Hands Tied, India Caves in to Hijackers

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The Indian Airlines hijacking drama may have ended peacefully, but that won’t help the Taliban’s PR efforts to distance itself from terrorism. The hijackers released their 155 captives in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Friday after India agreed to hand over three high-profile Kashmiri separatist prisoners. New Delhi’s decision to reverse its no-concessions-to-terrorism policy reflected mounting domestic pressure to resolve the standoff at the same time as Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers tied India’s hands. "There were threats of self-immolation by relatives of the hostages in India and it became very difficult for the government to hold out," says TIME New Delhi correspondent Maseeh Rahman. "But once the Taliban refused to allow Indian commandos to storm the plane, India may have had little option."

The airport tarmac at Kandahar became a battlefield of regional political intrigue as the hostages sweated and shivered through sweltering days and chilly nights: Initially, India looked set to restore relations with the Afghan rulers on the basis of their cooperation with Indian efforts to free the hostages, but then Pakistan — the Taliban’s original patron — put its foot down. "There’s a feeling in New Delhi that Pakistan played a tremendous role in pressuring the Taliban to not allow a commando raid," says Rahman. "Indian commandos were waiting at the airport in Kandahar to storm the plane, but after Pakistan intervened, the Taliban suddenly surrounded the plane with men and armored vehicles and forbade an Indian attack." As the hijackers left Kandahar airport accompanied by the prisoners whose release they'd won, the Taliban promised India that they wouldn't be given asylum, and would have to leave Afghanistan within 10 hours. Then again, the Taliban periodically say Osama Bin Laden's left, too.