Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Harsh but legal steps are the only way to fight terror

Whenever a violent, or indeed any, incident occurs, we are presented with several substantially different but seemingly plausible versions of it from the participants and eye-witnesses.
This was the theme that was explored in Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. The police raid in which two alleged perpetrators of the Saturday 13 bomb blasts in Delhi were shot, and a number of others arrested seems to be suffering from the Rashomon effect.
This is not unusual because the incident overlays other phenomena — the radicalisation of a small but significant section of the Muslim youth, the perception of the community that it is being singled out for harsh repression, and the state of denial that many Muslims are in over the issue of radicalisation within their community.


In the case of the Delhi blasts we have a police version, because they are the ones who carried out the raid that netted the terrorists, have had them in exclusive custody and interrogated them. The fact that a police officer was killed while effecting the arrests had added a powerful emotional element into the situation insofar as the majority of the public and the majority community is concerned.
There is a problem here. The reputation of the police, especially the so-called Special Cells which in the era of terrorism are the sword arm of the Intelligence Bureau, is none too savoury. They have been accused in the past of carrying out cold-blooded executions of gangsters and terrorists and passing them off as encounters.

Inspector Mohan Chandra Sharma of the Delhi police special cell, just after he was shot while carrying out a raid to apprehend the alleged terrorists involved in the Delhi blasts of September 13, 2008. Sharma later passed away.

The Delhi special cell’s one-time blue-eyed boy was shot by a realtor earlier this year allegedly on account of a deal gone wrong. Last year ten former special cell policemen were convicted of murder for shooting two businessmen dead in their car at Connaught Place in a fake encounter 10 years ago.
The men murdered businessmen Pradeep Goyal and Jagjit Singh for something as banal as a promotion. When they realised their mistake, they planted a pistol and cartridges in the car after the shooting and claimed the occupants were gangsters and had fired first.
This is not the burden of the Delhi police alone. “Encounter specialists” shot their way into fame and Bollywood in Mumbai when they were given the leeway to conduct extra-legal killings by senior police officers in the 1990s in a bid to control organised crime. With the kind of power they had, they soon moved into the rackets themselves. Today two such “specialists”, Sachin Vaze and Daya Naik are facing charges of extortion and murder.

With the advent of jihadist terrorism, things have gone from bad to worse. In February 2006, the Delhi police announced the arrest of Irshad Ali and Mohammed Muarif Qamar, two alleged Al Badr terrorists, with great fanfare and spun out the usual story of how they had smuggled the RDX and the plans they had for using it.
Later, after a judge’s suspicion led to a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry, it transpired that the RDX was planted on them. The key to the CBI breakthrough was that an Intelligence Bureau official who lured Qamar to his arrest had used his own cell phone. The shocking aspect of this crime was that the two were actually police informers.
Another example of this was seen in the Delhi High Court’s acquittal last September of six people accused of being a part of the Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on the Red Fort in 2000. While the main accused has been sentenced to death, the High Court did not mince words in questioning the prosecution’s case, as well as the judgment of the lower court in finding them guilty.
When officials charged with such serious responsibility can frame people with such ease, we need to take their charges in other cases ,too, with a generous measure of salt.


Despite the poor reputation of the Special Cell and its trigger-happy reputation, it is possible that their version of the Delhi blasts is substantially correct. When in July 2006, the British police determined that four young British Muslims had set off the terrible serial bomb blasts across London, there was shock and bafflement in their families.
Bewildered friends, parents and siblings protested their innocence. Many pointed out how close they were to the bombers and it was not possible for them to have done the act. Unfortunately, because of the superb British surveillance system, their actions had been caught on camera.
Other evidence gathered soon made it clear that the boys were indeed guilty.
In the past few days we have been hearing similar anguished denials and protestations of innocence of the boys killed and arrested for the Indian metro bombings of 2008 —Jaipur in May, Ahmedabad in July and Delhi on September 13. As yet the evidence against those charged has not been tested in a court of law and is based on confessions. Like it or not, this is a problem, given the reputation of our police.
But even assuming that some, if not all of those charged are guilty, it represents a serious development for the country. This means that the face of Islamic terrorism in India has changed and it is becoming chillingly similar to that of its international version. A major feature of this is the participation of educated and relatively well-off young persons in jihadist activities.
Most of the Delhi blast accused appear to be regular guys, with all the aspirational attitudes of the Indian young of today. One even has an Orkut profile, while another used to walk the ramp as a model.
This is not unlike Shezad Tanweer, aged 22, and Hasib Hasan (18) who were involved in the July 7, 2006 London bombings. They were products of good schools and fond of sports, especially cricket.
What happened to them could have happened to the Delhi bombers — a spiritual awakening which was exploited by an older mentor towards the jihadist ideology. Some of the younger Nine-Eleven participants, too, were influenced in this way.
The special virtue of the young is that they think nothing is impossible. That is why they have always been cannon-fodder in war. The survivors are the generals and ideologues who send them to destruction and remain in the background, safe.


Some two years ago, after the Mumbai blasts, the Jamiat ulema-e-Hind had organised a symposium on the issue of terrorism. While this was the Jamiat’s internal meeting, they also had a session involving a number of former intelligence and police officials and journalists. The Jamiat has since come out with a categorical denunciation of terrorism and pushed its mentor organisation, the Darul Uloom at Deoband, to do the same.
But one conversation I had with a couple of Maulanas remains imprinted in my mind. The long-bearded clerics, dressed in orthodox pyjamas and kurta were grim. They admitted that they had lost contact with the young of their community. “Till recently, the Deoband-educated clergy could influence them,” one said, “but today, half-educated clerics from dubious backgrounds are exerting undue influence in the shanty-towns and ghettoes of our cities.” He could have added that so were TV and internet, which connect the educated Muslim youth to Osama, Palestine and Iraq and the radical ummah.
How do we reconcile the challenge of terrorism with the need to keep our social fabric, and indeed, national unity intact? We need harsh laws and tough action to crush terrorism. But we also need a sound judiciary to moderate the harshness of such action by preventing unjust and illegal action of the security agencies which only feeds the resentment of the Muslim community. The problem is with the lower judiciary which virtually acts as an arm of the police special cells.
We also need civil society groups, not just the human rights people, but retired policemen, intelligence officers and judges who can interface between the people affected by anti-terrorist action and the security forces.
This article appeared first in Mail Today September 24, 2008

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