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Rahul Gandhi’s barbs against NSA Ajit Doval for the Kandahar episode is malicious and bereft of facts

In his hurry to foul-mouth the Narendra Modi government, the Congress President chose to attack a highly decorated police officer of the country, who has spent all his career to secure the country's interests.

As election season begins in the country, our political class somehow manages to bring the discourse to a new low. Even though the civility among the political class is missing but one expects our politicians to obey a certain unwritten rule to avoid foul-mouthing our own heroes and other apolitical stakeholders.

However, Rahul Gandhi mostly believes that he is beyond these democratic conventions and civilities, prefers to target non-political individuals for merely being a part of a contrarian perspective. In a time, when even the Prime Minister of the country is being abused constantly, it is not surprising to see Rahul Gandhi indulging in such discourse.

On Sunday, Rahul Gandhi was part of another debate, when he tried to mock NSA Ajit Doval for being part of a negotiating team that had released terrorist Masood Azhar in 1999. While attacking PM Narendra Modi for the Pulwama terror episode, Rahul Gandhi went on to claim that Ajit Doval was the deal maker during the entire Kandahar episode and blamed him for the release of Azhar. Rahul Gandhi indicated that Doval’s action was responsible for Masood Azhar being free and carrying out attacks like the one in Pulwama.

In his post, Rahul Gandhi was referring to the infamous hijacking of IC-814 which led to the release of three terrorists by the Indian government, which included Jaish chief Masood Azhar. However, most of the claims of Rahul Gandhi appear to be half-truths.

On December 24, 1999, Indian Airlines IC 814 with 178 passengers and 11 crew members left Kathmandu for Delhi. It entered Indian airspace at 5.30 pm and was hijacked shortly after. The airline was hijacked by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen with the support and active assistance of ISI before flying to several locations before landing in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The hostage crisis ended after seven days when India agreed to release three dreaded Islamic terrorists – Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and Maulana Masood Azhar.

IC-814 was en route from Kathmandu to New Delhi. The hijackers directed the pilot Captain Devi Sharan to fly to Lahore initially. However, The captain flew to Amritsar citing insufficient fuel and persuaded the hijackers to allow him to land the plane at Amritsar. While the Crisis Management Group (CMG) headed by the Cabinet Secretary was still deliberating on how to deal with the situation, the IC-814 had already left Amritsar. Even though there was a 45-50 minute window to carry out an operation to end the hostage crisis, the government of the day did not prefer to take the risk, fearing the casualties. The reluctance from the government to go for an NSG operation also came from the fact that the opposition led by the Congress party, aided by its friendly media had put severe pressure to make sure that the Vajpayee government did not consider any military operation to release the hostages.

Years later, many senior government officials who were involved with the negotiating team, including NSA Ajit Doval had spoken about the negative role played by the media to put pressure on the release of hostages. The CMG had also kept the Prime minister Vajpayee in the dark for almost 90 minutes after the hijacking further limiting the options for the government.

IC 814 was eventually taken to Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan from Amritsar, after briefly touching down in Lahore and Dubai. After the IC-814 reached Kandahar, which incidentally was the base of the Taliban government, headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar. The hijackers had demanded the release of 35 terrorists from Indian prisons, including the dreaded terrorist Maulana Masood Azhar and had demanded $200mn in cash.

The Indian Government sent in a team of negotiators headed by Diplomat Vivek Katju, Ajit Doval, who was a high ranking Intelligence Bureau officer then, Nehchal Sandhu, and CD Sahay, along with few other representatives of Bureau of Civil Aviation Security. On December 31, 1999, the crisis came to an end as India agreed to release three of the top militants including Masood Azhar, the founder of the terrorist outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad. During these negotiations, Doval was also effective in bringing down the number of terrorists to be released from 35 to just three.

According to some experts, Ajit Doval had opposed the release of Masood Azhar, as he knew the repercussions of releasing such a dreaded terrorist. However, Ajit Doval being a government official then had to fall in line with the decisions of the government. Reportedly, Ajit Doval had requested the government for more time to negotiate a deal without the release of Azhar to rescue the hostages.

It is rather shocking that Rahul Gandhi who aspires to lead the country in the future seems to have no idea concerning the tough negotiations that follow with terror groups during such national emergencies. In his hurry to foul-mouth the Narendra Modi government, the Congress President chose to attack a highly decorated police officer of the country, who has spent all his career to secure the country’s interests.

Rahul Gandhi also deliberately disregards the fact that his mother Sonia Gandhi, the then Congress Chief and Manmohan Singh were also present in the meeting convened by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to take a decision on the issue. If Rahul Gandhi intends to points fingers at one individual, who was acting on the orders issued by the government, which in turn had the backing of the opposition parties like Congress, then Rahul Gandhi should also ask questions to his own party for being part of such a decision which let Masood Azhar escape.

Some of the journalists who had covered the incident had also revealed that Vajpayee government in 1999 had to release three terrorists because the media and activists at that time created too much pressure on the government due to their hysterical coverage of the IC 814 hijacking.

It is extremely unfortunate when political discourse gets an ugly turn to humiliate our own  ‘national heroes’ for duly following orders. Rahul Gandhi, whose only credential is being a ‘dynast’ should be ashamed of himself for resorting to such crass dig at National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who is one of the most respected strategic thinkers of our times with a career spanning more than five decades.

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