- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2000

What kind of disturbed hijackers would force an Afghan jetliner to detour a routine Afghani domestic flight to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia before heading to England, jeopardizing the lives of 164 people on board? Perhaps quite clever ones. But not smart enough to fool the Afghani government … or the British tabloids. Though 72 of the freed hostages were flown home yesterday, the other 70 are seeking asylum in Britain. This leaves little room to conjecture about the real purpose of the hostage-taking operation.

The London Daily Mail mused: “We’ll wager that most ‘victims’ of the Stansted hijack are still enjoying life on benefits in Britain, five years hence.” And the Afghan government promised the hijackers punishment upon their return, with death a possibility. Thirty-five of the passengers were said to be in a wedding party, in cahoots with the captors. Twenty-two of the people on board were arrested in connection with the hijacking.

Regardless of where the gavel falls, the fact that initially only 30 of the hostages said they wanted to return home makes a statement about their country. You need to look no further than the government of Afghanistan to understand who the victims are in this case.

The Taliban, a militant Islamic fundamentalist faction, captured the capital city of Kabul in 1996, murdered the president, and ousted other leaders it didn’t like. By 1998, it had control of more than 90 percent of the country, and now rules with an iron fist. Beside suppressing women’s human rights, sheltering terrorist Osama bin Laden for three years, and growing the world’s largest crop of opium, the government has also grown increasingly anti-American. In November, the United States supported economic sanctions against the government, rated in the 13 worst countries of the world in terms of political and civil rights, according to a 1999 Freedom House “Freedom in the World” survey. Afghanistan responded by turning out anti-American mobs burning images of President Clinton and shouting “Death to America.”

Now the Taliban has put Britain in a tight spot. Instead of focusing its energy solely on the hostage-takers, or on lobbying Britain not to grant asylum to the plane-weary applicants, the Taliban should begin doing an internal audit. In light of what the Taliban has put the Afghani people and the international community through in the last four years, the insurgent government should think about who is betraying whom.

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