The Kandahar story is not dying easily. Then Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah has reiterated that LK Advani was not a reluctant party to the decision to exchange IC 814 passengers for terrorists, but an enthusiastic subscriber to it.
An impression has been created by the BJP leader’s many, and continuing, statements on the December 1999 tradeoff that he had only reluctantly agreed to it and that he was not aware of Jaswant Singh accompanying terrorists to Kandahar.
Abdullah told Hindustan Times on Friday: “I had rung up Advani and told him that we cannot release terrorists like Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Zargar. That there were cases against them in the court of law and I cannot release them.”
According to Abdullah, Advani did not relent. “Advani said it was the Union cabinet’s decision and you have got to help us,” Abdullah said, recalling his telephonic conversation with Advani who was then Union Home Minister.
Abdullah’s National Conference was then an ally of the BJP and a partner in the ruling National Democratic Alliance. And his son, Omar Abdullah, was a minister in the Union government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
This is not the first time the former J&K chief minister is saying this. In a 2006 interview, too, Abdullah had attacked both Advani and Vajpayee on the subject.
Abdullah said he spoke to Advani as a team of the country’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), headed by AS Dulat was camping at his official residence in Jammu on the night of December 30, 1999.
Advani’s reluctance to be identified with the deal has been called even by his cabinet colleagues. When asked about in March 2008, George Fernandes Defence Minister in NDA government, said: Yes, all were present.
On the night of December 30, 1999, the RAW team was pressing for the release of Maulana Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar from Kot Bhalwal, Jammu and Central Jail, Srinagar, he said. The third terrorist, Saeed Omar Sheikh, was lodged in the Tihar jail, Delhi. The hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane, IC 814, had demanded the release of the three in return for freeing the 140 passengers held hostage by them at the Kandahar airport in Afghanistan.
Abdullah’s comments, soon after Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s pointed posers to Advani on the Kandahar issue, could provide more ammunition to the ruling party campaigners. The BJP was stung this week by an unprecedented attack by the Congress on the issue, which had so far been seen as skirting the debate on national security. The BJP, on the offensive on the issue of terrorism, has been ducking the Kandahar issue, so far.
(With Nagendar Sharma)