We have had extensive debates on how as a Nation we should respond to hostage situations. We had very high profile situations, one involving a daughter of then Union Home Minister and another involving a plane load of hostages at Khandahar. In both situations we surrendered to the demands of terrorists to get the hostages released. But, we seems to have not learned any lessons yet!
India is a country that is besieged with conflicts; both of internal and external origin. There are bound to be situations involving hostages in such conflicts. As we all know, right now we are undergoing yet another situation in which a District Collector and an Engineer are being held hostage by Maoists. Maoists are making preposterous conditions for release of the hostages. The State Government has already suspended all the combing operations against the Maoists and has appointed negotiators to talk to Maoists.
The present case is attracting media attention similar to the two high profile situations mentioned above. In the words of a TV chat show host, “how can Maoists be so out of touch with the feeling of masses and abduct a young IAS officer who is very popular and a graduate of IIT Madras?” This victim is young, educated, popular and has become the darling of media, overnight, though not such luck for the other victim who is also an educated and young engineer.
If we go by the indications, State government will negotiate with the Maoists and concede their demands to get the safe release of the hostages. I am sure, the previous occasions involving abduction of security forces and their subsequent “unconditional releases”, also involved back room negotiations and meeting of conditions.
In an armed conflict, if we start negotiating and conceding demands of the opposition (here Maoists, may be LeT or IM or Abhinav Bharat tomorrow) it will become their easiest and preferred tactics. They just have to take a high profile hostage, negotiate and get away with all demands. Most of these demands are often not for the benefit of their supposed constituency but for release of their comrades or easing the pressure on their operations.
Negotiating and conceding demands of abductors can have two major impacts:
1. It negates all the successes that the security forces have managed over time and therefore demoralises them.
2. It encourages the tactics of hostage taking and therefore increases such incidence and victims.
It is the time for our governments to unequivocally declare that under no situation, they will concede any demands of the abductors. Irrespective of the status of hostage, no concessions are to be made under threat. We should have strike forces specialised in dealing with hostage situations and attempting the rescue. We as a Nation must be prepared to bear the cost of even human lives in such situation. Once we take such a strong stand, on the one hand the incentive for taking hostages will reduce and on the other hand the security consciousness of all potential targets also will improve.
If we have to protect the integrity of this nation, we must strive to increase the security for all its citizens and fight forces out to disrupt that security. At the same time, we as the citizens must be willing to accept the risks and not seek to compromise Nation’s interests for our own personal safety.