HARARE, Zimbabwe — Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on Saturday sharply criticized Pakistan's handling of the Pan American jetliner hijacking, blaming "ham-handed" actions of the security forces for the deaths of at least 15 passengers.
"I feel the actions taken by the security forces were not of a competent nature," Gandhi said in response to questions at a news conference here.
He scoffed at reports that fuel for the plane's electrical generator had coincidentally "just run out," leaving the plane darkened and touching off the hijackers' shooting and explosion of hand grenades in the Boeing 747 at Karachi airport.
"The power failure was a concerted, deliberate action to enter the aircraft and take over from the hijackers," Gandhi said. "Unfortunately, it was bungled very badly and it has caused the deaths of a number of people."
Although early indications were that Pakistan's security forces had stormed the plane, triggering the shooting, officials in Karachi said later that commandos had not approached the plane until after the hijackers inside opened fire on the passengers.
Gandhi's remarks at a press briefing on the final day of the Nonaligned Movement summit meeting here pointed up the poor state of relations between India and its neighbor Pakistan. Both are members of the Nonaligned Movement, and Gandhi is the immediate past chairman of the 101-member organization.
Pakistan's delegation to the summit said that Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq was "shocked and surprised" at Gandhi's charges.
Zia said that "the loss of lives is indeed tragic and regrettable . . . (but that) the responsibility lies squarely with those who perpetrated this act of terrorism."
Terrorism Laxity Charged
Gandhi accused Pakistan of encouraging hijackers, saying the Karachi incident was "one of the things that happens when proper action is not taken to combat terrorism." He said Pakistan had dragged its feet in prosecuting hijackers in the past.
Gandhi said India is open to trying to improve relations with Pakistan, but he complained that "so far it has all been on our side."
The Indian leader said the main obstacle to improving relations now is Pakistan's reported plans to develop a nuclear weapon.
"We are worried about that nuclear program," Gandhi said.
"India has the capability to make nuclear weapons, and we may be the only country in the world with the capability who hasn't done it," Gandhi said. "But we do not intend to make a nuclear weapon."