ON Christmas Day in 1999, an Indian Airlines flight was hijacked soon after it took off from Kathmandu, by terrorists seeking the freedom of over a dozen terrorists incarcerated in Indian jails, the most important of them Masood Azhar, the cleric who would go on to found the Jaish-e-Muhammad. The Cabinet Secretary ordered the Crisis Management Group, made up of key Secretaries to the Government of India, to be summoned.
The team was left to improvise as best it could. Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh, one insider recalls, tried calling numbers for police and airport decision-makers in Amritsar, where the plane had stopped to refuel. The numbers had changed, they discovered — and by the time new ones were found, it was too late. Punjab Police officers, meanwhile, had been asking for authorisation to block the aircraft’s exit from the parking bay, and attempt a storming — a task that they would have accomplished with ease, since the terrorists had no automatic weapons on board at that stage. The authorisation, though, never came. - See more