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Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 09:58 GMT
India's press asks tough questions




"It is a new year. And a new century. But for India the focus shifted away from the millennium celebrations to the plight of the passengers on board Indian Airlines flight IC 814."

Hijack Special Report
The Asian Age takes the line of many Indian newspapers in setting millennial fever to one side and concentrating on the release of the Indian hostages in Kandahar.

And after the jubilation of the front pages about the release, the Indian press' opinion columns are generally harsh on the government.

Under the headline "Bitter Relief", The Asian Age begins by criticising the slow response of the authorities when the crisis broke.

"The complete incompetence of the government to manage a crisis has been exposed by the hijacking. After all, the preparedness of a country is judged during a crisis and not in peace time and the government of India was found to be completely wanting on this front," writes Seema Mustafa.

She also criticises an attempt to tie up "the entire Islamic terrorism package in a Muslim mix with a former diplomat actually coming on television at the initial stage of the hijacking to ask the Indian Muslims to appeal to Pakistan etc, for the release of the passengers.

"He did not stop to ask: what has the Indian Muslim to do with Pakistan or for that matter the terrorists operating in this region?"

Reverse

"Citizens feel let down by the government" reads another headline in The Asian Age.

Under the headline "Hostages freed, back in India", The Statesman in Calcutta welcomes the conclusion of the crisis in Kandahar, but sounds a sceptical note about the country's politicians.

"The release of the hostages is welcome but there can be no doubt that we have suffered a reverse in the hijacking drama.... One militant released is one too many. If we do not hold fast to this position not only in hijackings but taking of hostages generally, we will live to regret it," The Statesman writes.

"Great relief but a heavy price" says The Hindu, heralding the "widespread sense of relief and rejoicing" at the end of a "gruesome ordeal".

The Hindu says that the deal struck by the Indian government and the hijackers "is certainly a bitter pill for the country to swallow. Yet it was a Hobson's choice, given the fact that more than a hundred innocent lives were at stake".

"The hijackers managed to browbeat the government of India... the painful reality is that the government's strategy and tactics in this period demonstrably foundered, " says The Hindu.

Urgent necessity

Like several other Indian newspapers, The Hindu criticises the Indian authorities for not stalling the plane when it landed briefly at Amritsar on the first day of the crisis, leaving the way clear for the hijackers, who "triumphantly took the plane out of Indian skies to unfriendlier destinations".

The most "urgent necessity", The Hindu says, is "the formulation of a long-term strategy to deal with militancy in the [Kashmir] Valley, including a recognition of the need for a political approach to the aspirations of the Kashmiris".

Brahma Chellaney in The Hindustan Times takes a tougher line: "The only way the government can redeem itself now is by launching an all-out war against terrorism that demonstrates that what happened at Kandahar was only a tactical retreat."

The Times Of India, under the headline "Setback for India", notes that even Israel has released prisoners in exchange for hostages.

"Concessions made by the government can be minimised... if, even at this late stage, the nation will wake up to the harsh realities of its security environment," writes The Times of India.

"All the resources of our intelligence and security agencies have to be brought to bear in countering the possible attempts at escalation of the terrorist campaign being waged in Jammu and Kashmir," it continues, calling for "a state of general alert against terrorism."

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See also:
01 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Hijackers release final hostage
31 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hostages recount hijack ordeal
31 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Indian hijack drama over
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Analysis: Testing time for Taleban
29 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hijackers drop two demands
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Analysis: India warms to the Taleban
28 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Analysis: A high profile militant group
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Chronology of a hijack
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Profile: Maulana Masood Azhar

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