On Dec. 24, an Indian Airlines jet on a routine flight from Nepal to New Delhi was hijacked and, after a traumatic journey, landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As of this writing, over 150 passengers and crew members remain hostage in rapidly deteriorating conditions.
The hijackers have demanded that India release Masood Azhar and 35 other jailed militants. Sections of the international media have described Azhar as an Islamic cleric from Pakistan. In fact, he is the general-secretary and ideologue of the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), which was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State in 1997 and 1999.
The U.S. Office of Counterterrorism has described HUM as an Islamic militant group based in Pakistan. Its leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, has been linked to Osama Bin Laden and in February 1998 called for attacks on U.S. and Western interests.
There have been several earlier attempts by HUM to secure the release of Azhar by resorting to abduction as a bargaining tool.
The U.S. government has strongly condemned the hijacking and the holding of passengers as hostages. President Clinton has warned that the greatest threat to the free world in the new millennium will come from international terrorism. This ordeal once again emphasizes that the United States and India must forge closer ties on every level, particularly in combating terrorism.
There is an immediate need for the international community to rally as one to address the problem and build a concerted strategy for pre-empting and dealing with such terrorist strikes.
LORAL ALBERTA COOK