Message From Kabul Sumit Mitra August 15, 1984

along the Baluchistan front, there are still 5,000 Baluch guerillas garrisoned at the Afghan town of Kandahar, which Pakistan sees as the main stumbling block to normalisation of relations.


Message from Kabul

Sumit Mitra August 15, 1984

Ties between Al Zulfikar and Afghan President Babrak Karmal sour with Alamgir execution

Shahnawaz and Murtaza BhuttoThe execution of Mohammed Salam-ul-lah, alias Alamgir, the Al Zulfikar terrorist responsible for the 1981 hijack of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Boeing 707, in Kabul early in July has touched off a new wave of mutual recrimination between the Damascus-based organisation and the pro-Soviet regime of President Babrak Karmal.

Radio Kabul announced the execution of Alamgir on July 10 after his trial by the Afghan revolutionary court for the murder of Parvez Sinwari, a Pakistani emigre, last year and also for the killing of a Pakistani citizen at the time of the 1981 hijack.

Al Zulfikar, the terrorist group headed by Murtaza and Shahnawaz, the two sons of the slain Pakistani president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, sees in the execution of Alamgir, the 24-year-old ‘commander’ of the group’s Karachi division and a Pakistan Military Academy drop-out unmistakable signs of the Karmal regime discarding old friends for the sake of expediency.

In 1979, months after the hanging of Bhutto, Al Zulfikar was organised on the soil of Afghanistan with active patronage from the Afghan authorities, and both Murtaza and Shahnawaz were sheltered in Kabul.

Alamgir, accompanied by Naser Jamal and Arshad Butt, all Karachi boys belonging to Al Zulfikar, hijacked the PIA Boeing on March 2, 1981 from Karachi to Kabul in what has gone down as the longest air piracy in history – nine days – following which the Pakistani authorities had to accede to the hijackers’ demand of releasing 52 political prisoners, many of whom were awaiting capital punishment.

Significantly, the hijacking was not condemned by the Afghan authorities at that time even though the prisoners were released by the Pakistani authorities at their own insistence at Damascus and not in Kabul. However, relations between Al Zulfikar and the Kabul Government were getting increasingly sour since 1981 when the Afghans, nettled by Al Zulfiqar’s internal squabbles on Afghan soil, began interfering with them in a big way.

The executed hijacker AlamgirFinally, Murtaza and Shahnawaz left their haven in Afghanistan and headed for Libya. The two now operate from Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and Damascus, the capital of Syria, and command a well-trained militia of about 1,500 men. Even Alamgir did not enter Afghanistan for a long time since the hijacking.

He re-entered Afghanistan, according to the Radio Kabul announcement, on March 14 last year, apparently under orders from the Al Zulfikar leadership to liquidate Sinwari, a former Al Zulfikar activist who had adopted Afghan nationality and was suspected of being an Afghan plant in the organisation.

Diplomatic sources in New Delhi said Alamgir was sent from Libya and he might have travelled with false documents. He shot Sinwari dead on March 16 in front of a theatre in Kabul and was arrested by the security police in dramatic circumstances at Kabul Airport the same night, minutes before he was to fly out.

Informed diplomats in Kabul and New Delhi interpret the Afghan action as a determined move by the Afghan Government to strike an anti-terrorist posture and to restore normalcy in its relations with the outside world. The fallout of the 1981 hijack had been costly for the Afghans.

Group of Seven, the powerful member countries of the International Civil Aviation Organisation including the US, Canada, West Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Japan, decided to boycott Afghanistan, thus denying Ariana, the Afghan national carrier landing rights all along the lucrative route of Frankfurt, Paris and London.

The state-controlled Pakistani media prominently displayed the news of Alamgir’s execution, thus hinting that Pakistan appreciated the posture of toughness adopted by the Afghans against the assorted followers of the Bhutto family. The Kabul Government also wants direct talks to immediately commence with Pakistan, a desire which can come true only if the latter recognises the Karmal regime.

In dealing strictly with Al Zulfikar, President Karmal has neutralised a major irritant in the way. But, along the Baluchistan front, there are still 5,000 Baluch guerillas garrisoned at the Afghan town of Kandahar, which Pakistan sees as the main stumbling block to normalisation of relations.

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