Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the newly-appointed chief of the Afghan Taliban, may have played a key role in the 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814, officials involved with the case have told The Sunday Express.
Mansour, as the Taliban civil aviation minister, handled the hijacking along with its foreign minister, Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, and Kandahar corps commander Akhtar Muhammad Usmani.
The new Taliban chief, Indian intelligence officials believe, holds information on the role of the ISI station in Kandahar in supplying explosives and assault rifles which the hijackers received while the aircraft was parked on the tarmac.
“The hijackers took pistols on board the flight inside a sweet box they smuggled through security in Kathmandu,” recalled former Research and Analysis Wing chief C D Sahai. “But in Kandahar, we found they had automatic weapons, and had rigged the aircraft with explosives. It stands to reason that someone there provided them with these things after the plane landed,” he said.
Following the fall of the Taliban, the CBI was allowed to question Muttawakil who had surrendered to the US. Earlier that year, Mulinja Narayanan, the CBI officer in the case, said Muttawakil “was not forthcoming”. “He flatly denied he had any knowledge of what had transpired, and blamed everything on the others in the Taliban,” he said.
Former Kandahar corps commander Usmani, who the CBI also hoped to question, was killed in a 2006 airstrike targeting Taliban forces in Helmand province.
“The Indian government should press for action against all three individuals in the Taliban leadership who played a role in the IC-814 hijacking,” said Vivek Katju, a former Indian diplomat who negotiated with the hijackers and the so-called Islamic Emirate at Kandahar.
Little is known of Mansour’s background, other than that he was born in the Kandahar region in 1960. He was appointed to the Taliban’s supreme political and military council in Quetta in 2007, exercising direct influence over field units in Khost, Paktia and Paktika, Afghanistan. Afghan intelligence officials allege he played a key role in running narcotics to fund the Taliban.
Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s supreme chief, picked him as his successor in February 2010, in place of Mullah Abdul Gani Baradar, a key Taliban leader who was arrested in Karachi by Pakistan’s ISI, and has not been seen in public since. In 2013, the ISI later brokered meetings between former President Hamid Karzai’s representatives and Baradar but resiled on a promise to return him to Afghanistan.
Mansour’s appointment as Taliban chief is expected to give momentum to a Pakistan-brokered deal between the Islamist insurgent group and the Afghan government.