NEW DELHI: Images from Kabul airport over the the last few days have brought back the horrors of 22 years ago, says Devi Sharan, captain of Indian Airlines flight IC814 that was hijacked in December 1999 and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan where it was held captive for an entire week.
Photographs and videos of people crowding outside the Kabul airport and inside, with scores on the tarmac scrambling to get into planes to escape the Taliban that took control of the Afghanistan capital on Sunday, recall the desperation of that unforgettable winter, says Sharan.
“It was like I have gone 22 years back. Over 20 years have passed, but the images (of today) are the same,” the 59-year-old told PTI in an interview.
“The difference is that we were the only people at that time in Kandahar but now you can see a crowd at the (Kabul) airport. But definitely, these people are desperate to come out just like we wanted to come out,” he added.
IC814 was heading from Kathmandu to New Delhi on December 24, 1999 — with 179 passengers and 11 crew members on board — when it was hijacked and taken to Taliban-controlled Kandahar by five Pakistani terrorists.
Sharan was the captain, Rajinder Kumar the first officer and Anil Kumar Jaggia the flight engineer of IC814.
The hijackers executed one passenger, Rupin Katyal, and finally negotiated the release of terrorists Masood Azhar Alvi, Syed Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar from Indian jails on December 31, 1999, in exchange for the hostages.
On Friday, Sharan said: “I find the images to be quite like of that time. Definitely, it gives us all the memories of horrors of that time. It reminds us of that.”
He said there were two kinds of Taliban forces that they encountered at the Kandahar airport in December 1999.
“One was Kabali. You can see these Talibanis with turbans and civil clothes and rocket launchers and all. So one force was this one which was type of a moral police. The other one was commandos,” he said.
“These Kabalis, I would say, they were quite in favour of our hijackers. The commands were there only to ensure that there is no bloodshed there. They might be with the hijackers but they were definitely not with us,” he added.
Sharan said no direct threat was issued by Taliban to him but you can see the “threat” as these Kabalis had surrounded the aircraft with rocket launchers and all.
“So, you can see that threat that they would not let us go without agreeing to the demands (of the hijackers),” he said.
On December 24, 1999, Sharan was first asked by hijackers to take the IC814 plane to Lahore.
After Pakistan refused to let the flight land there, the aircraft was taken to Amritsar airport.
Then, it was taken to Lahore airport, which allowed the plane to land this time at the last moment.
Later, it departed from there and went to the Dubai airport, from where it was taken to the Kandahar airport.
Sharan said he retired last year from Air India.
Indian Airlines was merged with Air India in 2007.
He said Jaggia passed away 7-8 years ago while Kumar is still with Air India.
The Taliban swept across Afghanistan this month, seizing control of almost all key towns and cities including Kabul in the backdrop of the withdrawal of the US forces.
Kabul fell to the Taliban on Sunday.
The Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan when the US-led forces attacked them in October 2001, a few weeks after terrorist attack on World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.