Knowing the enemy

Published : Oct 24, 2008 00:00 IST

Zishan and Mohammad Saif arrested in connection the serial blasts in Delhi, being produced at the Tis Hazari courts in New Delhi.-SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Zishan and Mohammad Saif arrested in connection the serial blasts in Delhi, being produced at the Tis Hazari courts in New Delhi.-SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Transparency is the only way out for the government to save its credibility in handling investigations into acts of terrorism.

I am the enemy you killed, my friend. I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.

Wilfred Owen; Strange Meeting.

IN the previous issue (Frontline, October 10), I had written, not without some despair, of the lack of information with our security and intelligence agencies about terrorists and their networks. Since then there have been a number of arrests, some deaths, and the media have been awash with information on the breaking of terror modules and the cracking of virtually all the cases of bombing in the past few years.

In the process, Inspector M.C. Sharma of the Delhi Police gave his life, which has grieved many, amidst the general relief that a terror cell was exposed and destroyed. His death was, sadly, a price that had to be paid in the effort to unearth and neutralise terror cells that have caused so many deaths and terrible injuries to so many ordinary people who were doing nothing other than going about their business.

There followed, in quick succession, a series of revelations about terror networks and a number of arrests in Delhi and Mumbai. Indeed, the Mumbai Police Commissioner claimed that all the blast cases in the country had been solved and the perpetrators identified. There was a perceptible sense of relief among the people, and it must have been prevalent in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Surat and Mumbai, cities on which the malignant gaze of terrorists had fallen in recent times.

But that relief brought with it a sense of unease to a number of people in the media, in the legal profession, in the world of academics and among some of those who were worried about the countrys security. The unease was reflected in the emergence of some facts about the unearthing of the terror networks. Was it all a little too pat, too much in place? One was reminded of a James Bond film in which the villain is a Rupert Murdoch-like character, a media mogul, and to whose launch of his satellite network Bond goes in the garb of a banker. The mogul has his henchman check Bond out and he confirms that Bonds background as a banker checks out perfectly. But thats the trouble, the henchman says, Its too perfect. Which means hes a fraud.

The media have begun to find inconsistencies in the reports handed out to them. One that a number of journalists have fastened on relates to the Varanasi bombing of March 7, 2006. The Uttar Pradesh Police had claimed that they had solved the case; the culprits, they said, were members of HuJi (Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami). Of them, Mohammad Zubair, was killed in an encounter on May 9, and another, Mohammad Waliullah, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Three others, Bashiruddin, Mustafiz and Zakaria, they said, had fled to Bangladesh. It was reported that the U.P. Police were appealing against the sentence awarded to Waliullah, which they felt was too lenient. They said that they had a watertight case, with meticulously detailed facts on how exactly the culprits had set about planting and exploding the bombs.

Then came the Delhi Police media statement from Joint Commissioner Karnail Singh. He claimed that the Varanasi bombing was carried out by the Indian Mujahideen (I.M.) cell headed by Atif, one of those killed in Jamia Nagar in New Delhi on September 19. He even indicated who had planted the bombs and where. Meanwhile, the Union Home Secretary demanded that Bangladesh hand over Bashiruddin, Mustafiz and Zakaria for their involvement in the Varanasi blasts.

This was not the only part of the press briefings that caused confusion. The Delhi Police claimed that the Azamgarh group was responsible for the Hyderabad blasts when, not so long ago, the Government of India asked the Government of Pakistan to return Shahid Bilal, a HuJi member, on the grounds that he was responsible for the Hyderabad blasts.

The Delhi Police gave a detailed account of the network of alleged terrorists and claimed that the mastermind was one Abu al-Qama, who heads the I.M. and is a commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). But the Jammu and Kashmir Police say al-Qama died in April this year. A senior journalist in a leading newspaper confirmed this, and added that, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Police no militant group in Kashmir has been found to have any link with the bombings in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Delhi.

The most tragic aspect of this has been the contradictory reports that have been given of what happened at Jamia Nagar in New Delhi on September 19, where Inspector M.C. Sharma lost his life. Two alleged terrorists were also killed there, and one of them, Sajid, turned out to be a 17-year-old boy, not a youth in his twenties as the Delhi Police claimed. He had apparently come to Delhi to try to get admission into Class XI in a school in Jamia Nagar. What is the reality, then? Is it, as many are beginning to think, that the police, in their haste to close these cases, are making these claims after, perhaps, putting some of those arrested through third-degree interrogation? How else do they explain these obvious inconsistencies? And, given these, we are faced with a terrifying spectre.

That of the truth being what the authorities say it is and of the media being coerced to keep quiet or to echo the official version. Will the government not see that its only hope, if it is not to alienate a whole community, is to be totally transparent? It has to stop underwriting tacitly statements that contradict each other and come out with what is credible and seen to be so. The fallacy that afflicts many in authority is to assume that the general public are credulous fools, who will accept anything said by a man in uniform. They must understand that they, the men in authority, are no more intelligent than the public to whom they are making declarations to.

As it is the United Progressive Alliance government has done something remarkable already; it has unified the Christian community against it, and that tired defence that law and order is a State subject will not do. The country wants to see decisive action against the thugs who burn and vandalise churches and drag priests and nuns out onto the street and beat them.

They also want to see truly credible action to put an end to terrorism. One had mentioned the swift and effective manner in which the British police acted in identifying the bombers who planted bombs in the underground trains, and later, those who had planned to take liquid explosives aboard aircraft. They did that in spite of not knowing the language or being familiar with the religion and culture the terrorists professed.

Surely our police can use their familiarity with the actual people who killed innocents across the country, their ways and their language, to unearth them.

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