chapter  7
34 Pages

Negotiating the grand swap in Kandahar


Negotiating with terrorists over hostages essentially signifies negotiating under threat. Hostage-takers face an imminent threat of commando action by the government whose citizens they have taken hostage. At the same time, terrorists use hostages not only as an effective shield against any coercive measure but also as a currency of exchange (Faure 2003: 476) or bargaining chips in negotiations (Zartman 2003: 446). Thus, both government and terrorists perceive threat or really threaten each other, with the innocent hostages bearing the brunt of it. If hostage-takers are non-suicidal contingent terrorists (Zartman 2003) with a steely and ceaseless determination to accomplish their demands of, for instance, collecting ransom or getting some of their comrades released, they invariably seek negotiations as the way out of a hostage crisis. Negotiations are the most preferred strategy of terrorists, who are as much interested in achieving their desired goals without endangering their lives as governments are in protecting the lives of the hostages. Since hostage-taking is a calculated interest-driven activity of terrorists, aimed at advancing their cause, they know too well that any military response by their opponent would not only harm them physically but also defeat their goals. At the same time, the affected government tends to avoid risking the hostages’ lives while trying to defeat contingent terrorists and end the hostage crisis militarily. Thus, both parties tend to experience almost the same sort of compulsions and constraints providing the context and creating conditions for a common approach towards, and interest in, negotiations as a logical and practical method of resolving a hostage crisis, a point Kremenyuk has developed in the preceding chapter. This exemplifies the point that negotiation is inherent in a hostage situation (Zartman 1990: 165-166). Yet, in comparison, governments are the reluctant negotiators in any hostage crisis. The reason is that a negotiated solution would require both parties’ willingness to compromise on their respective positions and demands. In simple terms, their readiness to negotiate would imply their desire to give and take – better termed a trade-off. In this context, governments are faced with severe limitations and constraints. Since hostage-taking is a blatant criminal act by some unlawful people or an organization, governments tend to feel that giving into terrorists’ pressure by accepting some or all of their illegitimate demands in the process of taking what is legitimate (the release of hostages) would amount to be

bestowing legitimacy on them and approving their crime. In many negotiations, therefore, governments are seen as parties that “give”, more or less, to terrorists, who are essentially the “takers”. Thus the principle of compromise is expected only from governments, since they are forced to accept some of the demands of terrorists. On their part, under pressure, terrorists may extend concessions to their opponent by scaling down their demands (from their maximalist position to a minimalist one, which is still a maximum for governments, thus still not providing a Zone of Possible Agreement, ZOPA). This is truly an undesirable situation for governments. The entire process is very complex primarily in view of the differing nature and status of both negotiating parties – the state seeks to work within the politico-legal limits bound by established norms, whereas terrorists are wedded to violence as a means to achieve their desired ends and free of conventional restrictions – and the situation (marked by a hostage crisis) in which negotiations are conducted. This chapter provides a critical analysis of the entire structure, process and outcomes of the Indian government’s negotiations with the contingent terrorists who, in the last week of December 1999, hi-jacked an Indian Airlines (IC 814) plane and kept 161 people as hostages for eight days at Afghanistan’s Kandahar airport. The treatment begins with an account of the hi-jacking and hostagetaking incident and establishes the terrorists’ identity and goals. Then, in the subsequent section, some of the structural elements of negotiations are presented as a background for analysis of the protracted negotiation process between the Indian interlocutors and the terrorists. While assessing the outcome, the final section will highlight the theoretical implications of the Kandahar hostage negotiations.