Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar has reportedly said that the Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) in 1999 had offered cash to the then Taliban government in exchange for him and two others, according to the Indian Express. The offer was made soon after he along with two others were swapped for passengers of Indian Airlines Flight 814, which was hijacked and flown to Kandahar, Azhar said.
The claim, refuted by India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was revealed by Azhar in his obituary of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, the then-Taliban chief who was killed in the drone strikes carried out by the United States last month. The obituary was published online on what is considered to be JeM's mouthpiece Al Qalam Weekly on June 3.
According to Azhar, then-EAM minister Jaswant Singh had proposed the offer to Mansur, who was the civil aviation minister of Taliban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, when the plane was hijacked. Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh were exchanged for passengers of the aircraft on Dec. 31. According to the IE report, Mansur had come to the Kandahar airport to receive Azhar and the other two.
"Once I had a meeting with Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur at Kandahar airport. This airport came under his ministry. I was part of a delegation from Karachi. Taliban had provided a plane to bring the delegation from Kabul to Kandahar where Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur welcomed us. He took the guests to the VIP lounge... Mullah sahib made me sit next to him on the sofa. Then he told me that Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh sat on the same sofa when he brought you to drop you at Kandahar," Azhar wrote in the obituary.
"He (Mansur) said that Jaswant Singh had told him that our prisoners (Azhar, Zargar and Sheikh) would still be in Afghanistan and you arrest them and hand them over to us, hum aap ki hukumat ko malamaal karengey (we will make your government rich)," he said further.
"I (Mansur) told him that if you are able to return (to India) safely, even that would be a big thing'." Azhar quoted Mansur as saying.
Then-RAW chief AS Dulat and another RAW (former) officer Anand Arni have refuted Azhar's claims.
"Money never came up at all" during the Kandahar swapping, Dulat told the IE. "It is bunkum. Unfortunately, the claim is regarding a conversation between two men that nobody can verify because one is dead and another is in coma," he added.
"As far as I recall, I don't think Mansur met Jaswant Singh," Arni said. "Jaswant Singh went for a cup of tea with Muttawakil (then Afghanistan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil). But I wasn't present there. There was a lot of chaos there (at the Kandahar airport) when the hostages were released. I left in another aircraft. I don't think Taliban would have handed them over to us," he added.