The Kandahar hijack operation was "goofed up" as no one wanted to take a decision fearing loss of lives, according to former RAW chief AS Dulat.
Dulat, who was a member of the Crisis Management Group handling the 1999 hijack of the Indian Airlines IC 814 plane, said they could not decide that the plane should not leave Amritsar.
"Let me say, we goofed up... what was upper most in everybody's mind was security of the people," Dulat said on the Kandahar hijack during an interview on India Today television on Thursday.
"So instead of giving out clear instruction to Punjab police, which was incharge on ground there... nobody was willing to say this plane should never be allowed to leave Amritsar. That nobody said, because nobody was willing to take that call. Everybody thought what will happen if people die," he said.
The former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief also said that initially the terrorists wanted 105 terrorists to be freed.
"It happened on 30th December, finally a call was taken to release three militants... Initially, they wanted 105 then it came down to 35, to 15 and finally our team that had gone to Kandahar managed to bring it down," he said.
He also said two of the three terrorists were in Jammu and Kashmir and then chief minister Farooq Abdullah was angry about letting them go.
Abdullah shouted at Dulat for "hours together" during their meeting after the decision was taken to release the militants. Following tense negotiations with officials, the hijackers successfully got Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar and two other terrorists released from jails in exchange for the passengers and the plane.
Dulat said Abdullah felt the decision by the government was a "mistake" and he had stormed off their meeting to call on governor Girish Chander Saxena with an intention to resign. "However, the governor calmed him down and Abdullah eventually accepted the situation and agreed to the release of terrorists," he said.
Dulat also spoke about his last meeting with the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in which the BJP stalwart had said "woh humare se galti hui hai" (we have made a mistake) about the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Dulat, who headed the spy agency till 2000, before he was appointed as special adviser in Vajpayee's PMO on Kashmir issue, said the grief because of the riots was "clearly visible" on the former PM's face.
Reacting over the interview, Congress leader Ajay Kumar said on Friday:" Based on former RAW chief AS Dulat's interview, certain disturbing facts have come out in the open."
"Mr. Dulat explains how crisis management of the BJP government failed miserably. The plane was allowed to leave Amritsar," he said. "And because the plane left Amritsar, three terrorists Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar were released at Kandahar," Kumar added.
The BJP, however, defended the decision taken by the Vajpayee government in the case. "The primary concern of then government was the safety of the people trapped in the plane. The decision was taken with everyone's consensus," BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said.