Finally, a step in the right direction
India has announced a no-nonsense policy that addresses terror in the skies: no negotiations with terrorists, directives to ground hijacked aircraft and should the need arise, authorisation for the air force to shoot down hijacked aircraft. Hijacking has also been made a capital crime.
Up to the time when Pakistani terrorists (under orders from Gen Musharraf) hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814 and landed it in Taleban-controlled Kandahar, Indian authorities handled each hijacking on an ad hoc basis — usually with disastrous results. Jaswant Singh’s flight into Kandahar to hand over Masood Azhar and other jihadi notables in exchange for the safe release IC-814’s passengers was the lowest point in India’s handling of terrorist and hijack incidents. India took a surprisingly long six years to evolve a coherent policy on this issue.
So it is heartening to note that the Indian government has finally articulated a clear policy on how it will react to future incidents of hijacking. Since the policy requires close co-operation between local and central civil authorities as well as military commanders, the Indian government would do well to run plenty of drills to ensure that when the time comes, every individual — from the air traffic controller to the prime minister himself — know exactly what to do. No matter how good a policy appears to be, it is no substitute for resolve and cojones. Yet establishing simple ground rules, regular practice and institutionalised decision-making can help prevent a situation from spiralling out of control. Besides, articulating options ex ante will help decision-makers make tough decisions without fear of ex post vilification.
For a government that has been trying to manage national security by subterfuge, an anti-hijack policy this robust is extraordinary. Announcing that it will authorise the air force to shoot down commercial aircraft is not easy for any democratic government — that the Congress party-led coalition government has done so is to its credit. As it has in the case of aerial terrorism, it would do well to adopt a no-nonsense policy towards terrestrial terrorism too. For there is a lot of that going on.