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Special Event

Millennium 2000: 'We Are Not Soft on Terrorism,' Says Indian Ambassador

Aired January 3, 2000 - 7:11 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: In India, a bomb explosion in a busy market in Kashmir has left dozens of people dead or wounded. The blast occurred in a suburb of Srinagar, the capital of Indian ruled Kashmir.

Some of the victims are Indian security forces who have been fighting Islamic militants for control of Kashmir. The blast follows the Indian Airlines hijacking that ended when India freed three leading Kashmiri separatists in exchange for the hostages.

Today, India's prime minister accused Pakistan of being behind the hijacking, in turn, the Indian government has been criticized for the way the hijacking/hostage crisis was handled.

And joining us now from Washington is Naresh Chandra, the Indian ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Chandra, what evidence does your government have that Pakistan was behind this, as the prime minister has alleged?

NARESH CHANDRA, INDIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: The evidence is in several parts. The first thing that has to be considered is that there is substantial support in Pakistan. And organizations like the Hal Kartol Ansad (ph), Hal Kartoal Mushadin (ph), who are known terrorist organizations, very established, and have been inside Pakistan. So we have a history of several years where these terrorists units have derived support from agencies -- specialized agencies -- in Pakistan.

Secondly is the evidence that the people who were thought to be released are the -- most of them are Pakistanis and some of them are known killers, and people who have perpetrated violent crimes as a part of an overall campaign, which the Pakistan government says they are supporting, morally, diplomatically and politically, whatever that means. So, in addition...

MCEDWARDS: But ambassador -- but Ambassador Chandra, in this specific case, is there any evidence?

CHANDRA: You see the evidence is on the business of intercepts that we have got, which will be released by the government in due time. The evidence is that no four or five persons could have planned and executed this kind of an operation without outside help. There has to be an station when these hijackers were in flight. They were getting items and instructions, and they acted according to plan. That evidence is the extraordinary steps taken by the hijackers to conceal their identity, and that was part of the plan. That there should be deniability, and we have got leads as to who these people are, and they are all from Pakistan, and have been going to Pakistan under the guise of mounting a way of crossing a border which cannot be patrolled sufficiently.

So there is that evidence, plus what we have been able to gather from the passengers and the pilot.

MCEDWARDS: Ambassador Chandra, excuse me for interrupting, but I do want to ask you, also, about the criticism that the Indian government has come under for negotiating with hijackers and for releasing the Kashmiri militants. How concerned are you about the message that that may send?

CHANDRA: Well, there is -- there is more democratic government, which is not concerned with an operation of this kind. But you see, in the eyes of democracy, many views are expressed, what has to be seen is that we had to balance conflicting considerations. I don't think the way in which this crisis has been handled by my government goes to show in any way that our commitment to combat terrorism has diminished, in fact, if anything, it has been strengthened.

But we had to balance the life of more than 150 innocent civilians who have nothing to do with it, and who were in the grip of maniacal killers and who would have gone to any extent to meet their objectives.

So government had to balance these two considerations, and I think the manner in which the negotiators showed patience took a lot of time, and then made the hijackers scale down their demands, both to show that we are not soft on terrorism.

MCEDWARDS: Ambassador Naresh Chandra, thank you very much for joining us.

CHANDRA: Thank you.

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