Centre against hostage swap deals with Maoists

NEW DELHI: The Centre has advised Naxal-hit states not to release hardened Maoist fighters as part of swap deals with red ultras, who have increasingly been using high-profile abductions to further their subversive activities. However, it has said that negotiations and low-value releases can be considered for the safety and release of hostages. The draft hostage policy, which will be discussed at a meeting of chief secretaries/DGPs of nine Naxalism-affected states convened by the Union home ministry here on October 18, frowns upon the idea of releasing convicted Maoists or those who are accused of heinous crimes. The hostage policy — the first of its kind and necessitated by Maoists resorting to abductions to overcome their setbacks — acknowledges that a high-profile abduction adversely affects the counter-Maoist offensive as operations have to be put on hold.

It argues that Maoists often use this temporary suspension of operations to lay landmines. Getting the operations back on track takes time even after the abducted officer, who could be a legislator, a district collector or a foreign national, is released. Advising against conceding “major” demands of the hostage-takers, the draft policy clearly terms the release of convicted Naxalites and those charged with murder as “non-negotiable”. The emphasis of the policy is to prevent harm to the hostage during the course of negotiations.

However, where there are indications that the hostage may be harmed, the policy suggests launch of a rescue operation, for which the state concerned can requisition NSG commandos. The draft policy suggests setting up of permanent crisis management groups (CMGs) at the Central, state and district level to deal with abduction of a prominent person by the Maoists. The groups will kick into action depending on the profile of the abducted target. The district and state-level CMGs will deal with most situations, with the Central CMG acting as a guiding or assisting force. The Central CMG, to be headed by Union home secretary, will directly intervene only in high-profile abductions.

The laid-out drill advises the CMG to establish the identity, profile and affiliation of the abductors. Based on the intelligence and feedback by an emergency operation centre — to be headed by an intelligence officer — the CMG will forecast possible scenarios and evaluate demands of the hostage-takers. The group would, from time to time, seek political mandate. The CMG will have a panel of interlocutors, which will work within set parameters for negotiations. As per the proposal, the panel should include a team leader, an intelligence officer, a psychologist and, possibly, a linguist. More members can be taken in. The negotiators should have sound knowledge of the local terrain and issues.

Preferably, they should be trained in the art of negotiating with hostage-takers. Such courses are offered by security agencies of the West. Advocating “simultaneous” preparation for a rescue operation in anticipation of a possible breakdown of negotiations, the hostage policy lays down the scenarios, where the “hard option” can be exercised. These include situations, where the political and security fallout make negotiations unviable; when violent actions are resorted to by the abductors; and when the Maoists’ demands are unconstitutional.


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