Time to evolve a policy on hostage situation

Time to evolve a policy on hostage situation

Political parties must overcome their differences and come together on this issue of national concern.

The recent hostage crisis which emanated after the kidnapping of Odisha legislator Jhina Hikaka and Chhattisgarh district collector Alex Paul Menon by Maoists, has raised a lot of disturbing questions.

Both of them were released after the respective state governments agreed to the demands of the Maoists. The demands were outrageous. It included the release of dreaded terrorists from prison. The states have had to eat humble pie on this issue.

Over the last few decades the Indian State has repeatedly capitulated to the demands of terrorists. Many a times it is not only menacing groups like the Kasmiri militants or Maoists, but even Somali pirates and forest brigands like Veerappan who have brought a mighty State like India to its knees. Why is the Indian State so weak willed in dealing with hostage situations?

One understands the pressures on the government of the day to secure the lives of every single citizen, however can it be at the cost of national security? In nearly all the cases the trade-off is a very costly one for the State. The terrorists demand the release of their comrades from prison. The Indian State has been most obliging in all such instances.

The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), at the forefront of Kashmir's rising militancy, kidnapped Rubaiya Sayeed, a 23-year-old medical student,on December 8,1989. Barely a week earlier, her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had been sworn in as India's home minister in the VP Singh government. The militants demanded the release of five of their comrades from jail. Without even a token resistance, the government gave in meekly. The insurgency in Kashmir got a tremendous boost after this, as was evinced in the increased number of attacks on our security forces.

Perrenial nightmare

On December 24,1999 Pakistan-based terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines flight (IC-814 ) from Kathmandu to New Delhi. The aircraft was taken to Amritsar, Dubai, Lahore and finally to Kandahar in Afghanistan. After a week the government decided to release three dreaded terrorists in exchange for the safe release of IC-184 passengers. This disaster has become a perrenial nightmare for India. All three of the released terrorists carried out anti-India activities after their release. One of them Maulana Masood Azar, founded Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)which has carried out some audacious attacks, including the one on the Indian Parliament in 2001. The released terrorists have only bled India.

The menace of Maoist violence has only increased. The latest Home Ministry annual report revealed that between 2008 to 2011 3,240 people were killed due to Maoist violence. This is nearly six times the number of people killed in J&K during the same period. The Maoists were also responsible for 1,544 kidnappings during the same period.
This is clearly an alarming situation.How should we respond to such cowardly tactics adopted by terrorists?

There has to be a clear policy on how the government ought to respond to such situations. It must evolve out of a consensus with the opposition parties. Political parties must overcome their petty differences and come together on this issue of national concern, because this affects everyone.

There are a few models available. The Russian model is something our policy makers can examine. The Russian Federation has been subject to many acts of terror, mostly emanating from the Chechen region. Chechen terrorists took control of a crowded Moscow theatre on October 23, 2002. They took 850 hostages and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and an end to the Second Chechen War.

After a two-and-a-half day siege, Russian Spetsnaz forces pumped an unknown chemical agent into the building’s ventilation system and raided it. Officially, 39 of the terrorists were killed by Russian forces, along with at least 129 and possibly many more of the hostages (including nine foreigners). This resulted in the deaths of some hostages but the state did not surrender to the terrorists. The Russians repeated this in 2004 during the Beslan school crisis when Chechen terrorists captured a school.  The Russian leadership did not surrender and instead launched a commando operation which ended the crisis. Again a few hostages were killed but the terrorists were defeated. Now Chechen terrorism is a pale shadow of what it was in the past. This is in large measure due to the hard-line approach taken by the Russian political leadership. Countries like Colombia and the US too have evolved hostage  policies that forbid capitulation to the demands of the terrorists.

India needs to start taking hardline positions to deal with such situations. We need to evolve a clear doctrine grounded in law, which forbids the surrender of the State to terrorist demands. That will surely help in shedding the image of a soft state that weakens our collective morale, and it will go a long way in preserving our national interest.

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