Jaswant Singh revisits Kandahar…

Open-letter, Politics

…in his book, A Call to Honour to be released shortly.

He refers to the notes that he made during the journey from Delhi to Lahore and what went through his mind. ‘It is impossible not to jot down impressions on board this special flight. I do not really know what to term my mission — a rescue mission; an appeasement exercise; a flight to compromise or a flight to the future,’ he writes.



Dear Mr. Jaswant Singh,

Congratulations on your book, and thank you for giving me perhaps the worst New Year of my life in December 1999. (Even the Tsunami ravaged December 2004 was bad — but that was a natural disaster that left us humble, unlike Kandahar 1999, where a bunch of rowdies had us humbled).

But going by your quote above, I wonder who/what were you jotting your impressions for? Isn’t it obvious you were penning down notes for your book? And on the quote itself: Mr. Singh, you rescued the three terrorists; appeased a generation of them; compromised the honour of India; and of course it was a flight to the future for those terrorists, who otherwise would have deservedly rotted in prison. So, you shouldn’t have worried about what to term your mission. I’ll give you two words that sum it up aptly: national shame.

Till that incident, I had been a BJP supporter. For at some point of time, the party displayed a certain common-sense perspective, and talked a lot of right (right as in correct, not right, the politically polarized position) things. But this surely was a turning point in my understanding of the party. And please, don’t you raise the bogey of ‘coalition compulsions’ for this one too.

You Mr. Singh, of the famous accent and articulation, showed an embarrassing deficiency of tact and bankruptcy of tactics in handling this. It is one thing to be striking compromises with various groups — perhaps that’s a part of governance, and I believe all governments do it — and an entirely different thing to be seen as capitulating completely.

Imagine this, a Union minister as the flight care-taker. Tell us, did they serve liquor in-flight. After all, this was an international flight! Right?

First, the whole idea of releasing terrorists was wrong. But even then, tact could have dictated two airplanes. One carrying the minister and his team. And the criminals with the security officials in another. Otherwise the whole idea is repulsive — a Union minister of the Indian state, spending a couple of hours in the same plane as some of the most wanted global criminals. Headed towards the same destination, but to a different end. A beheaded Daniel Pearl some time later. (One of the terrorists Jaswant Singh escorted, Omar Ahmed Sheikh, was involved in the killing of Daniel Pearl) (Update: Read here an account of an HBO documentary on the issue by GreatBong)

Second, you could have bloody paid them money! As it is, all terrorists have been paid for by different governments. Well, there are suggestions that you did hand over some bags to them, which contained either money or explosives. But releasing criminals who have already undermined your authority once lets them undermine it to perpetuity. We are still paying the price for that.

‘Before writing about this event, I reflected long on how I was to do it; how would I convey the enormity of the challenge that was we faced, as a nation and not simply as a government,’ he writes in the chapter titled ‘Troubled Neighbour, Turbulent Times: 1999’.

Mr. Singh, the nation died that day. Your government survived. (Thankfully, not for long, though!)

I had to write this to exorcise from my psyche that one image from December 1999 that still haunts me — that of the grinning Taliban terrorists disappearing into the sunset. The pride and self-esteem of a billion people ground to dust. And that dust being blown around by the station wagon they drove away in.


Rahul Razdan