NEW DELHI: In documents submitted to the court, Afzal describes how, in the months before the attack on parliament, he was tortured in the camps of the STF. He talks of how he was a constant victim of extortion. He mentions the name of Deputy Superintendent of Police Devinder Singh, who said he needed him to do a `small job’ for him in Delhi. (Singh has subsequently admitted on record to having tortured Afzal in exactly the ways Afzal has described.) Afzal has also said that from the time he was arrested up to the time he was charged (a few months), his younger brother Hilal was held in illegal confinement in a police camp in Kashmir. As ransom.
Even today, Afzal does not claim complete innocence. It is the nature of his involvement that is being contested. For instance, was he coerced, tortured and blackmailed into playing even the peripheral part he played? In a gross violation of his constitutional rights, from the time he was arrested and right through the crucial phase of the trial when the real work of building up a case is done, Afzal did not have a lawyer. He had nobody to put out his version of the story, or help him or anyone else sift through the tangle of lies and fabrications and propaganda put out by the police. Various individuals worked it out for themselves. Today, five years later, a group of lawyers, academics, journalists and writers has published a reader (Dec 13: The Strange Case of the Parliament Attack, published by Penguin India). It is this body of work that has fractured what, only recently, appeared to be a national consensus interwoven with mass hysteria.
Through the fissures, those who have come under scrutiny -- shadowy individuals, counter-intelligence and security agencies, political parties -- are beginning to surface. They wave flags, hurl abuse, issue hot denials and cover their tracks with more and more untruths. Thus they reveal themselves.
The essays in the Penguin book raise questions about how Afzal, who never had proper legal representation, can be sentenced to death without having had an opportunity to be heard, without a fair trial. They raise questions about fabricated arrest memos, falsified seizure and recovery memos, procedural flaws, vital evidence that has been tampered with, false telephone records, false testimonies, legal lacunae, material contradictions in the testimonies of police and prosecution witnesses, and the outright lies that were presented in court and published in newspapers. They show how there is hardly a single piece of evidence that stands up to scrutiny.
And then there are even more disturbing questions that have been raised, which range beyond the fate of Afzal. Some of these are critical for a country that is claiming to be a responsible nuclear power. Here are 13 questions for December 13:
Question 1: For months before the attack on parliament, both the government and the police had been saying that parliament could be attacked. On Dec 12, 2001, the then prime minister, A. B. Vajpayee, warned of an imminent attack. On Dec 13 it happened. Given that there was an `improved security drill’, how did a car packed with explosives enter the parliament complex?
Question 2: Within days of the attack, the Special Cell of the Delhi police said it was a meticulously planned joint operation of Jaish-i-Mohammad and Lashkar-i-Taiba. They said the attack was led by a man called "Mohammad" who was also involved in the hijacking of flight IC-814 in 1998. (This was later refuted by the Central Bureau of Investigation.) None of this was ever proved in court. What evidence did the Special Cell have for its claim?
Question 3: The entire attack was recorded live on CCTV. Two Congress party MPs, Kapil Sibal and Najma Heptullah, demanded in parliament that the CCTV recording be shown to the members. They said that there was confusion about the details of the event. The chief whip of the Congress party, Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, said, "I counted six men getting out of the car. But only five were killed. The closed circuit TV camera recording clearly showed the six men." If Dasmunshi was right, why did the police say that there were only five people in the car? Who was the sixth person? Where is he now? Why was the CCTV recording not produced by the prosecution as evidence in the trial? Why was it not released for public viewing?
Question 4: Why was parliament adjourned after some of these questions were raised?
Question 5: A few days after December 13, the government declared that it had "incontrovertible evidence" of Pakistan's involvement in the attack, and announced a massive mobilisation of almost half a million soldiers to the Indo-Pakistan border. The subcontinent was pushed to the brink of nuclear war. Apart from Afzal's "confession", extracted under torture (and later set aside by the supreme court), what was the "incontrovertible evidence"?
Question 6: Is it true that the military mobilisation to the Pakistan border had begun long before the December 13 attack?
Question 7: How much did this military standoff, which lasted for nearly a year, cost? How many soldiers died in the process? How many soldiers and civilians died because of mishandled landmines, and how many peasants lost their homes and land because trucks and tanks were rolling through their villages and landmines were being planted in their fields?
Question 8: In a criminal investigation, it is vital for the police to show how the evidence gathered at the scene of the attack led them to the accused. The police have not managed to show how they connected Geelani to the attack. And how did the police reach Afzal? The Special Cell says Geelani led them to Afzal. But the message to look out for Afzal was actually flashed to the Srinagar police before Geelani was arrested. So how did the Special Cell connect Afzal to the December 13 attack?
Question 9: The courts acknowledge that Afzal was a surrendered militant who was in regular contact with the security forces, particularly the STF of Jammu and Kashmir police. How do the security forces explain the fact that a person under their surveillance was able to conspire in a major militant operation?
Question 10: Is it plausible that organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammad would rely on a person who had been in and out of STF torture chambers, and was under constant police surveillance, as the principal link for a major operation?Question 11: In his statement before the court, Afzal says that he was introduced to "Mohammed" and instructed to take him to Delhi by a man called Tariq, who was working with the STF. Tariq was named in the police charge sheet. Who is Tariq and where is he now?
Question 12: On Dec 19, 2001, six days after the parliament attack, police commissioner S. M. Shangari identified one of the attackers who was killed as Mohammad Yasin Fateh Mohammed (alias Abu Hamza) of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, who had been arrested in Mumbai in November 2000 and immediately handed over to the Jammu and Kashmir police. He gave detailed descriptions to support his statement. If police commissioner Shangari was right, how did Yasin, a man in the custody of the Jammu and Kashmir police, end up participating in the parliament attack? If he was wrong, where is Yasin now?
Question 13: Why is it that we still do not know who the five "terrorists" killed in the parliament attack are?
These questions, examined cumulatively, point to something far more serious than incompetence. The words that come to mind are complicity, collusion, involvement. There is no need for us to feign shock or shrink from thinking these thoughts and saying them out loud. Governments and their intelligence agencies have a hoary tradition of using strategies such as this to further their own ends. (Look up the burning of the Reichstag and the rise of Nazi power in Germany in 1933; or Operation Gladio, in which European intelligence agencies created acts of terrorism, especially in Italy, in order to discredit militant groups such as the Red Brigades.)
The official response to all of these questions has been dead silence. As things stand, Afzal's execution has been postponed while the president considers his clemency petition. Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata party (now in the opposition) announced that it would turn "Hang Afzal" into a national campaign. But it does not seem to have taken off. Now other avenues are being explored. The main strategy seems to be to create confusion and polarise the debate on communal lines. In the business of spreading confusion, the media, particularly television journalists, can be counted on to be perfect collaborators. On discussions, chat shows and "special reports", we have television anchors playing around with crucial facts, like young children in a sandpit. Torturers, estranged brothers, senior police officers and politicians are emerging from the woodwork and talking. The more they talk, the more interesting it all becomes.
One character who is rapidly emerging from the shadowy periphery and wading on to centre-stage is deputy superintendent Devinder Singh. He was showcased on the national news (CNN-IBN), in what was presented as a "sting" operation with a hidden camera. It all seemed a bit unnecessary, however, because Singh has been talking a lot these days. He has done recorded interviews, on the phone as well as face to face, saying exactly the same shocking things. Weeks before the sting operation, in a recorded interview with Parvaiz Bukhari, a freelance journalist, he said: “I did interrogate and torture him [Afzal] at my camp for several days. And we never recorded his arrest in the books anywhere. His description of torture at my camp is true. But I could not break him. He did not reveal anything to me despite our hardest possible interrogation ... He looked like a 'bhondu' [fool] those days. And I had a reputation for torture, interrogation and breaking suspects. If anybody came out of my interrogation clean, nobody would ever touch him again. He would be considered clean for good by the whole department."
This is not an empty boast. Singh has a formidable reputation for torture in the Kashmir Valley. On TV, his boasting spiralled into policy-making. “Torture is the only deterrent for terrorism,” he said. “I do it for the nation.” He did not bother to explain why or how the `bhondu’ that he tortured and subsequently released, allegedly went on to become the diabolical mastermind of the parliament attack. Singh then said that Afzal was a Jaish militant. If this is true, why was the evidence not placed before the courts? And why on earth was Afzal released? Why was he not watched? There is a definite attempt to try to dismiss this as incompetence. But given everything we know now, it would take all of Singh's delicate professional skills to make some of us believe that.
The official version of the story of the parliament attack is very quickly coming apart at the seams. Even the supreme court judgment, with all its flaws of logic and leaps of faith, does not accuse Afzal of being the mastermind of the attack. So who was the mastermind? If Afzal is hanged, we may never know. But L. K. Advani, the leader of the opposition, wants him hanged at once. Even a day’s delay, he says, is against the national interest. Why? What is the hurry? The man is locked up in a high-security cell on death row. He is not allowed out of his cell for even five minutes a day. What harm can he do? Talk? Write, perhaps? Surely, even in Advani’s own narrow interpretation of the term, it is in the national interest not to hang Afzal? At least not until there is an inquiry that reveals what the real story is and who actually attacked parliament?
A genuine inquiry would have to mean far more than just a political witch-hunt. It would have to look into the part played by intelligence, counter-insurgency and security agencies as well. Offences such as the fabrication of evidence and the blatant violation of procedural norms have already become established in the courts, but they look very much like just the tip of the iceberg. We now have a police officer admitting -- boasting -- on record that he was involved in the illegal detention and torture of a fellow citizen. Is all of this acceptable to the people, the government and the courts of India?
Given the track record of Indian governments (past and present, right, left and centre) it is naive -- perhaps utopian is a better word -- to hope that today’s politicians will ever have the courage to institute an inquiry that will, once and for all, uncover the real story. A maintenance dose of pusillanimity is probably encrypted in all governments. But hope has little to do with reason. (Concluded)—Dawn/The Guardian News Service