On September 14, speaking at the annual Directors General of Police meeting, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram acknowledged the role of Indian nationals and groups in supporting Pakistani terror We were able to bust 12 terrorist modules last year," PC pointed out, " Already this year we have neutralised 13. Terrorist groups, including the LeT and JeM continue to find new ways and means of deniability. They find support among disgruntled elements within India. Cells and modules within our country lend an Indian character to these terror strikes."
The following article tells us why this happens.
Once again the country has to suffer the humiliation of learning about the criminal acts of its custodians of the law. For long there has been suspicion that the 19-year old Ishrat Jehan, her fiance, Javed Shaikh and two others were killed in 2004 by the Gujarat police, rather than being gunned down in an encounter. Now a magisterial inquiry has confirmed the fact that the four were killed in cold blood.
One of the key attributes of a state — in contrast to institutions like corporations, foundations or, say, universities — is that it holds a monopoly of violence. But this is exercised through due process defined by the state’s constitution and law. Nowhere does Indian law and constitution give the police any authority to execute anyone, even terrorists. Even the prime minister cannot order such an execution and the army and police fighting insurgents can do so only by the authority of special legislation.
The right to take a life — of a terrorist or criminal — is the exclusive preserve of the judiciary. As the record shows, it exercises this right through a fairly detailed legal process and even then applies the death sentence in the “rarest of the rare” cases. Any killing outside these parameters is murder and should be treated as such.
Fake encounters belong to a special category: People are killed in “cold blood” — executed illegally usually after they have been taken into custody. There are two kinds of fake encounters. In the first, the police kill known terrorists and criminals because they believe that they dispense better justice.
The more monstrous kind of an execution, is when completely innocent people are killed and passed off as terrorists and criminals. This is nothing but murder and, since it has been carried out by the custodians of the law, it should attract a much harsher penalty, than an act of murder by an ordinary citizen.
One of the key markers of a fake encounter in India is when all the allegedly bad people are gunned down and the police party takes no casualties, despite dozens of bullets flying around. Almost every genuine encounter, especially one involving the highly trained Lashkar-Tayyeba, results in the death of one or more security personnel. And so it was in this case.
The terrorists had an AK-56 and they sprayed the police party with it. The police fired back with Sten guns and service revolvers. But the Forensic Science Laboratory found only AK-56 empties at the site, not a single Sten or revolver empty. The FSL also failed to find any trace of gunpowder or ammunition on the dead.
Further, the FSL found that contrary to the police claim that they fired at the group who were in a car from some 60-70 feet away, the four had been shot at close range.
There were other tell-tale signs which the incompetent policemen could not avoid — each of those killed seemed to have some identification on them. The alleged Pakistani Amjad Ali aka Salim, conveniently had a photo of himself in his pocket; Zeeshan Zohar had his identity card and nothing else, no money or other trivia; likewise Javed had his driving licence and nothing else and Ishrat had her college identity card taped around her neck. How convenient.
The key impulse for fake executions come from politicians. They first mess up a situation and then they want the police to use strong-arm methods to resolve the problem. This was the background for the shameful illegal executions that marred the counter-terrorist effort of the police in Punjab in the 1990s, the anti-Maoist operations in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere. The same has happened in the case of fighting Islamist terrorism. Having created an enormous pool of angry Muslims in the wake of the 2002 pogroms in Gujarat, the Narendra Modi government depended on a bunch of killers in uniform for protection from vengeance. These policemen played on the fears of Modi and Co and took to gunning down innocent Muslims, claiming that they were involved in plots to kill the Gujarat chief minister.
On March 2006, four Kashmiri youth, allegedly Lashkar-e-Tayyeba men, were gunned down on the outskirts of Ahmedabad; in November 2005 Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kausar Bi and one other person were killed; in June 2004, Ishrat Jehan, Javed Shaikh and two others were gunned down; in January 2003, Sadiq Jamal was shot dead, allegedly while plotting to kill L.K. Advani; in October 2002, Samir Khan Pathan was killed while trying to escape, again after his arrest for an alleged plot to kill Modi.
The BJP may be right in claiming that Modi could not be held responsible for everything that happened in Gujarat, but Modi bears more than mere moral responsibility; he actively promoted and encouraged such police personnel and protected them when they were exposed.
During the last state assembly election campaign, Mr Modi used Sohrabuddin’s killing to gather votes. According to the reports, Modi asked the people gathered in a rally, “What should be done to a man who stored illegal arms and ammunition? You tell me what should have been done to Sohrabuddin?” The people answered, “Kill him, kill him”.
Even if by this twisted logic Modi justified Sohrabuddin’s killing, he did not explain why Kausar Bi, his innocent wife, was also murdered by his police.
Modi, of course, is not the only political leader who has feasted of the death of innocent people. The moral compass has been found wanting in many Congress politicians as well.
Lives are cheap in India, especially if they belong to the poor or “the other” —minorities and people of other faiths. There are also serious questions about the role of the Union government, especially the Intelligence Bureau in these killings.
In many instances the executions have been sanctioned by the IB which is an intelligence organisation and operates outside the boundaries of the law, and unfortunately, the supervision of the union government and parliament
India is perhaps the only democracy where no oversight is exercised on our all-powerful intelligence services by parliament and even the government. Our politicians’ main interest is in the IB providing them political intelligence on their adversaries.
The IB’s goals are two-fold. First, they want to short-circuit the process of dealing with terrorists. But to allow an instrument of state to illegally arrogate such a key function of the state is to invite trouble.
Second, the IB uses fake encounters to send messages to Pakistan. The executioners of the mainly Pakistani terrorists are the special cells of state police forces. But over time these executioners, glorified as “encounter specialists”, end up becoming criminals and resort to killing innocents for personal gain.
One of the major causes of violent extremism aka terrorism, is a sense of injustice. Fake encounters and extra-judicial killings only help terrorist recruiting agents. Upholding the law, and insisting that the police do so most rigorously, should not be a matter of morality and legalism, but the pragmatic means of combating terrorism.
Extra-judicial executions look attractive in the short-term, but they are a recipe for long-term disaster. If you sow the wind, the saying goes, you will reap the whirlwind.
This article was published first in Mail Today September 10, 2009