Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar has claimed that India had offered money to the then Taliban government to arrest and hand over him and two others after they were exchanged for passengers and crew of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814 at Kandahar in 1999.
Azhar claimed the alleged offer was made by the then External Affairs minister Jaswant Singh to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, the Taliban chief who was killed in a US drone strike last month. At the time of the hijacking, Mansur was the civil aviation minister of Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Azhar made these claims in an obituary of Mansur, posted under his pen name Saidi in the June 3 issue of Al Qalam Weekly, which is considered the Jaish’s online mouthpiece.
As part of the Kandahar swap, Azhar was released, along with Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, on December 31, 1999. Mansur had received Azhar on the Kandahar airport tarmac and driven him out of the airport in his white Land Cruiser.
In the obituary, Azhar wrote: “Once I had a meeting with Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur at Kandahar airport. This airport came under his ministry. I was part of a delegation from Karachi. Taliban had provided a plane to bring the delegation from Kabul to Kandahar where Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur welcomed us. He took the guests to the VIP lounge… Mullah sahib made me sit next to him on the sofa. Then he told me that Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh sat on the same sofa when he brought you to drop you at Kandahar.”
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Azhar added: “… he (Mansur) started repeating the story of that day with a lot of pleasure. He said that Jaswant Singh had told him that our prisoners (Azhar, Zargar and Sheikh) would still be in Afghanistan and you arrest them and hand them over to us, hum aap ki hukumat ko malamaal karengey (we will make your government rich).’’
Quoting Mansur, Azhar wrote: “…’I (Mansur) told him that if you are able to return (to India) safely, even that would be a big thing’.”
However, the chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) at the time, A S Dulat told The Indian Express that “money never came up at all” during that episode. “It is bunkum. Unfortunately, the claim is regarding a conversation between two men that nobody can verify because one is dead and another is in coma,” he said.
Former diplomat Vivek Katju, who was heading the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk at the Ministry of External Affairs then and was one of the negotiators during the hijack, said: “I don’t have any such recollection. I was with Jaswant Singh. This is a baseless canard.”
Another former R&AW officer Anand Arni, who was in Kandahar airport at the time, said that “as far as I recall, I don’t think Mansur met Jaswant Singh”.
“Jaswant Singh went for a cup of tea with Muttawakil (then Afghanistan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil). But I wasn’t present there. There was a lot of chaos there (at the Kandahar airport) when the hostages were released. I left in another aircraft. I don’t think Taliban would have handed them over to us,” said Arni.
In the obituary, Azhar also wrote that Mansur was the amir-ul-mumineen (leader of the believers) and that his killing was an attack on the chest of the Muslim “Ummah (nation)”. “Whether they are in Iran, Afghanistan or Pakistan, Allah will unveil all those who are guilty of this attack,’’ he wrote.
Attacking the current Pakistan government, Azhar wrote: “The current Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan has moved several steps ahead of previous Pervez Musharraf and Zardari regimes in its animosity towards Jihad and religion. They (Nawaz government) are busy trying to turn Pakistan’s friends into its enemies.
The Iranian government is the biggest enemy of Muslims and Taliban. For a long time, they (Iran) have been waiting for an opportunity to take revenge against the defeat of Hizb-e-Wahdat and Harkat-e-Islami (pro Tehran groups) by Taliban. Americans are dazed by the defeat in Afghanistan in 2014 and they have been trying for a long time to save their honour. This way, many elements were trying to hit Taliban.”
Azhar wrote that with the killing of Mansur, “all the enemies have struck and now it is the turn of the Muslims” and “hopefully, the world would witness strange scenes soon”. Following the killing of Mansur, the Taliban named his deputy, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, as their new leader.