisation of public sector banks. Some unions have already chalked out an agitation programme. On February 8, 2000, a Parliament march by 70,000 bank employees from all over the country was planned, he said. There are also moves to organise rallies, conventions and other forms of agitation all over the country.

"A banking company," says Chakraborti, "is very different from other undertakings. It deals with the deposits of the common people. Who can be the best trustee for the masses other than the Government? Besides, the record of private sector banks speaks f or itself. In the last 13 years, as many as 16 private sector banks have failed."

In the past, public sector banks have absorbed the losses suffered by private banks. In 1986, Parur Central Bank Limited was merged with the Bank of India, the Bank of Cochin was merged with the State Bank of India, Laxmi Commercial Bank was merged with Canara Bank, and Hindustan Commercial Bank was merged with Punjab National Bank. In 1987, the Bank of Tamil Nadu was merged with the Indian Overseas Bank and Bank of Tanjore Limited was merged with Indian Bank. In 1988, the United Industrial Bank Limited was merged with Allahabad Bank. In 1989, Purbanchal Bank was merged with Central Bank. In 1996, Kasinath Seth Bank was merged with the SBI. In 1997, Traders Bank Limited was merged with Oriental Bank of Commerce. In 1998, Punjab Cooperative Bank was mer ged with Bank of Baroda. In 1999, Bareilly Banking Corporation was merged with the SBI and most recently, in December 1999, the Sikkim Bank was merged with Union Bank of India.

Biswajeet Chowdhuri, Chairman of the Union Bank of India (UBI), feels that rather than privatisation, private investment in the banking sector, in which the majority stake still remains with the Government, would be a better idea.

The unions also condemned the Central Government's suggestion of a wage freeze. "We are prepared to accept staggered increments, but we strongly oppose a wage freeze," Chakraborti said. According to him, the performance of a bank is not dependent on the bank alone. "Banks are mirrors of the economy. Banks like UBI and UCO Bank have large branch networks in the eastern region. However, this region is economically backward. In West Bengal 60,000 factories have been closed over the years, and insurgency ma kes operations in the northeastern region very difficult," said Chakraborti.

A controversial report

economy

The report of the Confederation of Indian Industry's Task Force on Non-Performing Assets in the Indian financial system raises a storm of protests and helps to initiate a debate on the issue of industrial houses defaulting on the repayment of ba nk loans.

V. SRIDHAR

THE Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a leading representative of big business, finds itself enmeshed in a controversy following its drastic recommendation that several public sector banks and financial institutions be either closed down or privati sed. The CII's Task Force on Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the Indian financial system, chaired by K.V. Kamath, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the ICICI, a leading private financial institution, submitted its report to Union Finance M inister Yashwant Sinha on December 13. The Task Force's recommendations brought the CII, arguably Indian industry's most powerful advocate of economic reforms, into direct conflict with bank employees, represented by their unions.

By bringing into the open the Indian corporate sector's interests in the privatisation of the banking sector, the report threatens to spark off further unrest in the banking industry. Indeed, the threat of a potentially sharp escalation of conflict force d the CII to beat a retreat on December 20. It backtracked on the most important of the Task Force's recommendation, the one advising the closure of three "weak" banks, Indian Bank, United Commercial (UCO) Bank and the United Bank of India (UBI).

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Bank employees' unions, already agitated over the relatively moderate proposals of the officially constituted committee headed by M.S. Verma (Frontline, November 19, 1999), effectively challenged the Task Force's recommendations. They turned the t ables against industry by arguing that the problem of NPAs, in simple terms, "bad loans", of the public sector banks was fundamentally a creation of big business - through their failure to repay money they had borrowed from the banks over the years. At t he end of 1998-99, the NPAs of the public sector banks totalled over Rs.50,000 crores, indicating the massive drain of public funds from public institutions.

The unions, already under pressure to defend the jobs and wage levels in the banking industry, bitterly attacked the "impropriety" of the Union Finance Ministry in accepting an "unofficial" report of a leading private business lobby in full media glare. The unions alleged that the Government, by officially receiving the report, had provided legitimacy to the view of the powerful industrial houses represented by the CII. They also said that the Government, by failing to announce that no action would be t aken on an unofficial report, had created widespread panic among ordinary depositors. There were reports of deposits being withdrawn from the three banks for which the Task Force recommended closure. Assistant secretary of the All India Bank Employees As sociation (AIBEA) C.H. Venkatachalam told Frontline that the CII had "created confusion and panic among people who had their money in public financial institutions."

The unions alleged that borrowings by corporate defaulters acc-ounted for a substantial portion of these outstandings and asked what right the CII had to recommend the closure of public institutions when the problem was basically a creation of industrial houses, some of them members of the CII. Stung by the sharp reaction, not only from the unions but also from a cross-section of interests, the CII went on the back foot.

Going much farther than the Verma panel's recommendations, the Task Force suggested that the first wave of privatisation should include the Bank of Baroda, Corporation Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce and the State Bank of India. The next lot of candidate s for privatisation included the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI), Industrial Finance and Corporation of India Ltd. (IFCI), the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) and the Export-Import Bank of India.

THE CII came under attack from several quarters. The most unexpected was the criticism by the two other leading business organisations, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industr y (ASSOCHAM). FICCI said that the closure of the banks would have an adverse impact on depositors, clients, borrowers and employees. It also pointed out that the extreme option of closure would erode people's confidence in the banking system.

ASSOCHAM went even further. It said that banks' inability to recover dues from borrowers had adversely affected their performance. ASSOCHAM president K.P. Singh said that the closure of banks was a serious issue, which needed to be tackled by "experts". Significantly, there was only one representative of the public sector banks in the Task Force; most of its members were from large private companies. ASSOCHAM also said that concerted attempts should be taken to revive the weak banks. It said that merger s or closures should be resorted to only as the last resort.

In the Lok Sabha, T.M. Selvaganapthy of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) made a spirited attack on the CII. He accused some large business houses of not paying their dues to the banks. He alleged that the corporate sector owed Rs. 45 ,000 crores to the public sector banks. Rajesh Pilot of the Congress(I) asked the Government not to turn a blind eye to the financial crimes that were perpetrated in the name of liberalisation.

Chairpersons and senior managers of public sector banks were aggressive in their response to the CII, in marked contrast to the muted response to the Verma panel's official report submitted to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The most striking response c ame from the Chairman of Indian Bank, T.S. Raghavan, who had cut himself off from the media after the Verma Committee's report was released. He said that the CII had made "sweeping suggestions" without making any attempt to explore why high levels of NPA s arose in the first place. UBI Chairman Biswajeet Chowdhuri said that he planned to "take up" the Task Force's report with the Union Government and the RBI. He called the report "misleading and unwarranted".

There have also been demands that the Government publish the list of defaulters. Prominent among those who made this demand is former Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP, Dr. Ashok Mitra, who had raised the issue in Rajya Sabha when Manmohan Singh was Union Finance Minister. Bankers have often said that regulations protecting the confidentiality of bank clients provided large-scale defaulters an opportunity to escape public scrutiny. The unions have also repeatedly asked the Reserve Bank of India and the Union Finance Ministry to publish the list of defaulters on a regular basis. The demand for greater transparency about defaulting accounts is based on the premise that there will be greater "moral pressure" on borrowers of public funds.

Taking the lead, the AIBEA released a list of members of the Task Force who, it alleged, were linked to corporate defaulters of bank loans. Although some of the companies in the list denied that they were defaulters, the damage had been done. AIBEA gener al secretary Tarakeswar Chakraborti demanded that the Government publish the list of defaulters.

Biswajeet Chowdhuri also said that there were lacunae in banking legislation which constrained banks' efforts to recover their dues from corporate borrowers. He told Frontline that laws need to be amended, allowing banks to attach the property of defaulters."We (UBI) have taken legal action, adopted methods of persuasion, and even sat down with them for out-of-court settlements." Critics of the CII say that although the Task Force mentioned the "moral hazards" in public sector banks, it has faile d to address the question of large-scale defaults by big industrial houses.

Although the RBI has been publishing data on the amount owed by defaulters, these data only pertain to those accounts on which the banks have filed suits to recover the dues from borrowers. K. Krishnan, secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Bank Employ ees Federation of India (BEFI), told Frontline that the RBI data did not reflect the full extent of the NPA problem in banks. First, unions allege that there is political interference which prevents banks from filing cases against borrowers or de lays the filing of such petitions. Branches of banks have to obtain clearance from their head offices before proceeding against defaulters in the courts. Secondly, borrowers may have several accounts on which borrowings are made; while cases may have be en filed against outstandings against borrowers on some accounts, no action may have been taken to recover outstandings on several other accounts. The RBI data thus seriously understate the magnitude of outstandings of borrowers.

Krishnan said that the RBI had, particularly in recent times, encouraged banks to initiate "compromise settlements" with borrowers. He points out that the outstandings of these clients would not be included in the RBI data. In addition, he said that the outstandings from accounts under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) did not figure in the RBI data. This was particularly relevant in the case of Indian Bank's outstandings where several large NPA accounts were under investigation , he said. Incidentally, a charge-sheet against the former Chairman of the bank, M. Gopalakrishnan, and four others, was recently filed in the Special Court of the CBI in Chennai. The amount involved in the case is said to be Rs.8.99 crores.

Kamath need not have looked very far. For instance, J.K. Synthetics (Kanpur) owed ICICI Bank Rs. 76.87 crores as on March 31, 1999, according to the RBI's list of suit-filed accounts. The same company owed Rs.29.18 crores to the IDBI; Dr. Gaur Singhania, Govind H. Singhania and Yadupati Singhania were directors of the Singhania company. Interestingly, Esslon Synthetics, another Kanpur-based company, in which Sitaram Singhania is a director, owed Rs.4.12 crores to ICICI Bank; the same company owed Rs.2.4 2 crores to IFCI. Parasrampuria Synthetics Ltd., a CII member according to the CII Web-site, owed Rs.60.46 crores to Canara Bank. Om Prakash Parasrampuria, a director of the company, is also on the board of directors of Parasrampuria Polymids Ltd, which also owes Canara Bank Rs.10.17 crores.

Five different companies - Pure Drinks (Calcutta), Punjab Beverages (Patiala), Pure Drinks (Mumbai), Southern Bottlers (Patiala) and Pure Drinks Ltd. (Delhi) - in which Ajit Singh, Harjit Kaur and Satwant Singh were common directors, owe a total of Rs.30 .76 crores to two public sector banks. While four of the companies owe Rs.26.54 crores to Punjab and Sind Bank, one of them owes Rs.4.22 crores to Canara Bank.

Sources in the banking industry told Frontline that although defaulters may number in thousands, there is a high-level concentration in the amount owed by the top borrowers. They also point to the fact that such large borrowers are typically indus trial houses. For instance, in the case of Indian Bank, the top 15 defaulters account for about one-third of all NPAs of the bank. A source in the Central Bank of India told Frontline that 234 defaulting accounts, each amounting to at least Rs.1 c rore, owed the bank Rs.2,190 crores; the total NPA level of the Central Bank of India was at Rs.2,436 crores on March 31, 1999. Further consolidation of the figures, according to this source, indicates an even higher degree of concentration. The top 20 d efaulters owed a total of Rs.430 crores to the bank; the top defaulters thus account for one-fifth of the bank's NPAs.

THE reforms in the banking sector, initiated after the Government's acceptance of two committees headed by S. Narasimham, have focussed on a sharp contraction of the space open to public sector banks. While the banks have been asked to follow the stringe nt norms for classification of their assets, particularly NPAs, there has been no effort to bring into force legislation that will allow the banks to recover dues from defaulters. A senior manager of Indian Bank told Frontline that the "banks' han ds were tied as a result of the reforms".

The Task Force's recommendation that legal reforms be introduced to enable quicker liquidation of defaulting companies in order to enable the recovery of dues by banks has also been criticised. Critics allege that the introduction of such legislation is aimed at protecting private interests in banking after the privatisation of publicly owned banks. These critics say that big business wants to take over the public sector banks after bleeding them to death. The implementation of stringent norms for NPAs and capital adequacy in banks is seen by critics of the financial sector reforms as an attempt to cleanse the balance sheets of public sector banks before their eventual takeover by private interests. They allege that the Government's failure to protect the banks by appropriate legal measures against corporate defaulters has to be seen in this context.

Apart from the question of jobs, the financial sector reforms have also subverted the public sector banks' role as an agent of economic development, particularly since their nationalisation in 1969. There is also evidence that the reforms in the financia l sector have unleashed regional imbalances in the availability of credit and other problems.

The extent of opposition to the CII's report in large measure rests on the widespread belief that public money in public financial institutions has been systematically siphoned off. For long this was described in vague terms, particularly as owing to "po litical pressure" or "influence". The unions, by raising a storm over corporate defaulters, has managed to direct public outrage at a more concrete source of the problem. The unions' action in opening up for greater public scrutiny issues other than job s promises to enlarge the scope for a wider articulation of resistance to the impending "next wave" of reforms, particularly in the banking and insurance sectors.

BOWING TO TERRORISM

The terrorists-for-hostages deal at Kandahar marks a deeply damaging defeat for the Indian state, its 'pro-active' anti-terrorism stance, and its vital interests in Kashmir.

AS the passengers of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 began their flight home to New Delhi, a quiet celebration was under way in Kandahar. The five hijackers and the three terrorists who were released that morning from Indian jails were driven across the ta rmac to the Air Force Officers Mess. There, they were treated by Taliban officials to a slap-up iftar meal. Within 10 hours, driven to the Pakistan border under Taliban escort, the hijackers disappeared.

Eight terrorists celebrating new year's eve is a fitting image for the Union Government's pro-active policy on Jammu and Kashmir, as it has worked in practice. The forces set off by the Pokhran-II nuclear tests triggered a dramatic escalation of violence and communal killings in the spring of 1999, the war on the Kargil heights in the summer, and finally the winter crisis at Kandahar. The sad lessons of the Kandahar hijacking have ensured that no one concerned with Jammu and Kashmir has reason to feel f estive about the coming of 2000.

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AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL in New Delhi first received news of the hijacking of IC 814 at 4-40 p.m. on December 24, minutes after the Airbus, which had taken off from Kathmandu, entered Indian airspace. Amazingly, the Crisis Management Group (CMG) led by Union Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar saw no reason to convene immediately. Officials at the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) who had dealt with past hijackings were not even contacted. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra learned what had happened only when they arrived in Delhi from Patna at around 5-20 p.m. Vajpayee proceeded to call an emergency meeting, but just what was discussed is not known.

When Amritsar airport authorities first made contact with IC 814 at 6-04 p.m., they had no orders of any kind. Even 40 minutes after the CMG members met the Prime Minister, they had failed to put the Amritsar, Jammu and Srinagar airports on alert. No one , evidently, made the minimal intellectual effort needed to assess what the flight's probable destinations in India might be. With Lahore airport authorities flatly refusing the aircraft permission to land, it ought to have been clear to officials that a touchdown at Amritsar was near-inevitable. When IC 814 came down at Amritsar at 6-44 p.m., local officials still had no unequivocal mandate from New Delhi.

Senior Superintendent of Police Parampal Singh Sidhu, District Commissioner Narinder Singh and Inspector-General of Police J.P. Birdi were left carrying the can. Birdi, in fact, had received transfer orders days earlier, and was in Amritsar waiting for h is successor Bakshi Ram to arrive. Not one senior official had taken the trouble to fly down to Amritsar, just 25 minutes from Chandigarh. Indeed, Punjab Director-General of Police Sarabjeet Singh later went on record to assert he first heard of the hija cking past 6 p.m., on television. Sarabjeet Singh's horrifying claim, if true, illustrates just how inefficient the CMG and the Prime Minister's Office were.

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Amritsar's own little crisis team, the lowest in the three-tier rung of district, State, and national committees, received little guidance. The first orders the team received from Delhi, at about 6-40 p.m., were to delay refuelling as long as possible. T wenty minutes were lost in the confusion caused by a hoax phone call mandating just the contrary. To add to the chaos, the hijackers refused to talk to Sidhu or Birdi. By the time permission was received from the CMG to send a fuel bowser to the aircraft , carrying Punjab Police commandos trained to deflate its tyres, it was 7-45 p.m. Captain of the Flight D. Sharan suddenly announced he was taking off. "We are all dying," he said.

IT is impossible to say what might have happened if Birdi and Sidhu had initiated a commando operation at Amritsar. To at least some officials, it seemed as if that the risks involved were acceptable. Some 20 minutes after IC 814 landed in Amritsar, Sha ran first notified Amritsar air traffic control that the hijackers had Kalashnikov rifles. At 7-25 p.m., he told Amritsar control that the hijackers had started killing hostages, and followed this up with another message at 7-44 p.m. that four hostages h ad indeed been executed. Although Sharan's voice was filled with panic, Birdi believed he was merely relaying under duress what he was told by the hijackers.

New Delhi perhaps believed otherwise or did not want to take the chance. The CMG waited for a National Security Guard (NSG) anti-hijack unit to arrive in Amritsar before authorising an armed response. At least one of these units was well out of reach, st uck in Manesar near Jammu. The unit had been deployed there on routine security duties. There has been no official explanation of where other units were, and why at least one anti-hijack team was not on standby as it is supposed to be on a 24-hour basis. Those in Amritsar in turn saw no reason to stick their necks out in the absence of orders, given the risk of civilian casualties.

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To Birdi, a veteran of the 1993 terrorist hijacking in Amritsar, the situation must have seemed depressingly familiar. On that occaision, Director-General of Police K.P.S. Gill received orders to take over the negotiations only hours after the aircraft l anded. The then Cabinet Secretary dithered over the use of the NSG and phoned to revoke the orders he eventually gave a few minutes after the rescue operation commenced. Mercifully, the sole hijacker was by then dead. In 1997, in the light of past experi ences, the NSG and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Safety carried out a simulated hijacking to test crisis responses. None of the many problems discovered was evidently rectified.

WHEN IC 814 took off from Amritsar at 7-49 p.m., its right wingtip missed the fuel bowser carrying the Punjab Police's commandos by just a dozen metres. NSG commandos finally landed after the plane had left, true to Hindi pop film stereotype. Sharan proc eeded to make a desperate landing at Lahore, with almost no fuel left and the runway lights turned off. From Lahore, even as a bitter war of words broke out between Indian and Pakistani officials over responsibility, IC 814 proceeded to a military airbas e near Dubai. After dumping executed hostage Rupin Katyal's body and releasing 27 hostages, the hijackers commandered the aircraft to Kandahar.

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Passengers on the aircraft had to wait out December 25 and 26 while the Union Government discussed the prospect of opening negotiations. One option was for the Government to refuse to enter into a dialogue with terrorists. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani appears to have pushed this line, mindful that a hostages-for-terrorists swap would be politically damaging. It was unclear, however, how public opinion would play if the Government washed its hands of the hostages. There seemed to be little internation al support, either, for an aggressive Indian position. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh argued hard that the Taliban, desperate for international recognition, would cooperate with India in the course of negotiations.

Meanwhile, intelligence officials were desperately trying to work out just who had hijacked the plane, and how. Three persons - Z. Mistry, R.G. Verma, and S.A. Syed - had booked economy-class tickets through Everest Travels and Tours, a Kathmandu travel agency, for the December 27 flight to New Delhi. Two others - A.A. Sheikh and A.S. Qazi - had separately bought first-class tickets for the same flight on the same day. Then, on December 13, all five altered their travel dates, booking seats on the Decem ber 24 flight. Gopal Tarmarkar, a Kathmandu businessman with dubious underworld links, had booked on to the same flight, but after some initial speculation, was found not to be part of the hijack team.

Tarmarkar may have been innocent, but other trans-border traffickers had a record of helping terrorists ship arms and explosives. At least four major Nepal-related incidents of terrorism had been detected since 1996. That year, Jammu Kashmir Islamic Fron t (JKIF) terrorist 'Chhota' Javed Khan told interrogators that the explosives used to bomb the Lajpat Nagar market in Delhi had been shipped in from Kathmandu. In December 1996, Nepal Police officials arrested Kashmir terrorist Manzoor Ahmed Damposh with 20 kg of RDX, followed early the next year by Javed Ahmed Pawle with 12 kg. Lakhbir Singh, an operative of the Jammu-based Khalistan Zindabad Force, was picked up from the Valley View Hotel in Kathmandu in November 1998 with another 19 kg of RDX.

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Access to Tribhuvan International Airport, officials came to believe, was arranged through Dawood Ibrahim's Kathmandu network. The Karachi-based underworld figure is suspected to have been put to work by Yusuf Suleiman Motlala, an important Harkat-ul-Ans ar financier. Security problems at the airport stem from the fact that Nepal's second most important economic activity after tourism is smuggling. Two years ago, Indian embassy officials in Kathmandu had pointed to the enormous levels of such trade. Nepa l imported over Rs.400 crores of mobile telephones, even though it did not then have a network. Imports of industrial ball bearings ranged between Rs.600 crores and Rs.700 crores a year, although there is little heavy industry in Nepal.

JASWANT SINGH had his way, and Indian negotiators landed in Kandahar on the morning of December 27. A series of unpleasant surprises awaited them. For one, the hostages released at Dubai had reported that the hijackers only had two .32-calibre revolvers and knives. In Kandahar, they exhibited an enormous 17 kg of RDX, a box of HE 36 grenades, Uzi machine pistols and at least one assault rifle. No one was certain where the weapons had come from, but they appeared shortly after the hijackers were allowed access to the Airbus' cargo hold. It was now clear the hijackers did have the resources to carry out their threat to blow up the plane.

More important, despite the External Affairs Minister's public pronouncements, the Taliban was not cooperating with Indian plans. Negotiators Vivek Katju, a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, Home Ministry official Ajit Doval and Cabine t Secretariat representative C.D. Sahay pushed for a rescue attempt. The Taliban flatly refused to allow Indian commandos on their soil, pointing to the absence of diplomatic relations and expressing unwillingness to risk bloodshed. When the team then su ggested that Afghan commandos carry out an operation, with India assuming responsibility for its outcome, Taliban officials said they had neither the inclination nor the technical capabilities to do so.

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Discussion of an armed rescue provoked a prompt reaction. Taliban officials moved in tanks and rocket launchers around the hijacked aircraft, an unsubtle move to protect the hijackers from any unilateral Indian military enterprise. Just as talks with the hijackers and Taliban officials reached breaking point, a third possibility opened up. On December 27, Taliban head Maulana Mohammad Umar told the Pakistani newspaper The News that the hijackers should either leave Afghanistan or surrender. In es sence, Umar was stating that the hijack was illegal. If the negotiators got the hijackers on the ground and segregated them from the hostages, Indian officials now believed, the Taliban would be obliged to arrest them.

Working from this premise, Indian negotiators finally began serious discussion on the substance of the hijackers' demands. The demands for ransom money and for the body of Sajjad Afghani were soon dropped, with a little prompting from the Taliban. Hard b argaining remained on the list of 36 prisoners that the hijackers, increasingly confident there would be no military pressure, had put forward. Several of the prisoners whose release they demanded were minor operatives, clearly included as a negotiating tactic. Eleven, however, belonged to the Harkat-ul-Ansar or its affiliates, and some such as Nasrullah Langriyal were valued members. In the end, Indian negotiators succeeded in persuading the hijackers to agree to the release of just three prisoners in return for the release of all the hostages.

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JUST before dusk on December 30, a twin-engine executive jet touched down at Jammu airport. There was only one passenger on board. Research and Analysis Wing chief A.S. Dulat had arrived to persuade Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to ord er the release of two prisoners held in his State for the return of the hostages on Indian Airlines Flight IC 814. Abdullah responded bitterly. "We will have to pay for this," he told the RAW chief, "and for years to come." Dulat kept up the pressure, us ing every trick in the book, but it was almost midnight before Abdullah finally caved in.

Srinagar's Jail Superintendent was woken up at 1 a.m. and asked to release Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar. He refused to do so until he had written authorisation, and had to be threatened with suspension. At 3 a.m., with fog blanketing Srinagar airport, three bull et-proof jeeps drove Zargar out of Srinagar Jail. The Banihal Tunnel was especially opened to allow the police vehicles through. A helicopter, flown by the State Government's crack pilot A.S. Kahlon, was waiting at Udhampur. Masood Azhar was already on t he tarmac when Zargar landed in Jammu. Both boarded the RAW jet, landing in Delhi in time to join Jaswant Singh's flight to Kandahar along with Ahmed Umar Sheikh, who had been released from Tihar that morning.

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When Azhar, Zargar and Sheikh arrived in Kandahar, Indian negotiators had in fact achieved many of their key goals. The hostages were off the plane, and had been safely segregated. The hijackers' weapons and explosives had been removed from the aircraft. But instead of arresting the hijackers and the three released terrorists, as law demands, Taliban officials chose to drive them across the border, towards Quetta. If the fact that 33 of the 36 prisoners whose release had been demanded by the hijackers w ere Pakistani left anything to the imagination, no doubt was left now on official complicity. Pakistan's military ruler, General Parvez Musharraf, who had earlier charged India with engineering the hijacking, now showed no interest in securing the terror ists' arrest.

Critics charge the Indian Government with having moved too fast to secure the release of the hostages, instead of waiting for the hijackers to blink first. Sadly, given the fact that they were secure in Kandahar and perceived no threat from the Taliban, the hijackers could have held out more or less forever. Protracted negotiations would have served little purpose. "What could we have done," asks one official. "Ordered airborne troops to take Kandahar airport? Washed our hands of the hostages' fate? The se were big decisions that the Government ought to have addressed; they were not part of the negotiators' brief. The Taliban chose to honour promises which common sense makes clear were never meant to be kept."

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IF the Taliban and Pakistan must share blame for events at Kandahar, the hijacking has exposed the National Democratic Alliance Government's utter inability to shape a coherent internal security doctrine. From the moment IC 814 was hijacked, the highest levels of government failed to respond to the emerging crisis. The opportunities at Amritsar airport were, unforgivably, frittered away. For reasons he bests understands, Jaswant Singh chose repeatedly to thank the Taliban for its cooperation, despite it s criminal decision not to arrest the hijackers. In a larger sense, repeated calls from within the intelligence community to create an offensive covert capability that would deter terrorism have been ignored.

A decade ago, when Prime Minister V.P. Singh agreed to trade hostages for the release of then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's daughter, the Bharatiya Janata Party was among his most bitter critics. During the first siege of the Hazratbal shri ne in Srinagar, Advani acidly attacked the P.V. Narasimha Rao regime for sending in food to the terrorists hiding inside. After observing for more than a year the NDA's management of Jammu and Kashmir affairs, it does not need the special, candid sight of children to see that the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

Defeat at Kandahar

other

THE terrorists-for-hostages deal that went through, under Taliban auspices, to end the eight-day ordeal of 155 passengers and crew members of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 might have brought relief and a dose of pseudo-euphoria to a nation in a state of anxiety and understandable confusion. Frontline shares India's, and the civilised world's, happiness over the safe return of the hostages and the widely felt grief over the hijackers' brutal killing of young Rupin Katyal. But the deal must be hone stly recognised as a humiliating and deeply damaging defeat for the Indian state, its 'pro-active' anti-terrorism stance, and its vital interests in Kashmir. "My government will not bend before such a show of terrorism," Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpay ee proclaimed to the world a day after the hijacking. A week later, he was trying to present capitulation to the Pakistani-sponsored, Taliban-aided show of naked terrorism as a substantial victory for his government - which, "guided by two concerns: the safety of the passengers and the crew, and the long-term, overall interests of our country," was able to "substantially scale down their demand." This was an attempt to stand the truth on its head: even the most resourceful apologists for the BJP-led gov ernment have not tried to explain how the long-term, overall interests of India could have possibly been served by this deal.

What is now abundantly clear is that the hijacking, carried out by five professionally trained desperadoes, almost all of them Pakistani nationals, was a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen operation in which the Pakistani state, or powerful politico-military elements within it, had a collusive hand. Such a feat of terrorism seemed designed to serve several objectives. The first, and largely symbolic, objective was to humiliate the Indian state, demonstrate its softness and helplessness in the face of low-intensity te rrorism in the 'guerilla' mode. The second was to raise the level of Indian and international concern over the Kashmir issue and also to raise the cost to India of holding on to its part of Jammu and Kashmir in the face of internal alienation and Pakista n-aided extremism and terrorism. The third objective was to wrest from India prize security catches such as Harkat-ul-Ansar general secretary Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani national and Taliban collaborator whose release would be a morale-booster for secessionist and terrorist forces in Kashmir and operationally, also, would be important.

The maximum demand of the hijackers, and their not-very-remote controllers, was the release of Maulana Azhar and 35 other noted terrorists (almost all of them Pakistani nationals), the return of the remains of a dead terrorist, Sajjad Afghani, and the pa yment of $200 million as ransom money. The 'scaling down' of India's losses in the terrorists-for-hostages deal is hardly a matter for celebration. The freeing of Maulana Azhar, the fundamentalist ring-leader, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, the serial-murderer an d Al-Umar military organiser, and Ahmed Omar Sheikh, a British national who graduated in the arts of extremist militancy from Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, is in any objective assessment a serious blow to the ongoing combined effort of India's securit y and secular-democratic political forces to counter foreign-aided secessionism and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Coming at a time when armed extremism in the troubled State is determinedly trying to move into higher gear, this development hardly squar es with the 'pro-active, hard state' stance against cross-border terrorism taken by Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and other top BJP leaders.

The Vajpayee government's response to the crisis was as technically inept as it was politically compromising. The Crisis Management Group (CMG) turned in a performance that ought to go into international anti-terrorism manuals as a turn-of-the-century le sson in how not to manage a hijacking crisis. The CMG reacted with pathetic slowness and confusion in the first couple of hours of the crisis. Once the opportunity to stall and stop the hijacked aircraft at Amritsar and send in commandos to rescue the ho stages was lost through a failure of nerve, everything else in the Pakistan-scripted plot followed - the refuelling halt at Lahore, the landing in Dubai, the end-game in the Taliban's den, Kandahar, in which it became clear that the Indian negotiators ha d run out of "we shall not bend before terrorism" options. The failure at the political level, where the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister seemed to be the key players, was shocking. The Opposition parties were not taken into confidence ab out the nature and contours of the deal taking shape at Kandahar. If there were any efforts to get the international community and the United Nations to bring pressure on the Taliban and Pakistan, they seemed to have drawn a blank. There is as yet no cre dible official explanation for why the United Arab Emirates could not be persuaded, with the help of international and United States pressure if necessary, to stall and detain the hijacked aircraft at the military base in Dubai and permit a rescue operat ion by commandos. Finally, too much reliance was placed on the Taliban regime to find a way out of the crisis and undeserved official certificates were provided to that pro-terrorist and fundamentalist regime, especially by External Affairs Minister Jasw ant Singh, for what it was willing to do to end the crisis.

Official India must expose the duplicitous role played by the Taliban regime in the end-game as objectively and truthfully as it goes about substantiating charges against Pakistan in this benighted affair. There are credible reports that it was in Kandah ar that the hijackers gained access to more deadly arms, however they managed to get them. The Taliban pretended to oppose hijacking, in principle, as both illegal and unIslamic. The plain fact, however, is that it refused, over several tortuous days, to allow India to field commandos to attempt a rescue operation; nor was it willing to undertake its own storming operation. While coming out against the hijackers' cruel deadlines, the Taliban hinted at deadlines of its own, threatening to compel the hija cked aircraft to leave Afghanistan if a solution was not quickly found. Thus it worked against India by exerting indirect pressure to give in to the hijackers' core demands, above all, the release of Maulana Azhar. By getting India's External Affairs Min ister to announce at a Kandahar press conference, in the presence of the Taliban Foreign Minister, that "His Excellency has assured me that the criminals will not receive any asylum in Afghanistan and they have ten hours within which to go wherever they have to go," the Taliban sought to win a stamp of bilateral approval for the sordidness and illegality of allowing the five hijackers, along with the three released terrorists, to go scot-free. In fact, instead of doing the right thing by apprehending th e hijackers and the released terrorists as soon as the hostages were set free and handing them over to India, the Taliban regime has clearly facilitated the re-entry of this fundamentalist terrorist gang into Pakistan to pursue their objectives further. What is passing strange is that External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, suffering perhaps from a variant of the 'Stockholm syndrome' (an attitude of trust or affection reportedly felt in many cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim towards a c aptor), has continued to maintain that "we received cooperation from the Taliban throughout the episode."

A comprehensive inquiry is needed into all aspects of this unedifying affair, including the Vajpayee government's handling of the crisis in its various stages, the real options available to it, and the roles played by Pakistan, the government of the UAE, and of course the extremism- and terrorism-exporting Taliban. If the government is unwilling to conduct such an inquiry, independent investigative efforts by the media, professional groups and Opposition political parties can go some way towards establi shing the truth and learning lessons from India's costly defeat at Kandahar.

Warning signals

The choice of Kandahar and Lahore as their destinations indicates that the hijackers were sure of protection from the Taliban and Pakistan.

THE eight-day-long trauma for the hijacked passengers of Indian Airlines' Flight IC 814 at the Taliban-controlled Kandahar airport ended with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh handing over three militants - Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zarg ar alias Latram, and Ahmed Umar Syed - to the hijackers in return for the release of the 150-odd passengers on board.

It was a sad day for India. The Vajpayee Government was forced to bend following the fiasco in Amritsar on December 24: the Indian authorities had failed either to detain the plane or engage the hijackers when the Airbus A-300 landed at the Amritsar airp ort after the authorities in Lahore initially refused permission for it to land.

The inability to take decisions and the lack of courage to take responsibility for action on the part of persons on the ground led to the meek surrender. As India mulls its actions, more details are emerging about the seven days of ordeal.

The hijackers had made their links clear by first force-landing the aircraft at Lahore - in the process missing the control tower narrowly - on the night of December 24, and then planning to take the plane to Kabul or Kandahar (which do not have night-la nding facilities).

And then, clearing all doubts about their intentions, after being forced to land at a military base near Dubai, the hijackers took the plane to Kandahar the following day.

For full 24 hours, until the United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan, Erik de Mul, reached Kandahar on December 26, it was the Taliban leaders who interacted with the hijackers. What transpired during that crucial period will, perhaps, never be known to the outside world.

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As pressure mounted on India to send a team of negotiators, New Delhi waffled on whether or not to despatch some officials in the flight that carried Erik de Mul. Finally it was decided not to send a diplomat from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. The Government decided to wait for an assessment from de Mul. This obviously was part of its "negotiating strategy".

Four Western countries, who had their nationals on board the hijacked plane, sent their Islamabad-based diplomats to Kandahar along with de Mul. As the hijackers started acting tough, these diplomats criticised the Indian Government.

Erik de Mul held five round of talks with the leader of the hijackers, who spoke Urdu with a Punjabi accent. The "leader", who was stationed in the cockpit, did all the talking. The other four hijackers spoke to none. It was all part of their strategy.

In his conversation with de Mul, the 'leader' referred to the Indian Government's record in Kashmir. He spoke of the alleged atrocities committed on 25,000 women by the Indian security forces there. He spoke as if he was delivering a sermon, and at the e nd of it told the U.N. official that it was useless to talk to him.

In response to de Mul's appeal to release the women, children and the sick, the hijackers freed Anil Khurana, a diabetic. Khurana, whose health was in a bad shape, vomited throughout the night he was released.

On December 27, A.R. Ghanashyam, Commercial Counsellor at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, was flown to Kandahar. He landed close to a deadline announced by the hijackers. Shortly before Ghanashyam arrived, the hijackers took two foreign passenge rs into the Club Class area and tied them up; they threatened that they would kill them if India did not immediately open negotiations. The diplomat managed to convince the hijackers that a team of negotiators was on its way from Delhi. The desperadoes t hen suspended the deadline, which was to expire at 1.40 p.m. Indian Standard Time.

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An Airbus A-320, with 52 persons on board, including a seven-member negotiating team headed by Ajit Doval, a senior intelligence officer, arrived that evening and opened discussions with the hijackers. Information available to Frontline suggests t hat some National Security Guard (NSG) commandoes were on board the Airbus A-320, ready to storm the hijacked aircraft if the Taliban gave permission.

In the meanwhile, New Delhi, through its High Commission in Islamabad, was working on a strategy to win over the Taliban. Essentially, India wanted the Taliban to agree to a storming operation, which the Taliban firmly refused. When it became clear that the Taliban would not play ball, the "honeymoon" between India and the Islamic militia ended. In fact, New Delhi established direct contact with Mullah Omar, the Taliban's Amir-ul-Momineen.

On the evening of December 27, the Indian negotiators appeared "very tense" as they began talks with the hijackers. They were also unsure of the kind of reception they would get from the Taliban, who are avowedly anti-India.

The hijackers refused to allow any food on board for 24 hours, a clear tactic to pressure the Indian negotiators. It was only on December 29, around noon, that they allowed food to be served to the passengers.

The negotiations dragged on through December 28, continuing in fits and starts. That evening Jaswant Singh announced that the hijackers were demanding a $200 million ransom and the release of Masood Azhar and 35 other militants.

Apparently, on occasion, the leader of the hijackers would speak for an extended period of 15 to 20 minutes, to which Ajit Doval would respond with an even longer reply. A typical exchange would be the leader launching into a long diatribe against what t he Government of India was doing in Kashmir, to which Doval would reply that the "excess" of hijacking could not be condoned as a gesture of redressing perceived excesses in Kashmir.

The conditions on board the aircraft deteriorated with the engines remaining shut for a full two hours. An Indian engineer, R.K. Sharma, was finally allowed into the cockpit to fix the auxiliary power unit. The engines, which had been running since take- off from Kathmandu, were restarted after he carried out the repairs. As Sharma worked on the engines, one hijacker held a gun to his head and the other to the lower part of his body.

Three employees of the Kandahar airport were allowed to board the plane on December 28 to clean the aircraft, which had begun to stink. The passengers asked them the obvious question: "Where are we now?" But the hijackers were ever alert. When they foun d the three cleaners assembled at one place in the aircraft, they pounced on them and searched their person for any weapons, before letting them off. (The aircraft was a shambles, by all accounts. Chicken bones were strewn all over the cockpit's panels; remnants of the food brought on board lay everywhere, and the place stank.)

On December 29, the Taliban got the hijackers to give up their demand for the $200 million ransom and the body of Sajjad Afghani, a Harkat-ul-Ansar leader who was killed in Kashmir.

Positive signs started emerging after this. Erik de Mul said that the prospects of a negotiated settlement had improved. "It looks as if the talks are moving in a positive direction," he said.

After making the hijackers to climb down, the Taliban began to put pressure on the Indian authorities. "If the Indian side does not peacefully solve the problem, our next step will be to ask the hijackers to leave Afghanistan immediately. If they don't, we will force them to leave," Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil told newspersons.

That night, the Taliban Shoora (ruling council) went into session and decided that no foreign power (read India) would be allowed to launch any commando operation to free the hostages. Clearly, the Taliban feared that India might launch some operation to end the hijack drama.

As a follow-up, the Taliban leadership sent a clear message to India, which expedited the negotiation process. Crack Taliban troops and a multi-barrel rocket launcher and two tanks were deployed on the tarmac around noon on December 30.

The barrel of the rocket launcher was pointed towards the Indian relief aircraft; the tanks too took up vantage positions overlooking the Airbus A-320. The Taliban, it appeared, were rattled enough to stage this show of strength, with the message clearly directed at the Government of India.

During all this, the negotiating team was haggling with the hijackers in a bid to get their demands whittled down. The Indian side, in what appeared to be a bargaining ploy, asked the hijackers to give more details about the militants whose release they sought. The deal itself was clinched on the night of December 30. Initially the Indian Government insisted that it would release only Masood Azhar in return for all the passengers. It is clear that the final deal was struck only after the Taliban began t o deploy its troops and weapons. Before the settlement was announced, the Taliban Foreign Minister stated that discussions were on about the future of the hijackers. Mutawakkil also said: "They (the Indians and the hijackers) are still negotiating on the number of prisoners to be released."

On December 31, the end-game began. Jaswant Singh travelled to Kandahar in a Boeing 737 to wrap up the deal, taking with him the three terrorists named by the hijackers. Soon after the Boeing 737 landed, around 4 p.m., Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Zargar and U mar Syed were taken down, bundled into a Taliban vehicle and taken close to the hijacked aircraft. One hijacker climbed down the engineer's ladder, took a good look at the released terrorists, and then signalled the other hijackers to come down.

With the hijackers leaving the aircraft, the transfer of passengers to the other two Indian planes began.

Significantly, Jaswant Singh, flanked by Mutawakkil, announced that the hijackers had been given 10 hours to leave Afghanistan. The Taliban put pressure on Jaswant Singh to make this announcement in order to ensure that India did not accuse the Taliban o f agreeing to give the hijackers safe passage.

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There is little doubt that the entire hijacking operation was a "professional job". The manner in which the hijackers conducted themselves indicated that they had planned every move.

The choice of destinations - Lahore and finally Kandahar - indicated that both Pakistan and Afghanistan were countries that would afford them protection.

For the record, the Taliban said that the hijackers and the released militants were no longer on its territory and were now in Pakistan. However, verification of this claim is almost impossible.

The destination of the five hijackers, who left Kandahar in a Taliban vehicle, has become a major issue in India-Pakistan relations following a report in the newspaper Jang on January 1 that they had left for Pakistan on the evening the hijack dra ma ended. Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen told Jang, the largest circulated Pakistani newspaper, that the hijackers had left for Quetta, along with the freed militants and a Taliban hostage. (The Taliban hostage was reported to have returned s afely.) However, 36 hours after the report was published, the Taliban denied it.

The Taliban statement perhaps came as an embarrassment to Pakistan, which is a co-host, along with the student militia, of a large number of militant groups. The clear inference is that Pakistan got into the act and asked the Taliban to deny the statemen t.

Given the fact that Pakistan is a known backer and supporter of militant groups, it will come as no surprise that the hijackers and the released terrorists are now in Pakistan. "Yes, there is a possibility that the hijackers may have entered Pakistan. Th e (Pervez Musharraf) Government may say what it wants to say," Lt. Gen Hamid Gul (retd), one-time chief of the Inter-Services Ingelligence (ISI), told Frontline.

According to informed sources, the hijackers belong to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, with which Masood Azhar has been associated in its previous incarnation as the Harkat-ul-Ansar. The Harkat, as is well known, operates from Pakistan and is headquartered at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

"Unless the hijackers reveal their individual identities, nothing will be known about them. They have been very clever in hiding their identities," Gen. Gul maintained. (The identities of the three released militants, of course, is well known).

If the Taliban's claim that the hijackers will not be given sanctuary in Afghanistan is correct, then the only country which will afford them shelter is Pakistan. The border town of Chaman in Pakistan is a couple of hours drive from Kandahar.

However, given the sensitivity of the operation, the hijackers, in all likelihood, will avoid known routes and instead hole themselves up in safehouses or camps of the organisations to which they belong.

The Pakistan-Afghan border is a known smuggling route, crossing which does not pose any difficulty. Even if Pakistan placed its border checkposts on alert, the hijackers and the militants would have crossed over a few hours after the hijack drama ended.

A report in the newspaper Dawn on January 3 quoted Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen as refuting the claim that the hijackers and the released militants had entered Pakistan via Quetta. "They (the hijackers) left Afghanistan within the stipulate d deadline. They are not in Afghanistan. We are not bound to reveal their whereabouts," he was quoted as saying.

Another report in Dawn, with a Muzaffarabad dateline, said that members of the Muzaffarabad-based Al-Omar Mujahideen, to which Mushtaq Zargar belongs, had reportedly gone to Afghanistan, to receive their one-time chief. An office-bearer of the gro up told the newspaper that Naeem-ul-Haq, acting chief of Al-Omar, and Latif-ul-Haq, chief commander, had gone to Afghanistan.

The report also quoted a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen leader in Muzaffarabad as saying: "God willing, they (the released militants) will come here."

Sajjad Shahid, office-incharge of the hardline organisation, claimed that the "freedom fighters" were still in Afghanistan.

PAKISTAN, meanwhile, claimed that the hijackers would be tried in a court of law if they came to the country. However, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar has been quoted as saying: "I can tell you with full responsibility that the hijackers have no t entered Pakistan." The hijackers, he added, would be tried in a Pakistani court if they entered the country.

The manner in which the Pakistani establishment responded to the hijacking by saying that the whole episode was "stage-managed" by India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was also a give-away. It indicated that Pakistan somehow wanted to protect the ide ntity of the hijackers. Pakistan needs to be asked what the need was to release the three terrorists and also provide safe passage to the hijackers, who killed Rupin Katyal in cold blood, apart from making the lives of 150-odd passengers miserable, if th e whole affair was stage-managed.

Given the fact that the Pakistan government and its intelligence agencies are deeply involved in supporting, fostering and funding all kinds of terrorist groups that operate in both Afghanistan and Kashmir, its bid to pin the blame on RAW is understandab le. However, in this case the facts have exposed Pakistani propaganda for what it is.

For India, there is a message in all this. The hijackers informed their interlocutors that this was the "first" action of its kind. More could follow. The warning from Kandahar is all too obvious.

The Government of India, its security agencies, and the State police forces need to pull up their socks. Given the kind of enemies the country is up against, there is no room for complacency.

Of theology and terrorism

cover-story

Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani national who received training in a seminary and preached terror, played a pivotal role in coalescing terrorist groups in Kashmir.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

IF it had not been for a faulty fuel gauge, Harkat-ul-Ansar general secretary Maulana Masood Azhar might never have been arrested.

On February 11, 1994, on his second day in Kashmir, Azhar was returning from a meeting with terrorists at Matigund village, near Anantnag. Sajjad Khan, the Harkat-ul-Ansar's supreme commander in the Kashmir Valley, better known by his code name Sajjad Af ghani, had just turned their car on to the National Highway to Srinagar when the engine spluttered to a halt. It turned out that the car had run out of petrol. Azhar, Khan and their bodyguard Farooq Ahmed had no choice but to take an autorickshaw back to the nearest petrol pump, at Khanabal.

Five minutes down the road, the three ran into a Border Security Force patrol. Ahmed had nowhere to hide his gun, and opened fire. He escaped, but both Azhar and Khan had no time to run. When the BSF personnel searched Azhar's briefcase, they found $1,20 0, a fake Portuguese passport and identity card and an Indian Airlines ticket to New Delhi, booked for February 13. Interrogators soon learned who Azhar was, and the fact that he had come to Kashmir to negotiate the merger of two far-right organisations, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI), into the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA).

It looked as if Azhar's luck had run out. Of course, it had not.

MASOOD AZHAR was born to Allah Baksh Sabir Alvi and Pukia Bibi on July 10, 1968, the fourth of five brothers and six sisters. Alvi had retired as the headmaster of a school in Bhawalpur, Punjab (in Pakistan), and runs a poultry farm along with his eldest son, Mohammad Tahir. Azhar studied at the Government School in Bhawalpur until the seventh grade, but when it was time for him to go on to secondary school at nearby Rahimyar Khan, the decisive shift in his life came about. Alvi's brother Mufti Syed sug gested that the boy be sent instead to a seminary in Karachi. Azhar passed out of the Jamia Islamia seminary in April 1989 and started teaching there immediately afterwards.

Deobandi ultra-conservatism suffused the Jamia Islamia seminary. Students from West Asia, Sudan, Bangladesh, South Africa and Zambia were on its rolls, and the HuM's jihad in Afghanistan was seen as the practice of all that they had been taught. In June 1992, Azhar met the HuM's chief, Maulana Fazalur Rahman Khalil, for the first time. Khalil invited him to join the HuM training programme at Yavar, in Afghanistan. Azhar did learn to use a Kalashnikov and Russian-made Zokai machine guns, but the portly s eminary student just could not make it past the first week of the arduous 40-day commando course. He was put to work, instead, running a monthly magazine for the HuM.

Sadai Mujahid was priced at Rs. 5 and had a print run of around 1,000 copies, most of which were, in fact, distributed free at mosques in Karachi. The magazine became an important instrument of HuM recruitment, targeting the frustrated youth of di sintegrating Karachi. Khalil was by then impressed enough with Azhar to send him on fund-raising trips to Saudi Arabia and Zambia. In Lusaka, helped by local fruit merchant Ibrahim Lambert, the Sadai Mujahid chief editor managed to raise the equiv alent of over Rs.20 lakhs. In October 1992, Azhar visited the United Kingdom, addressing HuM gatherings at mosques in Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and Sheffield.

The year 1993 saw Azhar rise to the top of the HuM hierarchy. With the end of the United States-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan, much of the HuM's cadre had become redundant. Several West Asian governments, notably those of the United Arab Emirates and Sa udi Arabia, were less than enthusiastic about the return of volunteers from Afghanistan. At one point, the Pakistan Government itself jailed some 500 Afghan volunteers. Most of the HuM recruits left for Somalia, fighting with the Ittehad-e-Islami. Soon, the HuM found itself at war with the United States-backed United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Somalia, which included a contingent of Pakistan soldiers.

The HuM desperately lobbied against the use of Pakistan troops in the U.N. force in Somalia. After a field visit to Kenya, where several HuM cadre had fled, Azhar organised a media campaign against the Pakistan troops' involvement. The chief editor of Zindagi weekly, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman Shami; Urdu Digest editor Altaf Husain Qureishi; and prominent Urdu journalist Mustafa Sadiq were among those whom Azhar recruited to write on the Somalia situation. All three, along with Azhar and Khalil, vis ited HuM cadres in Kenya. Although Pakistan never did withdraw its troops, the campaign helped the HuM gain mass legitimacy in Pakistan.

BACK in Pakistan, Azhar was given a central role in organising the HuM's Kashmir campaign. Early in 1993, using a genuine Pakistan passport, he travelled with Sajjad Khan to Bangladesh. Khan, whom Azhar had first met at the Yavar training camp, had becom e among the HuM's most respected military leaders and was assigned charge of the organisation's Kashmir operations. Since the border routes into India were closed due to winter snow, Azhar's job was to get Khan across the Bangladesh border. Khan and Azha r arrived in Dhaka on an Emirates flight, where they were received by Maulana Karimullah, a graduate of the Jamia Islamia seminary.

Azhar took two days off to relax at a hotel in Dhaka after Khan was pushed across the Bangladesh border. He needed a break. Back in Pakistan, a furious dialogue was under way on the future of the HuM. The origins of the organisation lay in two Deobandi r eligious bodies, the Jamait-ul-Ulema-e-Islami and the Tabligh-i-Jamaat, which had set up the HuJI in 1980, at the outset of the Afghan war. Khalil later broke away from the HuJI to form the HuM. Kari Saifullah Akhtar stayed on to lead the HuJI, but it so on split again, with Maulana Masood Kashmiri starting a third splinter group, the Jamait-ul-Mujaheddin (JuM). Azhar was at the centre of protracted negotiations to get the three back together.

Maulana Khalimullah Khan, the chancellor of the Jamia Farooqui seminary, and Mufti Rafi Usman, chancellor of the Dar-ul-Ifta-Wal Irshad, were the two top seminary leaders heading negotiations among the HuM, the HuJI and the JuM. The religious heads succe eded in persuading the three armed organisations to put their personal disputes aside, along with their recriminations over misappropriation of funds. In November 1993, the HuJI, the HuM and the JuM merged into the Harkat-ul-Ansar(HuA). Maulana Sadatulla h Khan was the notional head of the HuA, but real military power lay with its first Naib Amir, Khalil. At just 25, Azhar became the HuA's general secretary, empowered with overall organisational charge.

The Portuguese passport that Azhar used to reach India was brokered through a United Kingdom-based contact; it arrived stamped with Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi visas in January 1994. The HuA general secretary was now Wali Adam Issa, a Portuguese na tional. Azhar left Karachi on January 26, 1994, having ensured that his Pakistan visa had been stamped to show that he had arrived there from Europe. He waited two days in Dhaka before boarding a Biman flight to New Delhi. Early on the morning of January 29, Azhar was in New Delhi. When a curious immigration official at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi told Azhar he did not look Portuguese, the HuA leader replied that he was born in Gujarat.

Ashraf Dar, a Srinagar-based carpet exporter, was Azhar's contact in Delhi. Dar received a call from Azhar on the night of January 29, from the HuA leader's room in Ashoka Hotel in Delhi's diplomatic enclave, Chanakyapuri. The next morning, Azhar, escort ed by Dar and the Doda district commander of the HuM, Mohammad Musa, travelled to Deoband. They spent the day visiting the shrines of the Deoband intellectuals and the graveyard of Maulana Massiullah Khan at Jalalabad. After spending the night at a mosqu e, the three returned to New Delhi. Azhar checked in at Hotel Janpath in New Delhi's central shopping district, Connaught Place.

In the remaining time that Azhar spent in New Delhi, he visited injured HuM terrorists, who had been brought to the city for treatment, at Hotel Usman near the Jama Masjid. Azhar then travelled to Lucknow by a night bus on February 6, hoping to meet the highly-regarded Muslim theologian Ali Mian. Ali Mian was unavailable, and an impromptu visit to religious writer Manzoor Nomani's residence also drew a blank. February 8 was spent shopping for gifts. Among other things, Azhar purchased 12 compasses for t hose he was scheduled to meet in Srinagar.

Azhar arrived at the Madrassa Qasmian in Srinagar on February 9, flying Indian Airlines. Khan, along with HuM deputy commander Amjad Bilal, arrived in the evening. He briefed them on the formation of the HuA and asked for a meeting to be arranged with th e leadership of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Before that, however, the most important work had to be done. On February 10, a meeting of 19 leaders of the HuM, the HuJI, and the JuM was called at Matigund village, in the Anantnag forests. Azh ar's ideological and operational address to the group began late that evening, and continued until 9 a.m. the next day. It was while returning from that meeting that Azhar was arrested.

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INTERROGATORS in the BSF knew they had arrested someone important, but it took them time to comprehend just how important he was. Azhar's arrest was followed in quick succession by the kidnapping of British tourists Tim Housego and David Mackey. HuA terr orists demanded Azhar's release, along with that of Afghan war veteran Nasarullah Langriyal. In the event, intense diplomatic pressure on Pakistan ensured that both Housego and Mackey were released unharmed, 17 days after they were taken hostage. India, for its part, flatly told the United Kingdom that it would under no circumstances consider a hostages-for-terrorists swap.

More kidnappings soon followed. In October 1994, British national Ahmed Umar Syed Sheikh, who has now been released as part of the hostages-for-terrorists exchange in Kandahar, organised the abduction of four British nationals from a guest house in New D elhi's downmarket Paharganj area. The victims were driven to a safehouse near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, where intelligence officials located them on October 31. A shoot-out followed, in which Uttar Pradesh Police commando Abhay Singh Yadav was killed. Sheikh and his accomplice, Pakistani national Abdul Rahim, were arrested. All four hostages emerged from the rescue operation unharmed.

Finally, in July 5, 1995, a shadowy outfit called Al Faran took five Western tourists hostage from Pahalgam. One of the hostages, Norwegian national Hans Christen Ostro, was beheaded early on by the kidnappers, in a move to pressure Western governments t o force India to bring about Azhar's release. Keith Mangan and Paul Wells of Britain, Donald Hutchings of the U.S., Dirk Hassert of Germany are widely believed to have been shot dead on Christmas Day in 1995, shortly after HuA chief Hamid Turki was kille d in an encounter with the Indian Army near Doda. Frustrated by their failure to secure the prisoners' release, and angered by Turki's death, the kidnappers are believed to have given orders for the hostages' execution.

Interestingly, despite persistant denials by both the HuA and Pakistan of complicity in the Pahalgam kidnappings, The Sunday Times of the U.K. reported in March 1998 that the U.S. was long aware of the facts. According to the newspaper, a series o f meetings with the HuA's Khalil were held at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad. This dialogue broke down because the HuA leadership was angered by the Americans' inability to push India into a deal. "The Harkat commanders became so angry that they were dete rmined to deny Americans any success, and sent a message through to Kashmir that the remaining hostages should be disposed of," The Sunday Times recorded.

To the credit of the Government of P.V. Narasimha Rao, it persistently refused to negotiate on Azhar's future.

In September 1999, Khan and Langriyal led a group of terrorists in Kot Bhalwal into a plot to dig a tunnel under Azhar's overall supervision. Again, the tunnelling was detected. When police officials went into the barracks, 11 jailed terrorists threw st ones, leading to a lathi-charge. Khan was killed, and over a dozen policemen were injured. Terrorist groups, however, charged that the HuM commander in fact died during interrogation. Whatever the truth, prison officials had reason to crack down hard. In October 1998, three Pakistani nationals had succeeded in breaking out of Kot Bhalwal, sparking off serious concerns over prison security.

SAJJAD AFGHANI'S body now lies in a graveyard just a couple of hundred meters from Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah's official residence in Jammu. It is unlikely that his remains will ever be moved, as the Kandahar hijackers had demanded. He was not, in an y case the first terrorist to die for Masood Azhar's cause. Several members of the HuA group which carried out the Pahalgam kidnapping were subsequently shot dead. Nazir Chhan, a member of the HuA group involved in the tourists' murders, has been in jail for three years. Sheikh spent six years in jail before his release; there is no sign of his associate Rahim's release.

Rupin Katyal became the fifth civilian to die at the hands of those who wanted Azhar free. One police officer also gave up his life. How many more deaths Masood Azhar will now preside over remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the last of his vio lent story is yet to be heard.

Crime as business

cover-story
PRAVEEN SWAMI

MUSHTAQ AHMED ZARGAR could not be more different from the two Harkat-ul-Ansar militants with whom he has been released under the hostages-for-terrorists deal at Kandahar. Unlike Masood Azhar, Zargar had no theological leanings and, by most accounts, litt le interest in religion. And if Azhar never fired a gun after a brief training stint in Afghanistan, Zargar revelled in violence. He is charged with responsibility for over three dozen murders in downtown Srinagar and had a reputation for brutality, even outright sadism.

Zargar became known in Srinagar by the nickname "Latram", which emerged from his frequent use of the phrase "latram, shatram" (talking nonsense). The son of a lower middle-class family which lives near the Gani Mohalla in Srinagar's Jamia Masjid area, he never made it past primary school. Zargar set up a partnership to polish copper and brass utensils, but his introduction to crime came early. In 1984, aged just 17, he had his first brush with the police when he was picked up for anti-social activity.

In 1988, Zargar was introduced to the world of terror by Zahoor Sheikh, an Anantnag resident and activist of the secessionist People's League. That August, he crossed into Pakistan through Trehgam and received training at a camp organised by the Jammu Ka shmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Zargar went to Pakistan for a second training stint the next May and returned through Uri. He then made a name for himself, carrying out several attacks on security force personnel and executing a series of murders of Kashm ir's Pandit community.

But Zargar's ego did not let him stay on in the JKLF for any length of time. In December 1989, he set up the Al-Umar Mujahideen, with a membership made up largely of recruits from downtown Srinagar. The organisation soon had an office in Muzaffarabad and with the patronage of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan it flourished. Without its own apparatus firmly in place in Jammu and Kashmir, the ISI saw in Al-Umar an instrument through which the ascendancy of the JKLF, which favoured independ ence for Kashmir, could be challenged. Zargar proved only too willing to do the job.

Most observers believe that the Al-Umar chief's motives were transparent. Zargar began using his influence to intervene in local business and property disputes. At least seven kidnappings for ransom are attributed to him. Even Srinagar businessmen who we re sympathetic to anti-India organisations complained bitterly of extortion. In one infamous instance, he ordered a ban on the use of Maruti vehicles in Srinagar. The ban immediately benefited a Srinagar businessman who held the dealership for a rival mo tor company, and whose daughter referred to Zargar as bhaijaan (brother).

Money and power had come Zargar's way, but few had any real respect for Al-Umar's brutal leader. What he did have was the tacit endorsement of Srinagar cleric Maulvi Umar Farooq, after whom the organisation was named. Maulvi Farooq saw in Al-Umar a line of defence against far-right groups such as the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which had little respect for his religious authority. Indeed, one plausible explanation for the hijackers' keenness to secure the release of Zargar is that the ISI now hopes to use him t o pressure Umar Farooq, who has in recent months been advocating dialogue with India.

Zargar was arrested in May 1992. The fact that he is the only resident of Kashmir (under Indian control) on the list of 36 prisoners whose release the hijackers had sought offers some indication of the precise use that terrorists across the border hope t o put him to. Zargar's undisputed organisational skills and his residual apparatus in Srinagar city will be put to work to escalate violence in Jammu and Kashmir's capital. Such an escalation of violence would also serve to silence Maulvi Umar Farooq, wh ose father died for not toeing the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen line. Just how many people will have to pay with their lives for Zargar's freedom should become clear in the not-too-distant future.

Crisis and mismanagement

cover-story

The government's handling of the hostage crisis and the terms on which it was resolved have led to sharp differences within the National Democratic Alliance government, which could have far-reaching consequences.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi

THROUGHOUT the eight-day-long hijack drama, the crisis management efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government were characterised by a shocking disunity of purpose and absence of cohesion. Incongruence of opinions on matters of policy and operati onal details were accentuated by sharp differences that had their origins in a crude attempt at power play by sections within the political establishment. The disharmony in the top rungs of the government only served, along with other operational factors , to prolong the ordeal of the hostages at the hands of the hijackers. In the final analysis, it served as a crucial factor that led the government to strike a potentially damaging deal with the hijackers.

In a grim moment of national crisis, the government's responses to rapidly unfolding developments were shown up to be far from sharp. The few efforts at crisis management that were initiated also proved to be ineffectual and failed to inspire trust. Furt her, during the first few days of the hijacking, the government responded with callous insensitivity to the fears and concerns of relatives of the hostages.

There were serious disagreements within the Union Council of Ministers and among leaders of the ruling coalition on the terms on which the release of the hostage should be secured. So serious were the differences that a few Ministers were kept out of sub sequent confabulations on the hostage crisis; a few others, who perhaps felt that their opinions were not being given due consideration, opted to stay away. The failure to take Opposition leaders - and even members of the Union Cabinet - into confidence on the contours of its negotiating strategy drew sharp criticism. Observers believe that the bitterness engendered within the government, and particularly within the principal constituent of the ruling coalition, is bound to have unpleasant long-term con sequences.

CLEAR signals of the disunity in the government came to light at a meeting of the Union Cabinet on December 31, which was held even as steps were under way to implement a deal with the hijackers and secure the release of the hostages. According to highly placed sources in the government, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes were outspoken in their criticism of the manner in which the hostages-for-terrorists deal had been finalised and the terms of the arrangement. Such a deal, Advani is reported to have said, would "only reinforce India's image as a soft state"; that, he added, was not what "people expected" from the National Democratic Alliance government.

Following up on this, Advani is believed to have sent a two-page handwritten note to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee recording his reservations over the government's handling of the hostage crisis and the specific terms on which the deal was finalised. Acco rding to informed sources, the note also criticised the failure to detain the hijacked plane at the Amritsar airport, where it landed on December 24.

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Neither the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) nor the Home Minister's Office would confirm or deny the contents of the purported note (or even whether Advani wrote such a note). However, sources in the BJP confirmed that the note was indeed written; in their opinion, the document would set off ripples in the political establishment in the near future.

Defence Minister George Fernandes, who was forced to keep a low profile throughout the crisis, has also come out against the government's failure to drive a "hard bargain" during the negotiations with the hijackers. He is reported to have stated at the C abinet meeting on December 31 that the Crisis Management Group (CMG) constituted under Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar and coordinated by Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, had from the beginning failed to take into consideration all the strategic factors while dealing with hijackers. He is reported to have said that the Prime Minister's initial position - against negotiations with the hijackers and the Taliban - had failed to reckon with the possibility that India might be requi red to negotiate with them at a later date. Fernandes argued that the Prime Minister's stand had in effect weakened the government's bargaining power and ultimately compelled it to accept a deal that was unsatisfactory in many ways.

According to a few leaders of parties other than the BJP within the NDA, at the Cabinet meeting Advani and Fernandes articulated their criticism of government policy with a vehemence that would normally be associated with Opposition leaders rather than w ith key members of a ruling coalition.

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By all indications, not all this criticism was motivated by differences on policy considerations; evidently, personality factors too were at play. Both Advani and Fernandes are believed to have been miffed at the manner in which a group consisting of Ext ernal Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra took charge of the crisis management efforts, pointedly excluding all others. It was this group, backed by the PMO, that was calling the shots right from Day One. Even officials of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing, who come under the Home Ministry, were made to report to this group. The Prime Minister had underlined the primacy of this group even at the first meeting he held on December 24.

At the December 24 meeting, which was attended by Advani, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan, Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav and Fernandes, Brajesh Mishra and Prabhat Kumar presented a briefing. Significantly, Ministers other than Jaswan t Singh and Sharad Yadav were not assigned specific tasks at this meeting. Sharad Yadav was given the limited role of going to Dubai on December 25 to accompany the first batch of hostages who had been released by the hijackers. Jaswant Singh was involve d in the minute-to-minute operations on the crisis management front. The precise reasons for excluding Advani and Fernandes from the crisis management efforts are not known, but sources in the bureaucracy said that it was linked to the "incompatibility b etween these senior ministers and the Prime Minister's favourite group".

Neither Advani nor Fernandes directly questioned the wisdom of handing over an operation that was overwhelmingly related to the Home and Defence Ministries to a group of bureaucrats and the External Affairs Minister, but their displeasure was evident. Fe rnandes went to the northeastern region in the line of duty, and Advani proceeded to Chennai for the BJP National Executive meeting. Consequently, Advani, who is considered to be the Number Two in the government, did not participate in three Cabinet meet ings during the crisis period.

Significantly, leaders and activists close to Advani and Fernandes gave voice to their criticism of the actions of the CMG. The succession of bungles by the CMG ensured that these critics had adequate ammunition. The failure to capitalise on a situation in which the hijacked aircraft had landed on Indian soil, at Amritsar, came in for particular criticism. It was clear that the CMG had devised no coherent action plan to deal with the hijacking even though by then two and half hours had elapsed since the time the hijackers had commandeered the aircraft.

Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra directly handled all sensitive matters connected with the government's efforts to end the hostage crisis. As part of these efforts the CMG undertook initiatives to use sections of the Deoband-based Muslim clergy to influe nce the Taliban government of Afghanistan. According to Home Ministry officials who were involved in these operations, many among the CMG were clueless about Deobandis or other sections of the Muslim clergy, and the exercise took quite a while.

EVEN as this group was grappling with the fine details of opening a channel of communication with the Taliban and the hijackers, the Prime Minister's public statements showed up an incoherence in the government's approach. The government, he said, would not buckle under acts of terrorism; the hijacking, he added, had "brought home with its full impact the horror of terrorism". He then exhorted the people to "face the terrorist challenge with determination and self-confidence."

However, during his interactions with the relatives of the hostages, the Prime Minister himself betrayed a lack of determination and self-confidence. Evidently exasperated by the barrage of questions on just what the Government was doing to secure the re lease of the hostages, Vajpayee reportedly concluded the meeting with a statement to the effect that if the government's actions failed, "gala kaat ke phaansi chada do" (you can slit my throat and hang me). Needless to say, this acerbic remark did nothing to lift the morale of the hostages' relatives or infuse any degree of determination or self-confidence in them.

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Another aspect of the CMG's operations was the extremely secretive manner in which they were carried out. Not only Opposition leaders but even Ministers were kept in the dark about many vital questions connected with the negotiations. So much so that at one of the Cabinet meetings, Trinamul Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee castigated Jaswant Singh for withholding information from Cabinet members.

THE experience of Opposition leaders was even more curious. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet told Frontline that the government seemed to be playing a game of hide and seek during the operation. "Even th ough the Prime Minister spoke to me on the telephone after the deal was finalised with the hijackers," Surjeet said, "he did not give any details. All that he told me was that the Foreign Minister was going to Kandahar to bring international pressure on the Taliban government and the hijackers. However, later I learnt about the real purpose of the visit." He was at a loss to understand the government's action in hiding such crucial facts, he said.

Other Opposition leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and A.B. Bardhan of the Communist Party of India (CPI) too criticised the government on this count. Mulayam Singh Yadav told Frontline that the fact that the govern ment took three days to convene the first all-party meeting was adequate evidence of its insincerity about securing the cooperation of the Opposition. "The government had a duty to keep the Opposition informed of various measures it was taking on a natio nal crisis like this. They did not do it. And now the prestige of the country has been lowered," Mulayam Singh said.

Surjeet said that at the all-party meeting on December 27, the first convened by the government, he had emphasised the importance of ensuring the safe return of all the hostages without compromising on national interests. Surjeet said that the deal as fi nalised represented a compromising of national interests. He demanded an independent inquiry to uncover all the facts and fix responsibility for this "blunder". Bardhan said that the Government had painted itself into a corner and eventually had no alter native but to give in to the terrorists.

Congress(I) spokespersons too have raised questions about the hostages-for-terrorists deal finalised by the government. In all likelihood, the Opposition parties, including the Congress(I), will close ranks to question the government on its actions durin g the hijack crisis.

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A combined onslaught by the Opposition would doubtless be an embarrassment for the government, but from all accounts, it is not the only quarter from which the government will face criticism. A forceful attack against the Prime Minister and the group of politicians and bureaucrats who handled the crisis management effort is welling up within the NDA and, more significantly, within the BJP. A section of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation, is believed to be supportive of this o ffensive, which could take the form of a virulent campaign against Pakistan and Islamic fundamentalist organisations and gradually acquire a Hindu communal character. The message of such a campaign would be that the Prime Minister is too weak to handle t he situation and that the country needs a "strong nationalist"' with "character". Clearly, this campaign is bound to create a new situation within the BJP and the NDA, the outcome of which is hard to fathom at the moment.

Failure of diplomacy

cover-story

Lapses on the diplomatic front force India to make concessions to the terrorists and repose misplaced trust in the Taliban.

JOHN CHERIAN

THE longest hijacking episode in South Asian aviation history has ended and the post-mortem of the Indian Government's handling of the eight-day-old drama has begun. The general opinion seems to be that the Government blundered its way through the crisis and suffered a significant defeat in its fight against terrorism. It failed on the diplomatic front too. Very few governments in the world are buying the theory that India is the target of an international terrorist conspiracy.

The cardinal mistake of letting the hijacked plane leave Amritsar airport (incidentally, it is also a military airport) left the Indian Government with few options. From the outset, there were serious lapses in its response. The Crisis Management Group ( CMG), set up in 1996 to deal with such emergencies, failed dismally. As the crisis continued, fissures in the government and the bureaucracy showed up. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Foreign Service (IFS) lobbies were soon at loggerhe ads. The armed forces made known their opposition to granting any concessions to the hijackers.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and several of his senior Cabinet colleagues initially adopted a tough stance and issued statements rejecting the hijackers' initial demand, which incidentally was the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar and Ahmed Umar Syed Sheikh, who were eventually swapped for the hostages. A senior diplomat based in New Delhi said that he was surprised at External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh's statements, made at a press conference on the second day of the crisis, al leging Islamabad's complicity in the hijack. "In grave situations such as these, there is no need to make more enemies," the diplomat said. It is well-known that Islamabad wields considerable influence over the Taliban, which rules Afghanistan.

Such statements also have the potential to endanger the lives of innocent passengers. A senior Indian official, with experience in dealing with similar crises, said that it would have been wiser to use spokespersons with a low profile. "There was absolut ely no need for the External Affairs Minister to meet the media and relay the demands of the hijackers." Besides, any statement made by a Foreign Minister to the media would be interpreted as official policy.

Another senior official said that it was strange that the Prime Minister was not immediately told about the hijack. He said that the nearest Air Traffic Control (ATC) would have automatically monitored the distress call made by the pilot and relayed it t o the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) control room. The pilot of the Prime Minister's plane, which was over Lucknow at that time and a few hundred nautical miles away from the hijacked plane, would have no doubt heard the SOS. Reaching the Prime Minister woul d not have been a problem. Only somebody had to make the effort. "It was rather strange that he was not immediately informed. Even cricket scores are relayed on planes," the official said.

He is of the view that the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) has to shoulder most of the blame for the fiasco. The JIC is nominally headed by the chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) but, according to senior officials, it has been virtually tak en over by the IFS. The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, in his capacity as National Security Adviser, is a special invitee to the meetings, and he should have known immediately about the crisis and duly informed the Prime Minis ter.

ONCE the plane landed in Kandahar, New Delhi's options narrowed further. The choice of Kandahar was ominous. The seat of the Afghan head of state, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is in Kandahar, which is the power base of the Taliban. Mullah Omar and all but one m ember of the Supreme Shura are Kandahari Pashtuns. The Taliban's core leaders are not simply mullahs but preachers belonging to a common political network, the "deobandi madrasas" in the Pashtun tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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With the civilian plane forced to land in Kandahar, the Indian Government was assured that the Taliban will not allow any harm to come to the hostages, but along with it was the realisation that if the plane was allowed to leave Kandahar the consequences could be grim. The unstated fear was that the hijackers may divert the plane to Indian airspace and do something foolhardy.

It was soon evident that the Taliban and the hijackers held most of the cards. A veteran diplomat said that the hijacking was politically beneficial to more than one party. He is, however, of the opinion that the Pakistan Government was not directly invo lved in the incident as such involvement would have invited the displeasure of the United States. General Pervez Musharraf has been busy trying to convince the U.S. that the whole purpose of the military coup in Pakistan was to forestall a fundamentalist takeover.

The Taliban government has been facing severe problems owing to the United Nations-sanctioned international embargo, which has been in force since October 1999. The hijacking refocussed international attention on the country. The U.S. and India were amon g the strongest proponents of the move to impose sanctions. Both countries have in fact demanded more stringent economic and diplomatic blockade against the Taliban. The Foreign Office spokesman said at that time that both India and the U.S had an overla pping interest in Afghanistan. India was openly critical of the Taliban's "increasing political excesses and religious extremism" and its brutalisation of women and religious minorities. The Foreign Office spokesman described the Taliban's policies as "m edieval malevolence". The Kargil conflict was described as an "Afghan spillover syndrome".

New Delhi also echoed Washington's concerns about terrorism being sponsored by the Taliban and about the activities of the Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden once worked in collaboration with Saudi and U.S. intelligence agencies during the "jihad" against the secular government in Kabul. He turned against his erstwhile sponsors during the Gulf war and went to Sudan. His return to Afghanistan, according to U.S. intelligence, was facilitated by Pakistani intelligence agencies, in return for his agr eement to help train Kashmiri militants. His base in Jalalabad was attacked with cruise missiles in 1998, following the terrorist bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salam. Osama is now reportedly in Kandahar, under the protection of the Taliban leadership.

IN the last week of December, New Delhi's attitude towards the Taliban mellowed considerably. Jaswant Singh started lauding the role played by the Taliban in the negotiations leading to the resolution of the crisis. Actually, the Indian government was ru nning out of options. More important, it had evidently got the green signal from Washington to start talking to the Taliban and the hijackers. Indian officials claim that the level of cooperation and interaction between New Delhi and Washington was high throughout the duration of crisis, but the fact remains that it took the Clinton administration four days to issue a statement condemning the hijacking, despite an American and a Canadian being on board.

There was also no offer of logistical support from Washington, although the two countries have pledged to fight the scourge of terrorism jointly. India had recently given permission to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to open an office in New De lhi. Jaswant Singh, it is reliably learnt, remained in constant touch with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Surprisingly, even the U.N. chose to adopt a low profile during the whole episode. There was no statement from Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemning the terrorist act.

The Canadian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, was of the view that once the plane landed in Kandahar, India had no option but to agree to the demands of the hijackers. A diplomat with considerable experience in the region says that the Clinton administration saw an opportunity in the crisis to engage the Taliban leadership once again. The diplomat said that it should not be forgotten that the Taliban was the creation of the U.S. and Pakistan. The U.S., according to him, needs the Taliban to support its stra tegy for Central Asia and give it additional leverage against India. Osama bin Laden, he feels, is only a temporary aberration, and what the Taliban yearns for at this juncture is international legitimacy.

Most Arab states are angry with the hijacking and its consequences. Arab countries themselves have been targets of terrorist acts by "Afghan Arabs" (Arabs such as Bin Laden, who fought against Russian forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.)

The lukewarm international response to the crisis despite the presence of nationals of 11 countries on board is another reason why India was forced to make concessions to the terrorists and repose trust in the Taliban.

WITH the hijack drama over, the Taliban has acquired some legitimacy at least as far as New Delhi is concerned. It is no longer a bad word in official circles. Jaswant Singh, after returning to New Delhi with the freed hostages, once again praised the Ta liban for handling the crisis well, despite considerable evidence to show that the Taliban was actually helping the hijackers in achieving their goal. Alternately playing the role of "good cop, bad cop", the Taliban virtually choreographed the whole dram a at Kandahar. In spite of all this, it has received a pat on the back from Jaswant Singh. Further, to everybody's consternation, the three freed militants travelled on board the same plane carrying the Foreign Minister.

Jaswant Singh's visit to Kandahar has raised uncomfortable questions, especially as the Taliban in Kandahar was virtually playing the role of judge and jury. The Minister justified his visit by emphasising that his presence was necessary to sort out last -minute complications. He denied that his presence was requested by the Taliban authorities and that "any deal or concessions to the Taliban" were involved. He said that the "fundamentals of our Afghan policy remain unchanged".

On the other hand, he directed his criticism at Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, at Nepal. He said that all the hijackers were Pakistani nationals and that the majority of the militants whose release was demanded were Pakistanis. Jaswant Singh also said that Taliban Information Minister Abdul Hai told him that the three "terrorists" released by India, along with the five hijackers, had headed for Quetta in Pakistan. He said that the hijacking had "many strands" and that the hijackers on board IC-814 we re in constant touch with their handlers in a neighbouring country. He said that the Government was forced to give in to the hijackers' demands as it received credible information that the plane was wired to be blown up. Jaswant Singh denied reports that additional weapons and explosives were supplied to the hijackers at Kandahar. He said that the hijackers had demanded and obtained access to the plane. The Minister was suggesting that the additional weaponry was obtained from the checked-in luggage. Bu t he also said that only one of the five hijackers had checked in his baggage.

An eight-day ordeal

cover-story

V. VENKATESAN in New Delhi T.S. SUBRAMANIAN in Chennai

THE experiences of the relatives of the hostages of Indian Airlines flight IC 814 were as harrowing as those of the hostages themselves. On December 24, they turned up at Terminal 2 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport to receive their relatives. But what they received was the news of the hijack. Shocked and anguished, they spent the night at the airport hoping to get answers for their queries from the authorities. Periodic announcements about the location of the aircraft only served to heighten the suspense. The news that the aircraft had run out of fuel and that the hijackers were armed with bombs and pistols unnerved them.

As no information on the passengers' safety or the progress in the negotiations with the hijackers was forthcoming from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the relatives became restive.

On December 26 some of them stormed into a press conference being addressed by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh at the Press Information Bureau in New Delhi. Led by Sanjiv Chibber, a surgeon, whose six relatives were on the plane, the relatives de manded that the militants named by the hijackers be released in lieu of the hostages. "Has not the government released militants in exchange for the release of a daughter of a Union Minister in the past? Can you solve the Kashmir problem by keeping one m ilitant in jail," Chibber asked. The reference to Rubayya Sayeed, daughter of former Union Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, in December 1989. A visibly embarrassed Jaswant Singh pacified them.

The relatives also resorted to other methods to draw the Government's attention. On December 26, some of them staged a demonstration outside the Prime Minister's house; on December 27, they gatecrashed into the Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan, where the Crisis Manag ement Group (CMG) was holding its meeting. Some others gave vent to their anger and frustration through protests outside the Prime Minister's house.

Embarrassed by the publicity the protests received in the media, the Government deputed the Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), Vasundhara Raje, to talk to the relatives. Vasundhara Raje invited them to her residence for an informal m eeting to calm down the rising tempers. About five representatives of the relatives managed to meet the Prime Minister later.

At the briefing session, tempers continued to run high. The relatives were so angry that they treated the news of the departure of the I.A. plane to Kandahar with officials and doctors, with indifference.

What angered the relatives most was that the relief plane was forced to return for want of clearance by Pakistan to use its air space and owing to minor snags.

When C. Gnanasekaran, a Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) MLA from Vellore, Tamil Nadu, who accompanied the relatives of the Tamil Nadu passengers from Vellore to New Delhi, referred to a CNN report which said that the plane was stinking with refuse, the Civi l Aviation officials presented a fax message received from the Air Traffic Controller, Kandahar. The message said that the toilets in the aircraft were cleaned regularly, and that the passengers and the crew were provided drinking water and food periodic ally. That the message was not true was evident from the versions of passengers who were released on December 31. Reports that the passengers were playing cards and chess, which were conveyed by the officials at the briefings on December 28, also turned out to be false. When the Civil Aviation officials were asked whether the ATC at Kandahar was lying, there was no answer.

On December 29, the daily briefings were cancelled apparently because of the protests the previous day. However, there were no demonstrations or emotional outpourings before the TV cameras as the relatives were glued to television sets for news of the de velopments. They felt reassured by the news of the visit of Indian doctors, and the fact that some hostages were allowed to take a walk on the tarmac.

* * *

ON December 25, the day after flight IC 814 was hijacked, a special relief aircraft of IA brought 27 passengers, including 13 women and 11 children, and the body of Rupin Katyal, who was killed by the hijackers, from Dubai. Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav brought back the released passengers. Chaotic scenes were witnessed at the arrival terminal when the plane landed at 11 p.m. as relatives, friends and mediapersons jostled with the police and airlines personnel.

The passengers were hurriedly taken away from the airport. Among them was Satnam Singh, who had stab wounds on his chin and neck. Satnam Singh, a German citizen, his wife and their child had gone to Kathmandu along with a newly married couple. The hijack ers, angry over the delay in refuelling the aircraft in Amritsar, had attacked him.

According to Captain D. Sharan, Rupin Katyal, who was stabbed for the same reason, died before reaching Dubai owing to lack of timely medical help at Lahore. Rupin Katyal, the 25-year-old member of an affluent family in Gurgaon, Haryana, married 20-year- old Rachna on December 3. He was returning after a brief honeymoon in Kathmandu. The couple had postponed their return to Delhi by two days as their tickets were not confirmed. Rupin's body was handed over to the Dubai authorities on the morning of Decem ber 25. Rachna was released only on December 31, and it was much later that news of Rupin's death was broken to her. Rupin's father, C.P.Katyal, who had waited all night at the airport, took ill out of sheer shock and exhaustion. Rupin's parents had to b e put on sedatives.

* * *

THE first batch of released passengers gave a graphic account of their ordeal. According to them, the male passengers were segregated from the women and children and blindfolded. The women claimed that the hijackers behaved well with them and were affect ionate towards the children.

The five hijackers called themselves Chief (who was their leader), Burger, Doctor, Shankar and Bola. Chief positioned himself in the business class, obviously orchestrating the operation. The hijackers frisked the passengers systematically and blindfolde d them with the help of the headrest cloth kept on the seats.

Rakesh Tayal, 32, a hardware dealer from Delhi, and Sandeep Agarwal, 40, a software engineer from Ghaziabad, gave an account of the hijack drama.

They said:

"The flight IC 814 took off from Kathmandu after a two-hour delay. A quick security check was done without the mandatory physical check. One of the two X-ray machines, which screens baggage, was out of order. The plane had not been cleaned as it had just arrived from Delhi. The airport authorities allowed the plane to take off within half an hour of its arrival.

"After the plane flew over Lucknow, we were served lunch. When we began eating, the food was forcibly removed and the hijackers, wearing masks, announced that the plane was being hijacked. We could sense the plane take off and land several times but we h ad no idea where we were heading. The hijackers said: 'We are flying at a height of 30,000 metres. If we open even one grenade, your family will not even get your bones. So restrain yourself from doing anything'. "

At Amritsar, the passengers were told that refuelling facility had been refused. The hijackers grabbed five passengers sitting in the front seats and tied their hands behind. And then they attacked Rupin Katyal and another person. The passengers thought that the hijackers would open fire... The hijackers had removed the pins from the bombs and pulled out two revolvers. But suddenly the plane took off, and again landed. The pilot was warned that if he did not take off within 30 seconds they would kill th e hostages.

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"We did not know that we were in Dubai. Some passengers were released. After half an hour, we again landed at some place. Then, again we flew for some time."

At Kandahar the hijackers began to lecture them on the tenets of Islam.

On December 26, "the hijackers began a propaganda against the Indian Government saying that our relatives in India were ill-treated and harassed."

On December 27, the blindfolds were removed but the hijackers insisted that "we raise our hands if we wanted to use the toilet. For the first time, they allowed two passengers to go to toilet at the same time... 'Burger' said some foreign delegations hav e come except the Indian side.

"Burger said that the Indian Government refused to take the passengers back. They threatened to kill us. 'Doctor' talked about the Kashmir problem, saying that India exploited Kashmir. The pilot wanted time to talk to the Indian Government. The hijackers granted the request, but the pilot could not establish contact.

"On December 28, food and water arrived after noon. There was no vegetarian food but the air hostesses used their common sense to separate oranges and chocolates from the non-vegetarian fare and give them to vegetarian passengers.

"On the evening of December 29, the hijackers looked tense and frustrated. The passengers started pleading with them to spare them.

"On December 30, at 2.30 a.m. the hijackers said that the negotiations had broken down. They refused to talk to the Indian negotiators again. They asked us to express our last wish.

The hijackers told us that it was the last day in our life, and that at 1 p.m. they will start shooting us. They warned us at 8.30 a.m., and asked us to pray. We prayed and wept till 12.30 p.m. At 1 p.m. they told us to relax, as the Indian Government ha d accepted 70 per cent of their demands. In the evening, we got a variety of fruits and snacks.

"On December 31, the hijackers greeted the passengers. They shook our hands and took leave of us. We got a special meal. But we refused to have our breakfast, asking the hijackers to first release us.

"Burger loved the children. He distributed apples and presented a shawl, with his name written on it to a woman passenger, Pooja Kataria, who celebrated her birthday on December 27 on the plane.

"Burger apologised to the passengers before leaving, with tears rolling from his eyes. He asked us how we would show our gratitude to the Afghanistan Government. Someone suggested that we donate money. Then the collection began. We collected Rs.71,000. B urger gave the money to Anuj Sharma, a passenger from Mumbai. He asked him to arrange a suitable memento, preferably an airplane with IC 814 and the date of the hijack inscribed on it for display at the Afghanistan museum in Kandahar.

* * *

AT the Tamil Nadu House in New Delhi, there was an unusual celebration on New Year's Day. A group of men wearing garlands, relief writ on their faces, posed for photographs. These seven friends - M. Thulasi, S. Dhanasekaran, R.P. Kannan, Mushtaq Ahmed, R . Kulasekaran, Perumal and C.G. Prasad Babu - from Vellore in Tamil Nadu were guests at the Tamil Nadu Government's Guest House-Information Centre. They were among the seven passengers released on December 31. They had toured North India before reaching Kathmandu, from where they boarded flight IC 814. Also present was, K. Kesava Kannan, another passenger from Tamil Nadu.

That night another reception awaited them in Chennai.

Speaking to Frontline in Chennai, Prasad Babu said: "For eight days we slept in the aircraft, sitting in our seats. Half an hour after the aircraft took off from Kathmandu, five hijackers materialised within seconds, armed with revolvers and grena des. 'Down, down' they shouted. We were kept blindfolded for the first two days. We did not know where we had been taken. They spoke Hindi."

Since six of the seven from Vellore did not know Hindi, they did not obey the commands immediately. This enraged the hijackers. It was later explained to them that these passengers did not know Hindi.

Only 'Burger' remained calm. Others would often fly into a rage and beat up the passengers. R.P. Kannan said: "Ten passengers were beaten up. Prasad Babu and I were also beaten up. Even if we looked up at them, they would rain blows on us.."

A few days into the drama, food no longer became important. The passengers were served only one chappati. Holding up a small white container, Dhanasekaran said: "Two of us shared one cup of water. We reduced our food and water intake in order to avoid v isiting the toilet."

Kulasekaran said: "This is a rebirth for us."

Crime as business

cover-story
PRAVEEN SWAMI

MUSHTAQ AHMED ZARGAR could not be more different from the two Harkat-ul-Ansar militants with whom he has been released under the hostages-for-terrorists deal at Kandahar. Unlike Masood Azhar, Zargar had no theological leanings and, by most accounts, litt le interest in religion. And if Azhar never fired a gun after a brief training stint in Afghanistan, Zargar revelled in violence. He is charged with responsibility for over three dozen murders in downtown Srinagar and had a reputation for brutality, even outright sadism.

Zargar became known in Srinagar by the nickname "Latram", which emerged from his frequent use of the phrase "latram, shatram" (talking nonsense). The son of a lower middle-class family which lives near the Gani Mohalla in Srinagar's Jamia Masjid area, he never made it past primary school. Zargar set up a partnership to polish copper and brass utensils, but his introduction to crime came early. In 1984, aged just 17, he had his first brush with the police when he was picked up for anti-social activity.

In 1988, Zargar was introduced to the world of terror by Zahoor Sheikh, an Anantnag resident and activist of the secessionist People's League. That August, he crossed into Pakistan through Trehgam and received training at a camp organised by the Jammu Ka shmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Zargar went to Pakistan for a second training stint the next May and returned through Uri. He then made a name for himself, carrying out several attacks on security force personnel and executing a series of murders of Kashm ir's Pandit community.

But Zargar's ego did not let him stay on in the JKLF for any length of time. In December 1989, he set up the Al-Umar Mujahideen, with a membership made up largely of recruits from downtown Srinagar. The organisation soon had an office in Muzaffarabad and with the patronage of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan it flourished. Without its own apparatus firmly in place in Jammu and Kashmir, the ISI saw in Al-Umar an instrument through which the ascendancy of the JKLF, which favoured independ ence for Kashmir, could be challenged. Zargar proved only too willing to do the job.

Most observers believe that the Al-Umar chief's motives were transparent. Zargar began using his influence to intervene in local business and property disputes. At least seven kidnappings for ransom are attributed to him. Even Srinagar businessmen who we re sympathetic to anti-India organisations complained bitterly of extortion. In one infamous instance, he ordered a ban on the use of Maruti vehicles in Srinagar. The ban immediately benefited a Srinagar businessman who held the dealership for a rival mo tor company, and whose daughter referred to Zargar as bhaijaan (brother).

Money and power had come Zargar's way, but few had any real respect for Al-Umar's brutal leader. What he did have was the tacit endorsement of Srinagar cleric Maulvi Umar Farooq, after whom the organisation was named. Maulvi Farooq saw in Al-Umar a line of defence against far-right groups such as the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which had little respect for his religious authority. Indeed, one plausible explanation for the hijackers' keenness to secure the release of Zargar is that the ISI now hopes to use him t o pressure Umar Farooq, who has in recent months been advocating dialogue with India.

Zargar was arrested in May 1992. The fact that he is the only resident of Kashmir (under Indian control) on the list of 36 prisoners whose release the hijackers had sought offers some indication of the precise use that terrorists across the border hope t o put him to. Zargar's undisputed organisational skills and his residual apparatus in Srinagar city will be put to work to escalate violence in Jammu and Kashmir's capital. Such an escalation of violence would also serve to silence Maulvi Umar Farooq, wh ose father died for not toeing the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen line. Just how many people will have to pay with their lives for Zargar's freedom should become clear in the not-too-distant future.

Crisis and mismanagement

cover-story

The government's handling of the hostage crisis and the terms on which it was resolved have led to sharp differences within the National Democratic Alliance government, which could have far-reaching consequences.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi

THROUGHOUT the eight-day-long hijack drama, the crisis management efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government were characterised by a shocking disunity of purpose and absence of cohesion. Incongruence of opinions on matters of policy and operati onal details were accentuated by sharp differences that had their origins in a crude attempt at power play by sections within the political establishment. The disharmony in the top rungs of the government only served, along with other operational factors , to prolong the ordeal of the hostages at the hands of the hijackers. In the final analysis, it served as a crucial factor that led the government to strike a potentially damaging deal with the hijackers.

In a grim moment of national crisis, the government's responses to rapidly unfolding developments were shown up to be far from sharp. The few efforts at crisis management that were initiated also proved to be ineffectual and failed to inspire trust. Furt her, during the first few days of the hijacking, the government responded with callous insensitivity to the fears and concerns of relatives of the hostages.

There were serious disagreements within the Union Council of Ministers and among leaders of the ruling coalition on the terms on which the release of the hostage should be secured. So serious were the differences that a few Ministers were kept out of sub sequent confabulations on the hostage crisis; a few others, who perhaps felt that their opinions were not being given due consideration, opted to stay away. The failure to take Opposition leaders - and even members of the Union Cabinet - into confidence on the contours of its negotiating strategy drew sharp criticism. Observers believe that the bitterness engendered within the government, and particularly within the principal constituent of the ruling coalition, is bound to have unpleasant long-term con sequences.

CLEAR signals of the disunity in the government came to light at a meeting of the Union Cabinet on December 31, which was held even as steps were under way to implement a deal with the hijackers and secure the release of the hostages. According to highly placed sources in the government, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes were outspoken in their criticism of the manner in which the hostages-for-terrorists deal had been finalised and the terms of the arrangement. Such a deal, Advani is reported to have said, would "only reinforce India's image as a soft state"; that, he added, was not what "people expected" from the National Democratic Alliance government.

Following up on this, Advani is believed to have sent a two-page handwritten note to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee recording his reservations over the government's handling of the hostage crisis and the specific terms on which the deal was finalised. Acco rding to informed sources, the note also criticised the failure to detain the hijacked plane at the Amritsar airport, where it landed on December 24.

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Neither the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) nor the Home Minister's Office would confirm or deny the contents of the purported note (or even whether Advani wrote such a note). However, sources in the BJP confirmed that the note was indeed written; in their opinion, the document would set off ripples in the political establishment in the near future.

Defence Minister George Fernandes, who was forced to keep a low profile throughout the crisis, has also come out against the government's failure to drive a "hard bargain" during the negotiations with the hijackers. He is reported to have stated at the C abinet meeting on December 31 that the Crisis Management Group (CMG) constituted under Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar and coordinated by Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, had from the beginning failed to take into consideration all the strategic factors while dealing with hijackers. He is reported to have said that the Prime Minister's initial position - against negotiations with the hijackers and the Taliban - had failed to reckon with the possibility that India might be requi red to negotiate with them at a later date. Fernandes argued that the Prime Minister's stand had in effect weakened the government's bargaining power and ultimately compelled it to accept a deal that was unsatisfactory in many ways.

According to a few leaders of parties other than the BJP within the NDA, at the Cabinet meeting Advani and Fernandes articulated their criticism of government policy with a vehemence that would normally be associated with Opposition leaders rather than w ith key members of a ruling coalition.

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By all indications, not all this criticism was motivated by differences on policy considerations; evidently, personality factors too were at play. Both Advani and Fernandes are believed to have been miffed at the manner in which a group consisting of Ext ernal Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra took charge of the crisis management efforts, pointedly excluding all others. It was this group, backed by the PMO, that was calling the shots right from Day One. Even officials of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing, who come under the Home Ministry, were made to report to this group. The Prime Minister had underlined the primacy of this group even at the first meeting he held on December 24.

At the December 24 meeting, which was attended by Advani, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan, Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav and Fernandes, Brajesh Mishra and Prabhat Kumar presented a briefing. Significantly, Ministers other than Jaswan t Singh and Sharad Yadav were not assigned specific tasks at this meeting. Sharad Yadav was given the limited role of going to Dubai on December 25 to accompany the first batch of hostages who had been released by the hijackers. Jaswant Singh was involve d in the minute-to-minute operations on the crisis management front. The precise reasons for excluding Advani and Fernandes from the crisis management efforts are not known, but sources in the bureaucracy said that it was linked to the "incompatibility b etween these senior ministers and the Prime Minister's favourite group".

Neither Advani nor Fernandes directly questioned the wisdom of handing over an operation that was overwhelmingly related to the Home and Defence Ministries to a group of bureaucrats and the External Affairs Minister, but their displeasure was evident. Fe rnandes went to the northeastern region in the line of duty, and Advani proceeded to Chennai for the BJP National Executive meeting. Consequently, Advani, who is considered to be the Number Two in the government, did not participate in three Cabinet meet ings during the crisis period.

Significantly, leaders and activists close to Advani and Fernandes gave voice to their criticism of the actions of the CMG. The succession of bungles by the CMG ensured that these critics had adequate ammunition. The failure to capitalise on a situation in which the hijacked aircraft had landed on Indian soil, at Amritsar, came in for particular criticism. It was clear that the CMG had devised no coherent action plan to deal with the hijacking even though by then two and half hours had elapsed since the time the hijackers had commandeered the aircraft.

Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra directly handled all sensitive matters connected with the government's efforts to end the hostage crisis. As part of these efforts the CMG undertook initiatives to use sections of the Deoband-based Muslim clergy to influe nce the Taliban government of Afghanistan. According to Home Ministry officials who were involved in these operations, many among the CMG were clueless about Deobandis or other sections of the Muslim clergy, and the exercise took quite a while.

EVEN as this group was grappling with the fine details of opening a channel of communication with the Taliban and the hijackers, the Prime Minister's public statements showed up an incoherence in the government's approach. The government, he said, would not buckle under acts of terrorism; the hijacking, he added, had "brought home with its full impact the horror of terrorism". He then exhorted the people to "face the terrorist challenge with determination and self-confidence."

However, during his interactions with the relatives of the hostages, the Prime Minister himself betrayed a lack of determination and self-confidence. Evidently exasperated by the barrage of questions on just what the Government was doing to secure the re lease of the hostages, Vajpayee reportedly concluded the meeting with a statement to the effect that if the government's actions failed, "gala kaat ke phaansi chada do" (you can slit my throat and hang me). Needless to say, this acerbic remark did nothing to lift the morale of the hostages' relatives or infuse any degree of determination or self-confidence in them.

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Another aspect of the CMG's operations was the extremely secretive manner in which they were carried out. Not only Opposition leaders but even Ministers were kept in the dark about many vital questions connected with the negotiations. So much so that at one of the Cabinet meetings, Trinamul Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee castigated Jaswant Singh for withholding information from Cabinet members.

THE experience of Opposition leaders was even more curious. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet told Frontline that the government seemed to be playing a game of hide and seek during the operation. "Even th ough the Prime Minister spoke to me on the telephone after the deal was finalised with the hijackers," Surjeet said, "he did not give any details. All that he told me was that the Foreign Minister was going to Kandahar to bring international pressure on the Taliban government and the hijackers. However, later I learnt about the real purpose of the visit." He was at a loss to understand the government's action in hiding such crucial facts, he said.

Other Opposition leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and A.B. Bardhan of the Communist Party of India (CPI) too criticised the government on this count. Mulayam Singh Yadav told Frontline that the fact that the govern ment took three days to convene the first all-party meeting was adequate evidence of its insincerity about securing the cooperation of the Opposition. "The government had a duty to keep the Opposition informed of various measures it was taking on a natio nal crisis like this. They did not do it. And now the prestige of the country has been lowered," Mulayam Singh said.

Surjeet said that at the all-party meeting on December 27, the first convened by the government, he had emphasised the importance of ensuring the safe return of all the hostages without compromising on national interests. Surjeet said that the deal as fi nalised represented a compromising of national interests. He demanded an independent inquiry to uncover all the facts and fix responsibility for this "blunder". Bardhan said that the Government had painted itself into a corner and eventually had no alter native but to give in to the terrorists.

Congress(I) spokespersons too have raised questions about the hostages-for-terrorists deal finalised by the government. In all likelihood, the Opposition parties, including the Congress(I), will close ranks to question the government on its actions durin g the hijack crisis.

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A combined onslaught by the Opposition would doubtless be an embarrassment for the government, but from all accounts, it is not the only quarter from which the government will face criticism. A forceful attack against the Prime Minister and the group of politicians and bureaucrats who handled the crisis management effort is welling up within the NDA and, more significantly, within the BJP. A section of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation, is believed to be supportive of this o ffensive, which could take the form of a virulent campaign against Pakistan and Islamic fundamentalist organisations and gradually acquire a Hindu communal character. The message of such a campaign would be that the Prime Minister is too weak to handle t he situation and that the country needs a "strong nationalist"' with "character". Clearly, this campaign is bound to create a new situation within the BJP and the NDA, the outcome of which is hard to fathom at the moment.

Failure of diplomacy

cover-story

Lapses on the diplomatic front force India to make concessions to the terrorists and repose misplaced trust in the Taliban.

JOHN CHERIAN

THE longest hijacking episode in South Asian aviation history has ended and the post-mortem of the Indian Government's handling of the eight-day-old drama has begun. The general opinion seems to be that the Government blundered its way through the crisis and suffered a significant defeat in its fight against terrorism. It failed on the diplomatic front too. Very few governments in the world are buying the theory that India is the target of an international terrorist conspiracy.

The cardinal mistake of letting the hijacked plane leave Amritsar airport (incidentally, it is also a military airport) left the Indian Government with few options. From the outset, there were serious lapses in its response. The Crisis Management Group ( CMG), set up in 1996 to deal with such emergencies, failed dismally. As the crisis continued, fissures in the government and the bureaucracy showed up. The Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and Indian Foreign Service (IFS) lobbies were soon at loggerhe ads. The armed forces made known their opposition to granting any concessions to the hijackers.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and several of his senior Cabinet colleagues initially adopted a tough stance and issued statements rejecting the hijackers' initial demand, which incidentally was the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar and Ahmed Umar Syed Sheikh, who were eventually swapped for the hostages. A senior diplomat based in New Delhi said that he was surprised at External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh's statements, made at a press conference on the second day of the crisis, al leging Islamabad's complicity in the hijack. "In grave situations such as these, there is no need to make more enemies," the diplomat said. It is well-known that Islamabad wields considerable influence over the Taliban, which rules Afghanistan.

Such statements also have the potential to endanger the lives of innocent passengers. A senior Indian official, with experience in dealing with similar crises, said that it would have been wiser to use spokespersons with a low profile. "There was absolut ely no need for the External Affairs Minister to meet the media and relay the demands of the hijackers." Besides, any statement made by a Foreign Minister to the media would be interpreted as official policy.

Another senior official said that it was strange that the Prime Minister was not immediately told about the hijack. He said that the nearest Air Traffic Control (ATC) would have automatically monitored the distress call made by the pilot and relayed it t o the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) control room. The pilot of the Prime Minister's plane, which was over Lucknow at that time and a few hundred nautical miles away from the hijacked plane, would have no doubt heard the SOS. Reaching the Prime Minister woul d not have been a problem. Only somebody had to make the effort. "It was rather strange that he was not immediately informed. Even cricket scores are relayed on planes," the official said.

He is of the view that the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) has to shoulder most of the blame for the fiasco. The JIC is nominally headed by the chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) but, according to senior officials, it has been virtually tak en over by the IFS. The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, in his capacity as National Security Adviser, is a special invitee to the meetings, and he should have known immediately about the crisis and duly informed the Prime Minis ter.

ONCE the plane landed in Kandahar, New Delhi's options narrowed further. The choice of Kandahar was ominous. The seat of the Afghan head of state, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is in Kandahar, which is the power base of the Taliban. Mullah Omar and all but one m ember of the Supreme Shura are Kandahari Pashtuns. The Taliban's core leaders are not simply mullahs but preachers belonging to a common political network, the "deobandi madrasas" in the Pashtun tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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With the civilian plane forced to land in Kandahar, the Indian Government was assured that the Taliban will not allow any harm to come to the hostages, but along with it was the realisation that if the plane was allowed to leave Kandahar the consequences could be grim. The unstated fear was that the hijackers may divert the plane to Indian airspace and do something foolhardy.

It was soon evident that the Taliban and the hijackers held most of the cards. A veteran diplomat said that the hijacking was politically beneficial to more than one party. He is, however, of the opinion that the Pakistan Government was not directly invo lved in the incident as such involvement would have invited the displeasure of the United States. General Pervez Musharraf has been busy trying to convince the U.S. that the whole purpose of the military coup in Pakistan was to forestall a fundamentalist takeover.

The Taliban government has been facing severe problems owing to the United Nations-sanctioned international embargo, which has been in force since October 1999. The hijacking refocussed international attention on the country. The U.S. and India were amon g the strongest proponents of the move to impose sanctions. Both countries have in fact demanded more stringent economic and diplomatic blockade against the Taliban. The Foreign Office spokesman said at that time that both India and the U.S had an overla pping interest in Afghanistan. India was openly critical of the Taliban's "increasing political excesses and religious extremism" and its brutalisation of women and religious minorities. The Foreign Office spokesman described the Taliban's policies as "m edieval malevolence". The Kargil conflict was described as an "Afghan spillover syndrome".

New Delhi also echoed Washington's concerns about terrorism being sponsored by the Taliban and about the activities of the Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden once worked in collaboration with Saudi and U.S. intelligence agencies during the "jihad" against the secular government in Kabul. He turned against his erstwhile sponsors during the Gulf war and went to Sudan. His return to Afghanistan, according to U.S. intelligence, was facilitated by Pakistani intelligence agencies, in return for his agr eement to help train Kashmiri militants. His base in Jalalabad was attacked with cruise missiles in 1998, following the terrorist bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salam. Osama is now reportedly in Kandahar, under the protection of the Taliban leadership.

IN the last week of December, New Delhi's attitude towards the Taliban mellowed considerably. Jaswant Singh started lauding the role played by the Taliban in the negotiations leading to the resolution of the crisis. Actually, the Indian government was ru nning out of options. More important, it had evidently got the green signal from Washington to start talking to the Taliban and the hijackers. Indian officials claim that the level of cooperation and interaction between New Delhi and Washington was high throughout the duration of crisis, but the fact remains that it took the Clinton administration four days to issue a statement condemning the hijacking, despite an American and a Canadian being on board.

There was also no offer of logistical support from Washington, although the two countries have pledged to fight the scourge of terrorism jointly. India had recently given permission to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to open an office in New De lhi. Jaswant Singh, it is reliably learnt, remained in constant touch with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott.

Surprisingly, even the U.N. chose to adopt a low profile during the whole episode. There was no statement from Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemning the terrorist act.

The Canadian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, was of the view that once the plane landed in Kandahar, India had no option but to agree to the demands of the hijackers. A diplomat with considerable experience in the region says that the Clinton administration saw an opportunity in the crisis to engage the Taliban leadership once again. The diplomat said that it should not be forgotten that the Taliban was the creation of the U.S. and Pakistan. The U.S., according to him, needs the Taliban to support its stra tegy for Central Asia and give it additional leverage against India. Osama bin Laden, he feels, is only a temporary aberration, and what the Taliban yearns for at this juncture is international legitimacy.

Most Arab states are angry with the hijacking and its consequences. Arab countries themselves have been targets of terrorist acts by "Afghan Arabs" (Arabs such as Bin Laden, who fought against Russian forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.)

The lukewarm international response to the crisis despite the presence of nationals of 11 countries on board is another reason why India was forced to make concessions to the terrorists and repose trust in the Taliban.

WITH the hijack drama over, the Taliban has acquired some legitimacy at least as far as New Delhi is concerned. It is no longer a bad word in official circles. Jaswant Singh, after returning to New Delhi with the freed hostages, once again praised the Ta liban for handling the crisis well, despite considerable evidence to show that the Taliban was actually helping the hijackers in achieving their goal. Alternately playing the role of "good cop, bad cop", the Taliban virtually choreographed the whole dram a at Kandahar. In spite of all this, it has received a pat on the back from Jaswant Singh. Further, to everybody's consternation, the three freed militants travelled on board the same plane carrying the Foreign Minister.

Jaswant Singh's visit to Kandahar has raised uncomfortable questions, especially as the Taliban in Kandahar was virtually playing the role of judge and jury. The Minister justified his visit by emphasising that his presence was necessary to sort out last -minute complications. He denied that his presence was requested by the Taliban authorities and that "any deal or concessions to the Taliban" were involved. He said that the "fundamentals of our Afghan policy remain unchanged".

On the other hand, he directed his criticism at Pakistan and, to a lesser extent, at Nepal. He said that all the hijackers were Pakistani nationals and that the majority of the militants whose release was demanded were Pakistanis. Jaswant Singh also said that Taliban Information Minister Abdul Hai told him that the three "terrorists" released by India, along with the five hijackers, had headed for Quetta in Pakistan. He said that the hijacking had "many strands" and that the hijackers on board IC-814 we re in constant touch with their handlers in a neighbouring country. He said that the Government was forced to give in to the hijackers' demands as it received credible information that the plane was wired to be blown up. Jaswant Singh denied reports that additional weapons and explosives were supplied to the hijackers at Kandahar. He said that the hijackers had demanded and obtained access to the plane. The Minister was suggesting that the additional weaponry was obtained from the checked-in luggage. Bu t he also said that only one of the five hijackers had checked in his baggage.

An eight-day ordeal

cover-story

V. VENKATESAN in New Delhi T.S. SUBRAMANIAN in Chennai

THE experiences of the relatives of the hostages of Indian Airlines flight IC 814 were as harrowing as those of the hostages themselves. On December 24, they turned up at Terminal 2 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport to receive their relatives. But what they received was the news of the hijack. Shocked and anguished, they spent the night at the airport hoping to get answers for their queries from the authorities. Periodic announcements about the location of the aircraft only served to heighten the suspense. The news that the aircraft had run out of fuel and that the hijackers were armed with bombs and pistols unnerved them.

As no information on the passengers' safety or the progress in the negotiations with the hijackers was forthcoming from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the relatives became restive.

On December 26 some of them stormed into a press conference being addressed by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh at the Press Information Bureau in New Delhi. Led by Sanjiv Chibber, a surgeon, whose six relatives were on the plane, the relatives de manded that the militants named by the hijackers be released in lieu of the hostages. "Has not the government released militants in exchange for the release of a daughter of a Union Minister in the past? Can you solve the Kashmir problem by keeping one m ilitant in jail," Chibber asked. The reference to Rubayya Sayeed, daughter of former Union Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, in December 1989. A visibly embarrassed Jaswant Singh pacified them.

The relatives also resorted to other methods to draw the Government's attention. On December 26, some of them staged a demonstration outside the Prime Minister's house; on December 27, they gatecrashed into the Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan, where the Crisis Manag ement Group (CMG) was holding its meeting. Some others gave vent to their anger and frustration through protests outside the Prime Minister's house.

Embarrassed by the publicity the protests received in the media, the Government deputed the Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), Vasundhara Raje, to talk to the relatives. Vasundhara Raje invited them to her residence for an informal m eeting to calm down the rising tempers. About five representatives of the relatives managed to meet the Prime Minister later.

At the briefing session, tempers continued to run high. The relatives were so angry that they treated the news of the departure of the I.A. plane to Kandahar with officials and doctors, with indifference.

What angered the relatives most was that the relief plane was forced to return for want of clearance by Pakistan to use its air space and owing to minor snags.

When C. Gnanasekaran, a Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) MLA from Vellore, Tamil Nadu, who accompanied the relatives of the Tamil Nadu passengers from Vellore to New Delhi, referred to a CNN report which said that the plane was stinking with refuse, the Civi l Aviation officials presented a fax message received from the Air Traffic Controller, Kandahar. The message said that the toilets in the aircraft were cleaned regularly, and that the passengers and the crew were provided drinking water and food periodic ally. That the message was not true was evident from the versions of passengers who were released on December 31. Reports that the passengers were playing cards and chess, which were conveyed by the officials at the briefings on December 28, also turned out to be false. When the Civil Aviation officials were asked whether the ATC at Kandahar was lying, there was no answer.

On December 29, the daily briefings were cancelled apparently because of the protests the previous day. However, there were no demonstrations or emotional outpourings before the TV cameras as the relatives were glued to television sets for news of the de velopments. They felt reassured by the news of the visit of Indian doctors, and the fact that some hostages were allowed to take a walk on the tarmac.

* * *

ON December 25, the day after flight IC 814 was hijacked, a special relief aircraft of IA brought 27 passengers, including 13 women and 11 children, and the body of Rupin Katyal, who was killed by the hijackers, from Dubai. Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav brought back the released passengers. Chaotic scenes were witnessed at the arrival terminal when the plane landed at 11 p.m. as relatives, friends and mediapersons jostled with the police and airlines personnel.

The passengers were hurriedly taken away from the airport. Among them was Satnam Singh, who had stab wounds on his chin and neck. Satnam Singh, a German citizen, his wife and their child had gone to Kathmandu along with a newly married couple. The hijack ers, angry over the delay in refuelling the aircraft in Amritsar, had attacked him.

According to Captain D. Sharan, Rupin Katyal, who was stabbed for the same reason, died before reaching Dubai owing to lack of timely medical help at Lahore. Rupin Katyal, the 25-year-old member of an affluent family in Gurgaon, Haryana, married 20-year- old Rachna on December 3. He was returning after a brief honeymoon in Kathmandu. The couple had postponed their return to Delhi by two days as their tickets were not confirmed. Rupin's body was handed over to the Dubai authorities on the morning of Decem ber 25. Rachna was released only on December 31, and it was much later that news of Rupin's death was broken to her. Rupin's father, C.P.Katyal, who had waited all night at the airport, took ill out of sheer shock and exhaustion. Rupin's parents had to b e put on sedatives.

* * *

THE first batch of released passengers gave a graphic account of their ordeal. According to them, the male passengers were segregated from the women and children and blindfolded. The women claimed that the hijackers behaved well with them and were affect ionate towards the children.

The five hijackers called themselves Chief (who was their leader), Burger, Doctor, Shankar and Bola. Chief positioned himself in the business class, obviously orchestrating the operation. The hijackers frisked the passengers systematically and blindfolde d them with the help of the headrest cloth kept on the seats.

Rakesh Tayal, 32, a hardware dealer from Delhi, and Sandeep Agarwal, 40, a software engineer from Ghaziabad, gave an account of the hijack drama.

They said:

"The flight IC 814 took off from Kathmandu after a two-hour delay. A quick security check was done without the mandatory physical check. One of the two X-ray machines, which screens baggage, was out of order. The plane had not been cleaned as it had just arrived from Delhi. The airport authorities allowed the plane to take off within half an hour of its arrival.

"After the plane flew over Lucknow, we were served lunch. When we began eating, the food was forcibly removed and the hijackers, wearing masks, announced that the plane was being hijacked. We could sense the plane take off and land several times but we h ad no idea where we were heading. The hijackers said: 'We are flying at a height of 30,000 metres. If we open even one grenade, your family will not even get your bones. So restrain yourself from doing anything'. "

At Amritsar, the passengers were told that refuelling facility had been refused. The hijackers grabbed five passengers sitting in the front seats and tied their hands behind. And then they attacked Rupin Katyal and another person. The passengers thought that the hijackers would open fire... The hijackers had removed the pins from the bombs and pulled out two revolvers. But suddenly the plane took off, and again landed. The pilot was warned that if he did not take off within 30 seconds they would kill th e hostages.

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"We did not know that we were in Dubai. Some passengers were released. After half an hour, we again landed at some place. Then, again we flew for some time."

At Kandahar the hijackers began to lecture them on the tenets of Islam.

On December 26, "the hijackers began a propaganda against the Indian Government saying that our relatives in India were ill-treated and harassed."

On December 27, the blindfolds were removed but the hijackers insisted that "we raise our hands if we wanted to use the toilet. For the first time, they allowed two passengers to go to toilet at the same time... 'Burger' said some foreign delegations hav e come except the Indian side.

"Burger said that the Indian Government refused to take the passengers back. They threatened to kill us. 'Doctor' talked about the Kashmir problem, saying that India exploited Kashmir. The pilot wanted time to talk to the Indian Government. The hijackers granted the request, but the pilot could not establish contact.

"On December 28, food and water arrived after noon. There was no vegetarian food but the air hostesses used their common sense to separate oranges and chocolates from the non-vegetarian fare and give them to vegetarian passengers.

"On the evening of December 29, the hijackers looked tense and frustrated. The passengers started pleading with them to spare them.

"On December 30, at 2.30 a.m. the hijackers said that the negotiations had broken down. They refused to talk to the Indian negotiators again. They asked us to express our last wish.

The hijackers told us that it was the last day in our life, and that at 1 p.m. they will start shooting us. They warned us at 8.30 a.m., and asked us to pray. We prayed and wept till 12.30 p.m. At 1 p.m. they told us to relax, as the Indian Government ha d accepted 70 per cent of their demands. In the evening, we got a variety of fruits and snacks.

"On December 31, the hijackers greeted the passengers. They shook our hands and took leave of us. We got a special meal. But we refused to have our breakfast, asking the hijackers to first release us.

"Burger loved the children. He distributed apples and presented a shawl, with his name written on it to a woman passenger, Pooja Kataria, who celebrated her birthday on December 27 on the plane.

"Burger apologised to the passengers before leaving, with tears rolling from his eyes. He asked us how we would show our gratitude to the Afghanistan Government. Someone suggested that we donate money. Then the collection began. We collected Rs.71,000. B urger gave the money to Anuj Sharma, a passenger from Mumbai. He asked him to arrange a suitable memento, preferably an airplane with IC 814 and the date of the hijack inscribed on it for display at the Afghanistan museum in Kandahar.

* * *

AT the Tamil Nadu House in New Delhi, there was an unusual celebration on New Year's Day. A group of men wearing garlands, relief writ on their faces, posed for photographs. These seven friends - M. Thulasi, S. Dhanasekaran, R.P. Kannan, Mushtaq Ahmed, R . Kulasekaran, Perumal and C.G. Prasad Babu - from Vellore in Tamil Nadu were guests at the Tamil Nadu Government's Guest House-Information Centre. They were among the seven passengers released on December 31. They had toured North India before reaching Kathmandu, from where they boarded flight IC 814. Also present was, K. Kesava Kannan, another passenger from Tamil Nadu.

That night another reception awaited them in Chennai.

Speaking to Frontline in Chennai, Prasad Babu said: "For eight days we slept in the aircraft, sitting in our seats. Half an hour after the aircraft took off from Kathmandu, five hijackers materialised within seconds, armed with revolvers and grena des. 'Down, down' they shouted. We were kept blindfolded for the first two days. We did not know where we had been taken. They spoke Hindi."

Since six of the seven from Vellore did not know Hindi, they did not obey the commands immediately. This enraged the hijackers. It was later explained to them that these passengers did not know Hindi.

Only 'Burger' remained calm. Others would often fly into a rage and beat up the passengers. R.P. Kannan said: "Ten passengers were beaten up. Prasad Babu and I were also beaten up. Even if we looked up at them, they would rain blows on us.."

A few days into the drama, food no longer became important. The passengers were served only one chappati. Holding up a small white container, Dhanasekaran said: "Two of us shared one cup of water. We reduced our food and water intake in order to avoid v isiting the toilet."

Kulasekaran said: "This is a rebirth for us."

A step closer to peace

world-affairs

The second round of Israel-Syria talks, beginning in early January, could pave the way for durable peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

KESAVA MENON

HAFEZ AL ASSAD seems set to pull it off. The Syrian President had stuck to a tough negotiating position vis-a-vis Israel despite the desertion of regional allies and the collapse of a friendly superpower that had sustained his defiance for long. N ow it would appear that Syria is close to obtaining satisfaction on the Golan Heights and other issues and Assad appears prepared to be magnanimous in victory.

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When Syrian and Israeli negotiators get down to their second round of talks from January 3, 2000 in or near about Washington, they are expected to tackle the issues at the root of a 32-year- old confrontation straightway. If they succeed in their task th ey could end the hostility that has existed for an even longer period. However, a settlement of the dispute between Israel on the one hand and Syria and Lebanon on the other will not close off the Arab-Israeli confrontation. That will only be achieved af ter Israel makes a settlement with the Palestinians. But a successful conclusion of the Syria-Israel talks would mark a giant stride towards a durable peace between Israel and the Arabs.

Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, and Syria's Foreign Minister, Farooq al Sharaa, first met in Washington between December 14 and 16. Official-level talks had been going on between Syria and Israel until February 1996 when they were abruptly suspended . Efforts to resume the talks had been stalled by a controversy, which might appear semantic in form but had deeper implications. In the Syrian version, the Israelis, especially former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, had agreed by February 1996 that they w ould hand over the Golan Heights. Israel maintained that Rabin had merely stated the theoretical possibility that Israel could return the Golan Heights if Syria was prepared to offer a comprehensive peace in exchange.

It was pointless for the two sides once again to go over the ground that they had covered until February 1996. But their publicly stated perceptions of what had been achieved in the negotiations made it difficult for them just to restart the process. Aft er having declared that Israel had agreed to return the Golan Heights, it would have been difficult for Assad to enter into open-ended negotiations in a context where Israel denied this claim. It would have been difficult for an Israeli Cabinet to sell t o the people of Israel the idea of reopening negotiations when Syria claimed that a deal on the Golan Heights had already been clinched.

The United States administration, which was fully involved in the talks, could have perhaps broken the stalemate if it had clarified what was contained in the minutes of the earlier negotiations or at least in a memorandum of understanding (MoU), which h ad supposedly been signed. It did not choose to do so, and this could have been either because the position was close to what the Syrians said or because it thought that secrecy was necessary for the success of the talks. Eventually, after a meeting betw een U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Assad the U.S. came out with a formula that finessed the difference in perception and allowed both sides to return to the negotiating table.

Although the breakthrough had been achieved in the talks that Albright held with Assad and Barak during her tour of West Asia, it was left to U.S. President Bill Clinton to make the announcement in Washington. Clinton declared that the talks would resume "from the point where they were left off in 1996". He did not elaborate on the "point at which the talks were left off in 1996" and this enabled both sides to return to the talks with their honour intact. A notable feature of the opening ceremonies in W ashington was the speech by Sharaa, in which he sought to clarify the historical record. While the West was well informed about the threats that Israel has had to face from the Arab world, it overlooked the sufferings of many Arabs because of Israel's oc cupation of their lands and displacement of peoples.

At the end of the first round of talks, both sides said that they were satisfied with each other's commitment and sincerity. While the Israelis appeared to be a touch more euphoric, Sharaa stuck to the traditional Syrian reserve, stating that he would no t say that he was optimistic until he saw how the second round went. There has been no clarification of the details of the first round, but from subsequent developments it would appear that the controversy over the "point at which the talks were left off in 1996" had been more or less settled. If nothing else, the Syrians could have left in a huff if the Israelis had been stubborn about their view on the true position.

There were several signs that Israel was preparing for a withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Israeli military had begun drawing up plans for the withdrawal and the likely costs were being bandied about. According to estimates in the Israel press, Israel w ould need about $10 billion to compensate its citizens who had settled in the Golan and to relocate industries. The dismantling of the military infrastructure in the Golan and its re-assembly on Israeli soil was expected to cost another $10 billion. It a ppeared that Israel would ask the U.S. to cover most of the bill on the grounds that a peace deal between Israel and Syria would advance the strategic interests of U.S. There were also reports that Israel was likely to approach the U.S. for an additional $10 billion to upgrade its satellite surveillance and air defence capabilities and to acquire advanced ground attack aircraft.

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A surer sign of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights was that political campaigns for and against the withdrawal were initiated in Israel soon after Barak promised that he would hold a referendum on any deal that was signed with Syria. Soon after the Washington talks concluded, moves were initiated from both ends of the Israeli political spectrum to introduce legislation that would define the terms of the referendum. Barak and most of the parties in his coalition favour a referendum in which a s imple majority would be sufficient to endorse or reject the deal. The Opposition tried to press for referendum formats that would require that either a majority of all eligible Israeli voters or a special majority of all those who voted had to endorse th e deal for it to be valid. Opinion polls showed that the public was equally divided in the initial stages but that would change as there was further clarification on what Syria had to offer in exchange.

While an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan seems to be on the cards, it remains unclear as to how far the Israelis will withdraw. They have tried for a border line that runs along the edge of the Golan escarpment, and at best have been ready to contempla te a withdrawal to the border that existed prior to the 1948 armistice line, which ran through the Golan's forward slopes. But Syria wants Israel to return to the 1948 armistice line, which runs along the foot of the Golan Heights and which remained the border until June 4, 1967. Israel's main objections to a return to the 1967 border are that it would lose valuable water resources and such a step would bring the Syrians that much closer to the Galilee plain. Syria is not likely to compromise on this po int and the talks might collapse if Israel does not give way.

Sharaa and Assad have given strong hints that they are ready for a comprehensive peace with Israel if Syria's territory is returned. The very fact that they have begun talking directly to Israel shows that they have already met one of Israel's fundamenta l concerns - that its Arab neighbours should reconcile with its existence in the region. Through all these years of confrontation, the Syria-Israel border has remained one of the quietest in the region, with no violent attacks launched across it either b y Syrian forces or by militants. To that extent, any promise from Syria that it will prevent such attacks in the future should be considered solid. That would meet Israel's second major concern - that its citizens should be safe from the threat of violen ce.

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Israel has been frustrated that none of the agreements it signed with its Arab neighbours has produced a flourishing relationship. Other than a spurt in Israeli tourists visiting Egypt and Jordan, gas deals with the former and some trade with the latter, there has been no great progress towards the building of relations with its neighbours. Syria has now held out the faint promise that it would promote a healthier relationship. In fact, Sharaa actually put the ball in the Israeli court when he said that it was for Israel and not the Arabs first to be clear whether it had made peace its strategic option.

The Syrians are also reportedly willing to accommodate Israeli concerns about water resources from the Golan and the Yarmouk river. In this context there is an intriguing report that Assad, when he makes his maiden visit to the U.S. sometime in the near future, will discuss with Clinton a plan for a separate deal with Turkey that will provide for enhanced water supplies from the Euphrates river. Syria could also be amenable to the Israeli request for forward observation posts on the Golan and demilitari sed zones on either side of the border, provided Israel reciprocates. But the most important benefit that Syria can confer on Israel is support for a deal between the latter and Lebanon.

Israel is desperate to withdraw from the enclave it occupies in southern Lebanon since it constantly loses soldiers in attacks by the Hezbollah, the Shiite militia. Barak had promised his people that he will withdraw troops from southern Lebanon by the m iddle of next year. While he has hinted that he would even order a unilateral withdrawal if necessary, Israel would obviously prefer to withdraw under the terms of a deal with the Lebanese government. Israel can be confident that the Hezbollah will not l aunch attacks into its (Israel's) territory in the future only if the revamped Lebanese army repossesses the enclave and takes responsibility for policing it. The Hezbollah has promised that it will suspend its military campaign against Israel (but not t he ideological one) once an agreement is reached with Syria and Lebanon. Israel can therefore anticipate a comprehensive peace if it settles its disputes with Syria and Lebanon.

With the contribution that Syria has made to establish peace and stability in Lebanon, not to speak of the 30,000 troops it is believed to have stationed on its western neighbour's territory, it has a powerful influence over Beirut's policy-makers. The r eality might be somewhere between the external perception that Syria controls Lebanon and the Syria/Lebanon declaration that they are true brothers who always act in concert. What matters is that Lebanon is not about to make a separate peace with Israel and that it will do so only when Israel accommodates it and Syria simultaneously. Lebanon is therefore not going to take over the policing of Israel's northern borders unless Israel has already agreed to settle the Golan Heights and other issues with Syr ia.

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Lebanon did not take part in the first round of talks and was not invited to the second. Indications were that talks on the Israel-Lebanon track of the negotiations would get underway soon after the second round of the Israel-Syria talks. By the end of D ecember, Israel had appointed its negotiating team. Since the territorial issue is the main issue between them, a deal would not take long to reach if other conditions are right. The one other major issue remaining between Israel and Lebanon concerns the future of the Palestinian refugees who live in camps in Lebanon.

In all other respects, Syria and Lebanon can make their peace with Israel without concerning themselves with the plight of the Palestinians. Assad, for one, would feel that he was only paying back Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Chairman Yasser A rafat in the same coin. However, apart from the emotive pull of the Palestinian issue, across the Arab world, the very practical problem of what can be done with the Palestinian refugees precludes a comprehensive deal involving Israel/Syria/Lebanon that leaves the Palestinian Authority dangling in the air.

Preventing heart diseases

other
Interview with Dr. Arun Chockalingam.

Heart disease will become a major cause of death and disability in the new millennium. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) already claim some 15 million lives every year, 10 million of them in developing countries . According to Dr. Arun Chockalingam, Adviser to the Canadian Ministry of Health, the prevention of cardiovascular diseases acquires great importance in a situation in which most developing countries have an annual health-care budget of not more t han $25, (about Rs.1,050) per person.

The abysmal health-care infrastructure in developing countries, which have few programmes for the control and prevention of CVDs, was highlighted by a World Heart Federation (WHF) report, "Impending Pandemic of Cardiovascular Diseases - Challenges and Op portunities for the Prevention and Control of the Disease in Developing Countries and Economies in Transition." Dr. Chockalingam is the chief editor of the report. According to the report, inadequate legislation on such issues as tobacco sales and food l abelling, which are crucial to the prevention of CVDs, has caused a CVD pandemic in these countries and that warrants urgent attention.

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A member of the Geneva-based WHF, an international body of cardiology societies and heart foundations, Dr. Chockalingam was elected a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology this year. His epidemiological surveys and patient awareness programmes, wh ich bring together professional associations and voluntary agencies, have led to a pragmatic approach to preventive medicine.

Several Canadian and international research groups have sought the expertise of Dr. Chockalingam, who combines in him an engineer (he is an M.S. in biomedical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai) and a doctor (he has a Ph.D. in c ardiac physiology and pharmacology from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada).

Dr. Chockalingam is special adviser to the Executive Committee of the World Hypertension group; chairman of the Patient Educating Project in Canada, and co-director of the WHO Centre for Research and Training on stroke prevention, epidemiology and survei llance in Saskatoon, Canada. He is on the advisory committee of several journals; he was the editor-in-chief of Hypertension Control from 1991 to 1994. Dr. Chockalingam has to his credit over 150 papers published in international journals. He has written some chapters of three textbooks on cardiology.

Recently in Chennai to deliver the second E.S. Krishnamoorthy Endowment Lecture, Dr. Chockalingam spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on the WHF report, the risk factors of heart diseases, their occurence, and the ways to prevent CVDs. Excerpts from the in terview:

What is the purpose of the recent report brought out by the World Heart Federation?

One of the major initiatives from a global perspective is the anticipated and growing incidence of heart diseases, particularly in developing countries. In fact, the magnitude of the problem is such that we do not call it an epidemic, but a pandemic. No single agency or government can tackle it. The problem is global and the solution has to be global. So, to initiate a process, the WHF surveyed 143 developing countries and economies-in-transition.

Basically, the report says that heart diseases are on the rise in developing countries, particularly in India and China. The West suffered from this problem for 40 years but now it is on the decline there.

What causes these cycles - the rise and fall in CVDs?

Many developing countries are going through an economic transition, which is accompanied by an epidemiological transition. People moving from rural to urban areas compete for space, water and other infrastructure. In multi-storeyed buildings, where there used to be just one family, between 25 and 30 families live now. In India, for instance, the infrastructure - the sewage system, hygiene and health care facilities - was planned for 50 years ago. But even as the economy grew and people shifted from rura l to urban areas, the issue of infrastructure was not addressed. All these led to the re-emergence of infectious diseases.

So, a country like India faces a double burden - death and disability due to infectious diseases and a new wave of non-communicable diseases, particularly cardiovascular. Unless we address the fundamental problem and arrest the progress of these diseases in the next 20 years, India will face problems of unmanageable proportions.

What are the reasons for the rise in the incidence of non-communicable diseases?

There are many reasons. First, urbanisation and the rat race. There is no time to eat a proper meal, to exercise. Food habits change and one ends up eating less nutritious food. The lack of physical activity leads to obesity. For humans, the energy intak e should equal the energy output. If there is no such balance, the excess energy will accumulate in the body as fat. This increases the risk of CVDs.

What other issues does the report address?

Since CVDs are assuming pandemic proportions globally, the major issues we try to document are the resources, infrastructure and systems available in developing countries and the economies-in-transition of Eastern Europe, where CVDs are going to be a maj or problem in the next 20 years.

The book also pins down the responsibility of various international and national agencies. It spells out the role of the government, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, healthcare professionals, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the society and the indi vidual in dealing with the pandemic. It also suggests strategies to deal with the impending problem at the global level. It puts on developed countries the responsibility to help developing nations deal with the problem.

What was the response of developing countries to the survey?

We sent out a questionnaire to all developing countries and economies-in-transition in mid-1998, but the response was not good. The questions were simple, such as: 'Have you done any health survey in the last five years?'; 'Do you have data on cause-spec ific mortality rates?'; 'Do you have any guidelines to deal with hypertension?'; 'Is there any legislation against tobacco?' and so on. They had to just answer 'yes', 'no' or 'don't know'. Yet, only 10 per cent of the countries responded. This most likel y meant that the rest did not have the data but did not want to admit it.

We sent a letter again to these countries telling them to say 'no' if they did not have the data, and that it was equally important. After much persuasion, the response rate went up from 10 per cent to 45 per cent. Most of them either said 'no' or a 'par tial yes'. We were then able to make some inferences.

How long did the survey take? About 12 months beginning mid-1998.

Apart from getting information on preventive measures, did the survey deal with clinical information?

Yes. We asked the countries details about the number of doctors and cardiologists they had, the number of procedures such as open heart surgery and angiograms they did, the number of nurses they had for every 1,000 people, and so on. For this, the respon se was better, with 60 per cent of the countries replying. We got some meaningful information on the clinical resources of the countries.

This is our first attempt at documenting the health resources of developing countries and we hope to do a similar one a few years later. We plan to make the countries aware of their relative conditions and hope that on seeing the comparative picture, the countries that have poor health resources will start doing something about it.

Why did you deal only with developing countries?

First, health data are poor in these countries. Second, the population growth is going to be enormous. We already have evidence that out of a population of five billion in the world, 15 million deaths occur every year owing to heart diseases, 10 million of which are in developing countries. We may be fooled when we take percentages. For instance, if we say that the death rate of people with heart diseases is 17 per cent, it appears low. But in absolute numbers, it translates to about three million peopl e. They include people who die young, indicating the loss of valuable productivity time. This need not happen. Cardiovascular diseases, in particular, can be controlled and even prevented. If the disease is identified in time, one can be saved the bother of expensive procedures as well as the pain.

How can we prevent or control cardiovascular diseases?

There are six fundamental risk factors: Smoking, hypertension, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), sedentary lifestyle, diabetes and obesity. These can be modified and controlled. Other risk factors, which are not modifiable, include genetics, sex and age . Thus, if we try to modify the risk factors that are controllable, we can avoid the disease and prevent premature death.

Does the book outline ways of tackling the problem nationally and globally?

That is the last part of the book. If we do not act now to control the disease, all the statistics and analyses that are put out will be mere garbage. We have thus provided a strategy. As the problem is global, the solution has to be global. The develope d and developing countries have to work together. Though the problem is in developing countries, it is in the interest of the developed nations to help the former avoid the problem.

How can developed countries help developing nations in tackling the problem?

In several ways. One, financially. Two, by providing the technology and imparting knowledge about the preventive measures they practised when they faced the ordeal between the 1930s and the 1980s. The lessons learnt by developed countries in bringing dow n mortality due to cardiovascular diseases - from 60 per cent to 30 per cent - can be imparted to developing nations, which can adapt them to suit their cultural, economic and local needs. The risk factors and problems arising from them are the same eve rywhere. Only such factors as genetics may differ. To that extent the strategies can be modified and applied in developing countries.

But unless you know what the problem is, you cannot tackle it. So, baseline data are a must. And they are lacking in many countries, including India.

Are there no epidemiological data on cardiovascular diseases in India?

There is no coordinated national level data in India. There are some pieces of information in some pockets. But as the methodology is not similar, they are not even comparable. The data are not difficult to get. It requires the right mindset and the coop eration of the people. Prof. K. Srinath Reddy of AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences), Delhi, is doing excellent work in this area. But this needs to be replicated throughout the country.

Apart from global partnerships, what needs to be done within a country?

Internal consistencies are important. Various groups must work together - the policymakers and bureaucrats need to be sensitised, the public must be made aware, professionals should be willing to work together. The patient must be made aware of the probl em. It is the responsibility of physicians to tell their patients what the numbers mean. It is important to come out with a committed policy. This needs partnerships at various levels.

Even within a government, various departments, such as health, agriculture, industry and environment, need to work together. For example, if the Industries Department gives subsidy and support to the tobacco companies while the Health Department works to wards banning smoking, then they are working at cross purposes.

Recently, in New Delhi, a move was made to forge a global partnership when Dr. Srinath Reddy got together some of the best doctors in the world to share their experiences so that the developing world can learn from them.

Coming back to the issue of controlling modifiable risk factors, how does one do this?

First, people who smoke need to be persuaded to quit smoing or at least reduce smoking.

Second, owing to economic development there is a section of the urban population that has a sedentary lifestyle and is prone to heart diseases. The projections for the year 2025 are that half of India's population would be living in the urban areas. So, those exposed to heart diseases will also increase. Thus it is important to encourage physical activity.

Third, check your blood pressure regularly. If it cannot be controlled by physical activity, plenty of medicines are available.

Fourth, high cholesterol, or high fat content. If that is not reduced, the walls of the blood vessels will narrow and constrict the blood flow, which will cause hypertension. At some point the narrowing blood vessel is going to close, stopping the blood flow and leading to a heart attack. A heart attack means that the cells around that area are dead.

The most common risk factor is diabetes. Type Two diabetics are non-insulin-dependent. This is owing to increased sugar intake. This can be tackled easily by consuming less sugar and at the same time taking lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. This sugar crosses the blood barrier at a much slower rate than refined sugar, which increases sugar levels.

Blood pressure can also be controlled by reducing salt intake. Vegetarians get heart problems primarily because most often the food is over-cooked and leaves no nutrients. This requires education not of the patient alone but of the person who cooks.

Thus, there are several proven methods of controlling and avoiding heart diseases. And, as can be seen, it is a multi-factor, multi-partner effort even within society and a family. It is just not an issue of money from developed countries.

What is the effect of Dean Ornish's methods of yoga and meditation on heart diseases?

They play a very significant role. One of the factors that could increase blood pressure or the chance of a heart attack is what is commonly called tension.

What happens clinically when you have 'tension'?

The amount of hormones generated by the pituitary glands or hypothalamine (adrenalin) rises and they increase the activity of the heart by raising the blood pressure. By doing yoga, you can calm the mind and allow the enzymes to be released at normal rat es. We have studies that show that when one gets angry the blood pressure shoots up and when one is under constant pressure, it is always high, and the hormones activate the retention of fat in the blood stream. There are several such hypotheses. Yoga an d meditation are certainly helpful.

Developed countries confronted this problem in the 1930s. How did they tackle it, and what was their experience?

There was a clear correlation between the sale of tobacco and the rise in the number of people with hypertension. But by the 1970s, public awareness had become such that people started demanding smoke-free zones and many people started giving up smoking. All this was possible basically because of public awareness.

Who created this awareness among the people?

Non-governmental organisations and the medical community played a major role in generating awareness. In the United States and Canada there are associations for physicians against tobacco. A number of organisations work together to curb tobacco use. Ther e is also a lobby to fight with the government against giving subsidies to tobacco companies. These factors have led to a decline in tobacco sales. Multinational tobacco companies are now dumping tobacco in countries such as India and China. The governme nts of these countries are sacrificing the health of the people by letting in these multinational companies. It is a short-term gain for a long-term drain of the economy.

Also, with the advent of drugs and preventive measures for conditions like obesity, hypertension and hypolipidemia, there is an associated decline in the incidence of heart diseases.

Thus, the number of deaths due to heart diseases was brought down in the developed countries by a multi-factor strategy. India has to learn from their experience and act immediately before it drains its economy.

KRISHNAMOORTHY SRINIVAS

Health is the supreme foundation for the performance of one's duty (dharma), acquisition of wealth (artha), gratification of the (legitimate) pleasures of life (kama) and the achievement of salvation (moksha). Diseases are the destroyers of health, go od life and even life itself.

- Charakasamhita, Sutra 11:4,

as quoted in Dr. K.S. Sanjivi's book Only One Life.

PREVENTION was a dirty word at the turn of the 20th century. It gained respectability thanks to the pioneering efforts of Geoffrey Rose, an epidemiologist, and Sir Richard Doll, a Fellow of the Royal Society who did path-breaking work on the harmful effe cts of smoking. Sir Horace Smirk showed in a small country like New Zealand 50 years ago how preventive measures could bring down the risk of mortality in cases of coronary artery disease and stroke.

In the United States, the rate of mortality from stroke and, therefore, morbidity, has come down considerably owing to the control of hypertension. In the case of an individual with uncontrolled hypertension the risk of stroke is seven times higher than in the case of a normal individual of the same age.

Smoking does enormous damage. The awareness of this truth has increased tremendously in developed countries. India is one of the countries where the smoking habit, to say the least, is terrible.

Studies at Harvard and other institutions abroad have shown that moderate intake of alcohol protects the heart and the brain. But the question is: what is 'moderate'? In the Indian setting, no clear studies are available. Excess intake of alcohol is a ri sk factor for the brain and the heart.

Dr. K.S. Sanjivi, Professor of Medicine and the founder of the Voluntary Health Service, a Chennai-based institution, was clearly ahead of his time. In his book Only One Life, he advocates prevention and moderation.

M.C. Subramaniam, a Gandhian, founded the Public Health Centre at T. Nagar, Chennai. The very name of the institution suggests that prevention was one of his main goals.

Dr. Arun Chockalingam points out in his interview that prevention is not a substitute for cure. A lot of preventive work is necessary to deal with 'infections'. The watchword seems to be public education in the local language, through the media. It would appear that unless something is done urgently, India will be saddled with diseases that erupted in the early part of the 20th century and also newer diseases.

Ayodhya

other

The demolition of the Babri Masjid was indeed a terrorist attack ("Ayodhya Agenda," January 7). The Bharatiya Janata Party must be regretting its decision to put Ram temple construction on its agenda. But what is done cannot be undone. The only way the B JP can hope to sustain the National Democratic Alliance is by disowning all family ties with the other members of the Sangh Parivar.

Samir Mahajan New Delhi * * *

The NDA came to power with a common National Agenda for Governance(NAG). In a 24-party alliance there are bound to be strains. Apart from pinpricks from partymen, such as members introducing private member's Bills on controversial issues, allies also wil l create problems for the BJP during Assembly elections in Bihar and Orissa. In Karnataka, the Janata Dal(U) has snapped its ties with the BJP at the State level and decided to go it alone in the zilla panchayat elections. However, so long as the BJP is strong and sticks to the NAG, the government will not face problems. But organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal may not allow it to adhere to the NAG which does not feature issues such as the common civil code and Article 370.

A. Jacob Sahayam Karigiri, Tamil Nadu Koyna

This has reference to the story on the Koyna disaster ("Dams and earthquakes," January 7). It is not just the reservoir-induced seismicity (RIS) that is at issue. Forests are infinitely superior to dams and perform all the functions that dams are suppose d to perform and much more. Large dams destroy rich forests, fertile agricultural lands, permanent pastures and other grazing lands.

So far, live storage equivalent to 47.5 Sardar Sarovars has been created by the large and medium dams in India. And 25 of them have already silted up. The remaining will silt up in another 65 years. But forests regenerated on a third of India's land area at a dry biomass density of 20 kg/sq.m. would help recharge as much groundwater as all these dams could do.

Ashok Kumar Mumbai Agricultural research

In his interview, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan discusses the state of agricultural research in the country ("For an Evergreen Revolution," January 7).

The Indian agriculture research system has actually been undermined by the menace of inbreeding. Most of the faculty members joined the universities as graduate students and never left them. There is no inflow of new scientific ideas. This is a dangerous trend.

Abishek Upadhyay, Received on e-mail Mavoor

The decision of the Grasim Industries to close down the factory at Mavoor is regrettable ("A stand-off in Mavoor," December 24). The factory should not have been run at the cost of local people's health especially when modern technologies are available f or pollution control and waste disposal. The management's statement that it is running a business and not a charity is highly reprehensible.

The company seems to have ignored the need to adopt safety standards for the past many years, thanks to the State administration's lackadaisical approach. It is a relief that trade unionism is not as aggressive as in the past thanks to the high rate of u nemployment in the State.

M.B. Madhu Kochi Capitalism and competition

This refers to the article "Global double standards" (December 10). The supporters of globalisation should be aware of the limits of liberalisation. Liberalisation should not impose a disguised form of capitalism on the democratic set-up of India.

In a capitalistic society work gives neither satisfaction nor happiness to workers. What motivates them is the desire to earn a livelihood. Their creative potentials are suppressed because the type of work they perform does not require much thinking or i magination.

Capitalism generates competition not only between the owners of the means of production but also between labourers working under different capitalists.

I support the author's argument that the labour laws prevailing in countries of advanced capitalism cannot be applied to Indian society. If India wants to become a developed country, it must develop small-scale industries.

Sudhakar Prasad Patna India and the West

The way in which our leaders and the elite kow-tow to the West is in stark contrast to China's approach. Although China has refused to submit to pressures from Western powers, it is respected by them. While paying lip-sympathy to our democracy the West t reats us with disdain.

Gandhi has warned us that the descendants of those who had sat on the fence during the struggle for Independence would appropriate power and misuse it in the guise of representative democracy. Hence he sought to disband the Congress and advocated a parti cipatory form of democracy in which power would be decentralised to the villages. This, he believed, would enable our people to lead a humane and civilised life. This is in contrast to the aggressive, materialistic European culture which has ruthlessly e xploited the planet's wealth using the power derived from science and technology.

India also had first-hand experience of such exploitation by one of the European powers, which used military power and the strategy of 'divide and rule'. A new strategy for economic domination of Third World countries like India was devised at Bretton Wo ods in 1948. The new methods of domination adopted by advanced capitalism are called globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation.

The struggle is now between survival and extermination. Can India show an alternative path? This alternative can emerge only from the common people, not from leaders who are corrupt and greedy.

Dr. N.H. Antia Mumbai Two weddings and a lesson

When I read about the ostentatious wedding of Laloo Prasad Yadav's daughter (Update, January 7), an anecdote came to my mind. When I was a post-graduate student at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi in the 1970s, one day I saw my P rofessor paying extra attention to a young man who was wearing a slightly torn shirt. After he left, the Professor told us that the young man was the son of the then Chief Minister of Bihar, Karpoori Thakur. He also narrated an experience that the then G overnor of Bihar had with Karpoori Thakur. The Chief Minister gave his son's wedding invitation to the Governor but later requested him not to attend the wedding. The reason: he was a poor man and hence could not afford to entertain many guests.

Dr. R. Vishvendra Rao California, U.S. Art exhibition

Suneet Chopra's observations do not add credibility to the article, "O Jerusalem" (January 7). We call Mahatma Gandhi the Father of the Nation and it does not follow that we did not exist before Gandhi's time or that we were fatherless. Any good Bible di ctionary anywhere in a Christian bookshop will contain the archaelogical and theological information on the meaning of Jerusalem being the "City of God". This kind of methodology has several parallels in Indian history too. Because we happen to accord ma ndatory status to the Asokan Lion Pillar, we do not obliterate the Harappan and Vedic heritage of the nation.

Rev. Philip K. Mulley Coonoor, Tamil Nadu Jerusalem

Suneet Chopra decries the recently shown City of David exhibition at the National Museum in New Delhi as "evidence of dubious historicity to proclaim that Jerusalem was the City of David" ("O Jerusalem!", January 7). In the guise of a learned article res ponding to what he implies was a political event, he in fact makes his own political - inaccurate, at that - statements with regard to a world-renowned scientific collection.

Some of what Chopra writes is simply incorrect and misleading. He claims that the exhibition is "largely of copies whose historicity one cannot vouch for". However, every single exhibit except one is an original finding, some dating as much as 5,000 year s back. What, then, are the 240 original exhibits if not historical?

Chopra says that "there is not a scrap of evidence to show that anyone called David ever ruled the area." It is true that there is a scientific debate on the question whether David was in fact as great a king as he is projected to have been, and on the h istorical value of the parts of the Bible. There is a vast range of opinions on this issue, some of which were recently reviewed in the weekly magazine of Ha'aretz, one of Israel's daily newspapers (available in English at www.haaretz.co.i1) whose depth and seriousness do not fall short of those of Frontline. As in every debate, each party is entitled to its opinion, at least until proven wrong. However, Chopra seems to dismiss any opinion which does not conform with his own. Furthermore, Chopra who claims that the Bible as a whole is little more than a collection of myths, suggests that the story of Abraham's non-sacrifice of Isaac indicates the historical end of the practice of human sacrifice. So perhaps even the early parts of the Bib le do offer something beyond myth, even according to Chopra.

In any case, the exhibition does not purport to prove the role of King David in history. Its title is derived from the fact that "the City of David" was the synonym for Jerusalem for over two millennia. Perhaps a misnomer - but a nomer nonetheless. Someo ne once argued that Shakespeare never existed and all his works were written by someone else. Would Chopra claim then that Romeo and Juliet or The Tempest have no literary value?

Most disturbing, though, is Chopra's claim that the exhibition is "Zionist propaganda" aimed at projecting Jerusalem as the City of David and not as that of peoples other than the Jews. This argument requires special attention at a time when delegitimisi ng one community to advance another is high on the agenda all over the world. Again, Chopra not only does not support this claim, but ignores the plain facts:

The excavations unearthed pieces covering 5500 years, from the Chalcolithic period to the Muslim period. For scientific and exhibitory reasons, the exhibition itself is limited to the findings from the settlement of the Eastern hill until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 BCE. This period, lengthy in itself, covers much more than the period of the Jewish civilisation. It covers life under the Canaaties, the Jebusites, the Israelites (the Jews), the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greek s.

Christianity did not emerge until a century later, and Islam, only seven centuries later. The exhibition does not deny the roles of these two religions in Jerusalem (in fact, their role is specifically mentioned in the exhibition's catalogue and is the s ubject of the article quoted by Chopra and provided to the media by the Embassy of Israel). It simply concentrates on some periods in the life of Jerusalem and not on others. Will an exhibition of Indian art under the Rajput kings be condemned for not pr esenting Mughal artefacts? Fortunately for both India and Israel, their heritage is so vast and varied that it cannot be presented all in one go.

Finally, Chopra quotes as affirmation of his position, the dilemma raised by Prof. Werblowsky, who inquires whether we should make use of symbols that draw from a mythological roots (to justify what Chopra calls "Zionist propaganda"). The question of myt h versus reality aside, Chopra fails to mention Prof. Werblowsky's own reply, who says that this is not an easy question, "for symbols cannot always be dismissed with a cavalier wave of the hands as mere slogans or mythological anachronism. Sometimes the y are the repositories of both the conscious and the unconscious life-giving truths of a community." Yes, Jerusalem is the symbol and realisation of the very basic tenets of both Judaism and Zionism. Israel need not apologise for it. We wish to share wit h the Indian public this sentiments, which have kept the Jewish people alive after more than 2,000 years of persecution.

Do not condemn a history of millennia which has created symbols. It is precisely that which constitutes culture.

Yael Ronen, Spokeswoman, Embassy of Israel New Delhi

Defeat at Kandahar

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THE terrorists-for-hostages deal that went through, under Taliban auspices, to end the eight-day ordeal of 155 passengers and crew members of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 might have brought relief and a dose of pseudo-euphoria to a nation in a state of anxiety and understandable confusion. Frontline shares India's, and the civilised world's, happiness over the safe return of the hostages and the widely felt grief over the hijackers' brutal killing of young Rupin Katyal. But the deal must be hone stly recognised as a humiliating and deeply damaging defeat for the Indian state, its 'pro-active' anti-terrorism stance, and its vital interests in Kashmir. "My government will not bend before such a show of terrorism," Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpay ee proclaimed to the world a day after the hijacking. A week later, he was trying to present capitulation to the Pakistani-sponsored, Taliban-aided show of naked terrorism as a substantial victory for his government - which, "guided by two concerns: the safety of the passengers and the crew, and the long-term, overall interests of our country," was able to "substantially scale down their demand." This was an attempt to stand the truth on its head: even the most resourceful apologists for the BJP-led gov ernment have not tried to explain how the long-term, overall interests of India could have possibly been served by this deal.

What is now abundantly clear is that the hijacking, carried out by five professionally trained desperadoes, almost all of them Pakistani nationals, was a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen operation in which the Pakistani state, or powerful politico-military elements within it, had a collusive hand. Such a feat of terrorism seemed designed to serve several objectives. The first, and largely symbolic, objective was to humiliate the Indian state, demonstrate its softness and helplessness in the face of low-intensity te rrorism in the 'guerilla' mode. The second was to raise the level of Indian and international concern over the Kashmir issue and also to raise the cost to India of holding on to its part of Jammu and Kashmir in the face of internal alienation and Pakista n-aided extremism and terrorism. The third objective was to wrest from India prize security catches such as Harkat-ul-Ansar general secretary Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani national and Taliban collaborator whose release would be a morale-booster for secessionist and terrorist forces in Kashmir and operationally, also, would be important.

The maximum demand of the hijackers, and their not-very-remote controllers, was the release of Maulana Azhar and 35 other noted terrorists (almost all of them Pakistani nationals), the return of the remains of a dead terrorist, Sajjad Afghani, and the pa yment of $200 million as ransom money. The 'scaling down' of India's losses in the terrorists-for-hostages deal is hardly a matter for celebration. The freeing of Maulana Azhar, the fundamentalist ring-leader, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, the serial-murderer an d Al-Umar military organiser, and Ahmed Omar Sheikh, a British national who graduated in the arts of extremist militancy from Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, is in any objective assessment a serious blow to the ongoing combined effort of India's securit y and secular-democratic political forces to counter foreign-aided secessionism and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Coming at a time when armed extremism in the troubled State is determinedly trying to move into higher gear, this development hardly squar es with the 'pro-active, hard state' stance against cross-border terrorism taken by Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and other top BJP leaders.

The Vajpayee government's response to the crisis was as technically inept as it was politically compromising. The Crisis Management Group (CMG) turned in a performance that ought to go into international anti-terrorism manuals as a turn-of-the-century le sson in how not to manage a hijacking crisis. The CMG reacted with pathetic slowness and confusion in the first couple of hours of the crisis. Once the opportunity to stall and stop the hijacked aircraft at Amritsar and send in commandos to rescue the ho stages was lost through a failure of nerve, everything else in the Pakistan-scripted plot followed - the refuelling halt at Lahore, the landing in Dubai, the end-game in the Taliban's den, Kandahar, in which it became clear that the Indian negotiators ha d run out of "we shall not bend before terrorism" options. The failure at the political level, where the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister seemed to be the key players, was shocking. The Opposition parties were not taken into confidence ab out the nature and contours of the deal taking shape at Kandahar. If there were any efforts to get the international community and the United Nations to bring pressure on the Taliban and Pakistan, they seemed to have drawn a blank. There is as yet no cre dible official explanation for why the United Arab Emirates could not be persuaded, with the help of international and United States pressure if necessary, to stall and detain the hijacked aircraft at the military base in Dubai and permit a rescue operat ion by commandos. Finally, too much reliance was placed on the Taliban regime to find a way out of the crisis and undeserved official certificates were provided to that pro-terrorist and fundamentalist regime, especially by External Affairs Minister Jasw ant Singh, for what it was willing to do to end the crisis.

Official India must expose the duplicitous role played by the Taliban regime in the end-game as objectively and truthfully as it goes about substantiating charges against Pakistan in this benighted affair. There are credible reports that it was in Kandah ar that the hijackers gained access to more deadly arms, however they managed to get them. The Taliban pretended to oppose hijacking, in principle, as both illegal and unIslamic. The plain fact, however, is that it refused, over several tortuous days, to allow India to field commandos to attempt a rescue operation; nor was it willing to undertake its own storming operation. While coming out against the hijackers' cruel deadlines, the Taliban hinted at deadlines of its own, threatening to compel the hija cked aircraft to leave Afghanistan if a solution was not quickly found. Thus it worked against India by exerting indirect pressure to give in to the hijackers' core demands, above all, the release of Maulana Azhar. By getting India's External Affairs Min ister to announce at a Kandahar press conference, in the presence of the Taliban Foreign Minister, that "His Excellency has assured me that the criminals will not receive any asylum in Afghanistan and they have ten hours within which to go wherever they have to go," the Taliban sought to win a stamp of bilateral approval for the sordidness and illegality of allowing the five hijackers, along with the three released terrorists, to go scot-free. In fact, instead of doing the right thing by apprehending th e hijackers and the released terrorists as soon as the hostages were set free and handing them over to India, the Taliban regime has clearly facilitated the re-entry of this fundamentalist terrorist gang into Pakistan to pursue their objectives further. What is passing strange is that External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, suffering perhaps from a variant of the 'Stockholm syndrome' (an attitude of trust or affection reportedly felt in many cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim towards a c aptor), has continued to maintain that "we received cooperation from the Taliban throughout the episode."

A comprehensive inquiry is needed into all aspects of this unedifying affair, including the Vajpayee government's handling of the crisis in its various stages, the real options available to it, and the roles played by Pakistan, the government of the UAE, and of course the extremism- and terrorism-exporting Taliban. If the government is unwilling to conduct such an inquiry, independent investigative efforts by the media, professional groups and Opposition political parties can go some way towards establi shing the truth and learning lessons from India's costly defeat at Kandahar.

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Oct 9,2020