Politicians often spout hot air. But this election cycle looks to be a heat wave.
The latest is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) doublespeak about what happened in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in December 1999. Security has emerged as a central threat to India and a hot-button campaign issue. The BJP claims it has a harder line with terrorists than the Congress, but what occurred at Kandahar undermines that.
First, the facts we know: the Indian government swapped its most notorious terrorist captives to secure a plane-load of hostages. These terrorists included the high-profile Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was later involved in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
L.K. Advani has said that as home minister he wasn’t briefed on the matter. That’s a dubious claim, considering he was a senior member of the cabinet committee on security. Advani’s claims have been at odds with later claims and assertions by members of the Vajpayee cabinet.
But the BJP did not stop there. A party spokesman, Prakash Javadekar, reportedly said that then opposition leader Manmohan Singh had backed prime minister A.B. Vajpayee’s plan at Kandahar.
This campaign hot air does not add up. Why would Vajpayee consult Singh, but not Advani? That’s especially unlikely because Advani was a member of the cabinet—not Singh. As home minister, it was Advani’s responsibility to be involved in security policy.
It’s always sensitive when politicians negotiate with terrorists or broker prisoner swaps. Kandahar was a path-breaking moment in Indian terrorist policy. But the decision was made in haste and without foresight. India has set a precedent that it is willing to swap prisoners.
Terrorists now know that and will act accordingly.
The least the BJP can do is tell us what actually happened. If Vajpayee made the move without consulting his home minister, a major oversight occurred. An independent inquiry into the Kandahar episode is imperative.
India needs a coherent well-thought-out terrorist policy. Campaign rhetoric aside, we need to know what actually happened at Kandahar.
What do the major parties’ stances on Kandahar tell us about their security policies? Tell us at email@example.com