Releasing five militants in lieu of Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed in 1989 was a grave mistake, said Farooq Abdullah, former J&K Chief Minister.
Abdullah was speaking at a discussion on the formal release of the book, "Kashmir – The Vajpayee Years" by A S Dulat, former chief of Research and Analysis Wing.
The book said that five militants had to be released to free Rubaiya Sayeed after she was kidnapped in 1989.
Abdullah added that he was forced into the decision by two union ministers, Arif Mohammed Khan and I K Gujral. "The then civil aviation minister Arif Mohammed Khan and External Affairs minister I K Gujral came to meet me in Srinagar and I briefed them about the situation. I made it very clear that we have to fight terrorism. However, they told me that the cabinet has already taken the decision to release the five militants," recalled Abdullah.
Lashing out at the decision, Abdullah said that the central government had compromised the nation's interest by releasing the militants. "I wouldn't have released a single terrorist even if the militants had taken my daughter hostage. I asked the central ministers to give it in writing on behalf of the cabinet. I told them that this is the last nail in the coffin and we will never be able to recover from this," he added.
Abdullah also came down heavily on the release of three hardcore militants in exchange of 184 passengers of hijacked IC-814 aircraft in 1999, another controversial revelation in the book. Abdullah said that he was adamant in not releasing the militants, and he had expressed his reservations to the then Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani as well as External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. Abdullah said he felt that Advani was being pushed into the decision of releasing the militants. "I told them we have to fight our battle against terrorism and we can't go soft on it," he said.
When asked whether the government at the centre was at fault in handling the situation, Abdullah said that the aircraft should not have been allowed to leave Indian soil. "Everyone in the government was busy protecting their chair. What I feel strongly is that the aircraft should not have been allowed to leave the Indian soil," he added.
On a question on whether ransom was paid to release the passengers, former R&AW chief Dulat said that not a single penny was paid. "Not a rupee, a dollar was paid as ransom," he said. Dulat was posted in JK as an Intelligence Bureau officer in 1988. Later on, he headed the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, and then became adviser to prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, serving in government till 2004.
In another storm raised by the book, it said that the Hizbul Mujahideen and United Jihad Council chief, Syed Salahuddin, once contacted the head of India's Intelligence Bureau (IB) in Srinagar (K M Singh) to ask for a place in a medical college for his son which Farooq, then chief minister, arranged. Commenting on this, Abdullah said: "It was only an effort to bring them back to the mainstream."
Another controversy which the book raised was that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002 promised to make Abdullah the vice-president, but later backtracked. When asked whether he felt cheated by the incident, Abdullah said that one has to move on in life. "I did get hurt but one has to move ahead in life. It's meaningless to get stuck in life with setbacks," Abdullah said.
The former J & K chief minister warned that the country needed to wake up to the threat of fundamentalism adding that the central government needed to trust Kashmiris. "They are not your enemies," he added. The book was mired in controversies much before its release.