The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi policy gun for hostage crisis

New Delhi, Sept. 19: The next time the government is confronted with a hostage crisis, such as the recent one in Iraq, it may have to work within the framework of a national policy.

On Friday, two weeks after the release of three Indians held hostage in Iraq for 42 days, the national security advisory board is believed to have finalised a draft 'national anti-hostage taking policy for consideration and adoption by the government'.

The draft policy, said sources, is anchored in the basic premise that the government would make 'no compromise' while dealing with a crisis. It represents a departure of sorts from the 'no-negotiation' policy about which national security adviser J.. Dixit talked a couple of weeks ago.

A no-negotiation approach was seen to be impractical since contact with the captors or their backers is necessary to secure safe release of hostages, said the sources.

But the draft does not allow the government to consider paying a ransom, or release jailed terrorists in exchange for the freedom of hostages or escort terrorists to freedom for the freedom of hostages, as happened in Kandahar where an Indian Airlines flight was hijacked.

The sources said the draft policy document, prepared by the recently-reconstituted 16-member board headed by Dixit over four sittings, would be placed before the Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The 'no-compromise' formulation, according to the sources, would leave enough flexibility to the government to establish contact with the hostage-takers while setting limits on the extent to which it can go. 'It must be clear as a matter of policy that the rule of law must prevail,' the sources said.

'The policy intends to send out a tough signal to potential hostage-takers, whether in the country or outside,' they said.

Unlike in the US, the board does not favour an anti-hostage-taking law. 'Laws introduce an element of rigidity and it would have the effect of severely restricting the government's ability to deal with a hostage crisis,' the sources added.

They said it has been a matter of 'concern to the government that whenever a hostage crisis has taken place in the past, it has found itself in a tight spot'. Besides proposing a no-compromise policy, the draft has dwelt on the question of assigning responsibility in a hostage situation.

The Prime Minister, home minister and the foreign minister have been instantly brought into the picture on previous occasions. But the idea now is to lay down an institutional mechanism to deal with such crises in the future, though at present there is a crisis management group.

Media dimensions of a hostage crisis have found a place in the draft. 'As experience shows, the media also come into the picture. Media coverage of the crisis impacts the government's ability to handle the crisis situation,' the sources said.

The board examined national policies and laws in countries like the US, Israel, Russia and China and took note of the 1979 UN convention on hostage-taking. In addition to refusal to pay ransom, exchange hostages for terrorists and make a policy compromise at the government level, the US also discourages private companies and citizens from ransom payment.

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