Arundhati Roy: Was Indian Parliament Bombing Yet Another
Guardian/color> Friday December 15, 2006
Afzal is due to hang for his part in the 2001 attack on India's parliament
building. But was he only a bit player? And is the country trying to bury
embarrassing questions about its war on terror?
By Arundhati Roy
/x-tad-bigger>Five years ago this week, on December 13 2001, the
Indian parliament was in its winter session. The government was under attack
for yet another corruption scandal. At 11.30 in the morning, five armed men
in a white Ambassador car fitted out with an improvised explosive device
drove through the gates of Parliament House. When they were challenged, they
jumped out of the car and opened fire. In the gun battle that followed, all
the attackers were killed. Eight security personnel and a gardener were
killed too. The dead terrorists, the police said, had enough explosives to
blow up the parliament building, and enough ammunition to take on a whole
battalion of soldiers. Unlike most terrorists, these five left behind a
thick trail of evidence - weapons, mobile phones, phone numbers, ID cards,
photographs, packets of dried fruit and even a love letter.
Not surprisingly, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee seized the opportunity
to compare the assault to the September 11 attacks in the US only three
On December 14 2001, the day after the attack on parliament, the Special
Cell (anti-terrorist squad) of the Delhi police claimed it had tracked down
several people suspected of being involved in the conspiracy. The next day,
it announced that it had "cracked the case": the attack, the police said,
was a joint operation carried out by two Pakistan-based terrorist groups,
Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Three Kashmiri men, Syed Abdul Rahman
Geelani, Shaukat Hussain Guru and Mohammad Afzal, and Shaukat's wife, Afsan
Guru, were arrested.
In the tense days that followed, parliament was adjourned. The Indian
government declared that Pakistan - America's closest ally in the "war on
terror" - was a terrorist state. On December 21, India recalled its high
commissioner from Pakistan, suspended air, rail and bus communications and
banned air traffic with Pakistan. It put into motion a massive mobilisation
of its war machinery, and moved more than half a million troops to the
Pakistan border. Foreign embassies evacuated their staff and citizens, and
tourists travelling to India were issued cautionary travel advisories. The
world watched with bated breath as the subcontinent was taken to the brink
of nuclear war. All this cost India an estimated pounds 1.1bn of public
money. About 800 soldiers died in the panicky process of mobilisation alone.
The police charge sheet was filed in a special fast-track trial court
designated for cases under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Some three years
later, the trial court sentenced Geelani, Shaukat and Afzal to death. Afsan
Guru was sentenced to five years of "rigorous imprisonment". On appeal, the
high court subsequently acquitted Geelani and Afsan, but upheld Shaukat's
and Afzal's death sentence. Eventually, the supreme court upheld the
acquittals and reduced Shaukat's punishment to 10 years of rigorous
imprisonment. However, it not just confirmed, but enhanced Mohammad Afzal's
sentence. He was given three life sentences and a double death sentence.
In its judgment on August 5 2005, the supreme court admitted that the
evidence against Afzal was only circumstantial, and that there was no
evidence that he belonged to any terrorist group or organisation. But it
went on to endorse what can only be described as lynch law. "The incident,
which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation," it said,
"and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if
capital punishment is awarded to the offender."
Spelling out the reasons for giving Afzal the death penalty, the judgment
went on: "The appellant, who is a surrendered militant and who was bent upon
repeating the acts of treason against the nation, is a menace to the society
and his life should become extinct." This implies a dangerous ignorance of
what it means to be a "surrendered militant" in Kashmir today.
So, should Afzal's life be extinguished? His story is fascinating because it
is inextricably entwined with the story of the Kashmir Valley. It is a story
that stretches far beyond the confines of courtrooms and the limited
imagination of people who live in the secure heart of a self-declared
"superpower". Afzal's story has its origins in a war zone whose laws are
beyond the pale of the fine arguments and delicate sensibilities of normal
For all these reasons it is critical that we consider carefully the strange,
sad and utterly sinister story of the December 13 attack. It tells us a
great deal about the way the world's largest "democracy" really works. It
connects the biggest things to the smallest. It traces the pathways that
connect what happens in the shadowy grottoes of our police stations to what
goes on in the snowy streets of Paradise Valley, and from there to the
malign furies that bring nations to the brink of nuclear war. It raises
specific questions that deserve specific, and not ideological or rhetorical,
answers. What hangs in the balance is far more than the fate of one man.
For the most part, the December 13 attack was an astonishingly incompetent
"terrorist" strike. But consummate competence appeared to be the hallmark of
everything that followed: the gathering of evidence, the speed of the
investigation by the Special Cell, the arrest and charging of the accused
and the three-and-a-half-year-long judicial process that began with the
fast-track trial court.
The operative phrase in all of this is "appeared to be". If you follow the
story carefully, you will encounter two sets of masks. First, the mask of
consummate competence (accused arrested, "case cracked" in two days flat),
and then, when things began to come undone, the benign mask of shambling
incompetence (shoddy evidence, procedural flaws, material contradictions).
But underneath all of this - as several lawyers, academics and journalists
who have studied the case in detail have shown - is something more sinister,
more worrying. Over the past few years the worries have grown into a
mountain of misgivings, impossible to ignore.
The doubts set in as early as the day after the parliament attack, when the
police arrested Geelani, a young lecturer at Delhi University. His outraged
colleagues and friends, certain that he had been framed, contacted the
well-known lawyer Nandita Haksar and asked her to take on his case. This
marked the beginning of a campaign for the fair trial of Geelani. It flew in
the face of mass hysteria and corrosive propaganda that was enthusiastically
disseminated by the mass media. But despite this, the campaign was
successful, and Geelani was eventually acquitted, along with Afsan Guru.
Geelani's acquittal blew a gaping hole in the prosecution's version of the
parliament attack. The linchpin of its conspiracy theory suddenly tuned out
to be innocent. But in some odd way, in the public mind, the acquittal of
two of the accused only confirmed the guilt of the other two. There was
bloodlust that had to be satiated. When the government announced that Afzal,
Accused No 1 in the case, would be hanged on October 20 2006, it seemed that
most people welcomed the news not just with approval, but with morbid
excitement. But then, once again, the questions resurfaced.
To see through the prosecution's case against Geelani was relatively easy.
He was plucked out of thin air and transplanted into the centre of the
"conspiracy" as its kingpin. Afzal was different. He had been extruded
through the sewage system of the hell that Kashmir has become. He surfaced
through a manhole, covered in shit (and when he emerged, policemen in the
Special Cell pissed on him. Literally.) The first thing they made him do was
a "media confession" in which he implicated himself completely in the
attack. The speed with which this happened made many of us believe that he
was indeed guilty as charged. It was only much later that the circumstances
under which this "confession" was made were revealed, and even the supreme
court was to set it aside, saying that the police had violated legal
From the very beginning there was nothing pristine or simple about Afzal's
case. His story gives us a glimpse into what life is really like in the
Kashmir Valley. It is only in the Noddy Book version we read about in our
newspapers that security forces battle militants and innocent Kashmiris are
caught in the crossfire. In the adult version, Kashmir is a valley awash
with militants, renegades, security forces, double-crossers, informers,
spooks, blackmailers, blackmailees, extortionists, spies, both Indian and
Pakistani intelligence agencies, human rights activists, NGOs and
unimaginable amounts of unaccounted-for money and weapons. There are not
always clear lines that demarcate the boundaries between all these things
and people; it is not easy to tell who is working for whom.
Truth, in Kashmir, is probably more dangerous than anything else. The deeper
you dig, the worse it gets. At the bottom of the pit are the Special
Operations Group and Special Task Force (STF), the most ruthless,
indisciplined and dreaded elements of the Indian security apparatus in
Kashmir, which play a central role in the Afzal story. Unlike the more
formal forces, they operate in a twilight zone where policemen, surrendered
militants, renegades and common criminals do business. They prey upon the
local population, particularly in rural Kashmir. Their primary victims are
the thousands of young Kashmiri men who rose up in revolt in the anarchic
uprising of the early 1990s and have since surrendered and are trying to
live normal lives.
In 1989, when Afzal crossed the border to be trained as a militant, he was
only 20. He returned with no training, disillusioned with his experience. He
put down his gun and enrolled himself in Delhi University. In 1993, without
ever having been a practising militant, he voluntarily surrendered to the
Border Security Force. Illogically enough, it was at this point that his
nightmares began. His surrender was treated as a crime and his life became
hell. Afzal's story has enraged Kashmiris because what has happened to him
could have happened, is happening and has happened to thousands of young
Kashmiri men and their families. The only difference is that their stories
are played out in the dingy bowels of interrogation centres, army camps and
police stations where they have been burned, beaten, electrocuted,
blackmailed and killed, their bodies thrown out of the backs of trucks for
passers-by to find. Whereas Afzal's story is being performed like a piece of
medieval theatre on the national stage, in the clear light of day, with the
legal sanction of a "fair trial", the hollow benefits of a "free press" and
the all pomp and ceremony of a so-called democracy.
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 -
with electrodes on his genitals and chillies and petrol in his anus. 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
(December 13th: 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
December 12 2001, the then prime minister, AB Vajpayee, warned of an
imminent attack. On December 13 it happened. Given that there was an
"improved security drill", how did a car bomb 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-e-Mohammad and
Lashkar-e-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
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
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 December 19 2001, six days after the parliament attack,
police commissioner SM 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
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 Bhartiya 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. That was the
procedure those days and we did pour petrol in his ass and gave him electric
shocks. 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, what you call a 'chootya' [idiot] type. 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 LK 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.
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Eminent Theologian David Griffin Sparks 9/11 Truth Groundswell
David Griffin, one of America's most eloquent and influential
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government 9/11 complicity in in his bestseller
The New Pearl Harbor. (Read
Marc Estrin's review.) (Listen
to Pacifica radio interview.) Dr. Griffin's follow-up book,
The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions,
demolishes the last shreds of doubt that 9/11 was an inside job, and
the official story a transparent cover-up.
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