Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister saw India face several security challenges such as the Kargil conflict, the Kandahar hijacking and the Parliament attack, but he steered the country through them, using diplomacy and military force in equal measure.
After being sworn in as prime minister for a second time in 1998, Vajpayee travelled on a bus from Amritsar to Lahore for a visit the next year which was widely acclaimed as the start of a new era in Indo-Pakistan relations.
However, despite the Lahore Declaration, the bonhomie between India and Pakistan did not last long as just months after the visit, the Pakistan Army undertook a covert operation to send its troops into Kargil that led to a limited conflict that Pakistan lost.
Vajpayee was desirous of peace with Pakistan and prepared to go the extra mile, but he did not hesitate in taking military action as well.
“I recall that when it (the Kargil conflict) broke, I was asked to come to Delhi and it was at a briefing at the Army headquarters that Mr Vajpayee sanctioned the use of airpower. It was personally sanctioned by him and the cabinet committee on security,” said Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, who was India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan at the time.
“He (Vajpayee) told them that you will not cross the Line of Control because we are fighting Pakistan as they have crossed the Line of Control, we should not do the same thing. And yes we emerged successful at the end of it,” he said.
The Vajpayee government lost the trust vote in 1999 and came back to power in October with Vajpayee as prime minister once again.
This time, the first major challenge his government faced was in December 1999, when an Indian Airlines flight IC 814, with nearly 190 people on board, coming from Kathmandu to New Delhi was hijacked by five terrorists and flown to Kandahar in the then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
The Vajpayee government agreed to the hijackers’ demands and the then foreign minister Jaswant Singh escorted the terrorists — Masood Azhar, Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar — to Kandahar and exchanged them for the captive passengers.
Another security crisis that his government faced was the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001 by Pakistan-based terror outfits.
Five heavily terrorists stormed the Parliament complex and opened indiscriminate fire killing nine people.
The dastardly attack on Parliament led to India mobilising its troops on the border with Pakistan under ‘Operation Parakram’ for nearly 11 months.
Talking about the troop mobilisation, Parthasarathy said, “When the Parliament attack took place, he (Vajpayee) mobilised forces on the border and put huge pressure on Pakistan.
The net result was that Pakistan was forced to a ceasefire and dialogue was resumed only after President Musharraf said territory under Pakistan’s control would not be used for terrorism.
“He (Vajpayee) was prepared to go the extra mile for peace, but he was also prepared to use military force in defence of the country as he did during Kargil and thereafter the military deployment after the Parliament attack,” he said.
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