Comedy of Errors?

The September 11 attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the United States have created confusion at all levels in New Delhi. The response of the external affairs ministry to the global developments in the wake of these attacks was overzealous and infantile.

Instead of viewing the international developments in perspective of the country’s cardinal policy of non-alignment it was much too quick in offering the United States all possible help, including opening its air-bases for US military planes and providing all possible logistic support to US forces for attacking Afghanistan. The hawks in the MEA looked at the international developments from their own point of view, with eyes on diplomatic gains over Pakistan, and not in the global perspective. Many in the home ministry also looked for small advantages in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, and in the process lost track of many important issues confronting the country. Angling for kudos, many agencies operating on various beats in the country started looking for an opportunity to fish in troubled waters.

The bizarre “hijack” drama of a Mumbai-Delhi Alliance Air flight on Thursday is stark manifestation of the confusion that has beset New Delhi. The question is whether it was an exposition of the confusion that has overtaken New Delhi or something beyond that. Many questions haunt the public mind. Who were the people behind the drama and under what design was the drama enacted? These are questions that are foremost in the minds of ordinary citizens. 

It was not a comedy of errors. The way it was carried out speaks volumes about the state of affairs at New Delhi. The incident kept the entire national security apparatus on tenterhooks. The seventy-six-year-old prime minister was kept awake till 4’O clock in the morning. The National Security Guard (NSG) commandos at New Delhi’s international airport stormed the aircraft, but quickly realized that no hijacking had taken place. The entire security system was not only fooled but held hostage for long hours.

Anything dangerous could have happened during those tense hours. The farce of hijacking had send tremors down the spines of the passengers’ kin. What was intriguing about this so-called hijacking was that even people in positions of responsibility, like the civil aviation minister, came out with irresponsible statements. The most amazing part of the drama was feeding the media with imaginary stories about the demands made by the hijackers. Taking strong note of the supreme confusion that held whole country hostage for four long hours, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Thursday evening ordered a high-level probe. Now the authorities have come up with unconvincing stories that it was a false alarm to test the alertness of the security system. No one in the country and outside is ready to buy this story. Whosoever directed this drama has brought disrepute to the country and put the credibility of the nation at stake.

No doubt, an inquiry committee has been asked to study why this happened and the government wants to make sure that it does not happen again. The prime minister was truly annoyed at this bizarre incident. But annoyance is not sufficient. It needs to be probed as to who was behind the incident and what his antecedents are. It also needs to be seen whether some agency was not trying to play a smarter role than one chalked out for it by the National Security Advisory Committee. There is definitely more to this incident than meets the eye. It is hard to believe that it was a result of a false alarm.

Mr. Sajjad Haider is the editor-in-chief of the daily Kashmir Observer.

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