Fearing a repeat of a Khandahar styled operation all airports in the country have been put on high alert. The alert states that there could be a hijack bid on an Air India flight flying between Delhi and Kabul.
Prior to the Parliament attack ten years back India faced another embarrassing situation and that was the IC814, Khandahar incident. During that incident there was a hostage exchange and India handed Maulana Masood Azhar over. Now this man returned to Pakistan floated the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the same outfit carried out the deadly Parliament attack.
C D Sahay who was the Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) at that time took time off to speak to us about the events that led up to the Parliament attack. In this interview with rediff.com, Sahay points out that the Khandahar incident and the Parliament attack cannot be linked with each other. The hijack was not aimed at destabilising the nation, but the only objective was to secure.
Ten years down and questions are being asked whether our investigators have failed to put out the real picture regarding the Parliament attack. What are your thoughts on the same?
You should understand that the Parliament attack was a very well planned operation and hence the leads that came out during the investigation were extremely limited. You cannot even compare it to the 26/11 attack in which one terrorist was caught alive. Most of the evidence in the 26/11 attack rested on the confession of Ajmal Kasab and the case was built up on the basis of that. However in the Parliament attack that was not the case and all the five terrorists were killed and hence it was very difficult to make a start. The investigation was based on the information gathered through which we could reach up to the planners of the attack. Looking at this I would say that our agencies did a very credible job during this attack.
Do you think that our agencies were in a hurry to close this case?
I would not say that. They have gone about their job well, picked up and also followed the leads properly. The fact that we did not have the perpetrators on hand itself was a constraint on the quality of the evidence that came the way of our probe agencies.
Do you think it was an intelligence failure?
I would say that the intelligence levels in our country at that point in time was deficient. Almost all matters pertaining to terrorism rested largely with the central intelligence agency. The state agencies never played an active role and they thought all matters pertaining to terrorism needs to be handled through telephone intercepts and the inputs provided by central agencies. This was the biggest problem at that time.
How do you compare the Parliament attack to the 26/11 attack?
Both are very big attacks. However personally I feel that the Parliament attack was a more serious one when compared to the 26/11 attack. They challenged the Parliament directly which means they were trying to hit at the very democratic set up of the nation. Economies can be built, but if democracy is hit, it takes forever to build it up. The terrorists were trying to hit at our democratic values and thankfully they did not succeed. Look at countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh and how they are struggling to build up their democracy. However when I look back I do not think that the Parliament attack raised the national concern that it should have. I just wish that more action was taken after the Parliament attack like what was done after the 26/11 attack.
Now coming to the Khandahar incident. Do you think India was very soft which eventually led up to the Parliament attack?
Khandahar was one part of the story. The limited objective was to secure the release of Maulana Masood Azhar. There were four attempts prior to this which attempted his release and it was an ongoing affair. The objective of IC 814 was not to destabilise the nation, but to secure the release of one man. However in the Parliament attack the symbol of our nation was attacked. There are many who speak about IC 814 and there are arguments galore whether this could have been handled in some other way. I was continuously associated with this incident and I have no hesitation in admitting that we were in a box. We had no other way of dealing with it because the persons who hijacked the plane had the support of the structure of a state. The entire state and machinery was sympathetic to their cause. All through we were not negotiating with the hijackers. We were negotiating with the ISI. Every conversation that we even shared with the hijackers was being bounced back to Mullah Omar and the ISI. It was Pakistan and the Taliban which was working together here and they were deciding on how to package the entire show to get Azhar released.
There have been allegations that India was soft during this operation.
We could not possibly launch a commando operation. The hijackers were welcome at Afghanistan and not us. We were looked at as terrorists. We did the best we could at that time and our objective was to save those who were taken hostage.
The question of war arose after the Parliament attack which eventually ended with an eye ball to eye ball confrontation between the two countries. What is your take on this?
This would be subjective as many believe that we should gone and blasted Pakistan out of shape. There are some who also believe that war was not the solution as it does not result in anything. However those in the defence back ground felt that it was time to teach Pakistan its final lesson. We could have fought the war for 20 days, but the world is a different place and we would not have been allowed to fight that long. I am not trying to suggest that we should have remained soft so as to compromise on the core national interest. But one also needs to moderate the assessment. I for one feel that going to war would not have solved the problem.
So did we convey any message at the end of it after having our Parliament attacked?
Of course we did send a very strong message. The kind of mobilisation we had on the border did send a very strong message. Pakistan was worried sick as they realised that they could not match us. They saw the kind of mobilisation that was taking place and what worried them further that we did so at a very short notice. This probably was the biggest mobilisation in independent India. The message was well sent out.
Do you think that India has changed its approach after this attack?
There are claims that we are ready. However I still have very serious doubts that the structures that have been set up after 26/11 especially will stand the real test of any further attack.
Speak of the Parliament attack and the first name that comes to mind is Afzal Guru. The fate of this man lies in the hands of the President of India who is to decide on his mercy petition that ha been filed 5 years back.
After filing the mercy petition the matter was pending before the President. It was once again sent to the Home Ministry for review and only recently was it rejected and sent back to the President of India.
The BJP has made this one of its prime issues every time it raises the subject of national security. There has been a lot spoken about how dangerous it is to keep him alive in jail lest it leads to another Khandahar type operation. They further argue that there is no reason for the Congress to be soft on Guru especially when the courts of the land have awarded him a death penalty after looking closely into the case.
During the course of arguments before the trial judge, High Court and the Supreme Court, the case of the prosecution was this: They told the courts that the conspiracy was hatched by Maulana Masood Azhar who led the Jaish-e-Mohammad. He instructed Ghazi Baba to carry out an attack on key installations in India including the Indian Parliament. Baba who was in charge of the JeM in Kashmir roped in a person by the name Tariq who roped in Afzal Guru and Mohammad Haider. It was alleged that Guru helped bring in the ammunition into Delhi with the help of his militant contacts. It was further alleged that Guru kept in touch with
Shaukat Hussain Guru, Shaukat’s wife Afzan Guru and S. A. R. Geelani. Prior to the attack the militants were in touch with Guru.
Further the prosecution also argued that through some of the phone numbers obtained after the arrest of Guru, they found the records to Geelani. It was also stated that it was Geelani who led the police to the other accused persons.
Those arguing in favour of Guru have another story to tell. The first point that they would put out is that the Supreme Court while convicting him had clearly mentioned that it had circumstantial evidence against him and he was neither the mastermind neither was he the executor of the attack. It is said that Guru had joined the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, but was unhappy and hence surrendered himself. Further it is contended that he had accompanied one of the accused Mohammad who purchased the ambassador car which was used during the attack, but did not know what he was actually accompanying him for.
While this is the law related to the case, the other point of contention in the political circles is that hanging Afzal Guru would mean the death of peace in Kashmir. Some within the valley would go on to contend that hanging Afzal Guru would be a mistake and the people would never trust the Indian government ever again which would effectively mean disruption of peace and a stumbling block leading up to the reselution of the Kashmir issue.
While Afzal Guru is one part of the story, the other story is the remaining absconders in this case. As per the chargesheet, the main accused is Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohammad and his accomplices, Ghazi Baba and Tariq Ahmed. Ghazi Baba, according to security forces was killed in a gun battle a couple of years back.
India can claim that it has completed the probe in the Parliament attack, but the fact of the matter is that the main person behind this attack, Azhar is still out of our radar.
Azhar figures in all the dossiers that India has sent to Pakistan. His release during the hostage swap of December 31 1999 proved to be a costly affair. Not only did he get back to Pakistan and come back very strong with his new outfit, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, but he also was involved in planning the Parliament attack.
Although today his area of operation has been restricted to Kashmir alone, the man is very ambitious and had sworn to take over Ayodhya, Amritsar and also New Delhi. He has made it very clear that violence would be the only way to win over Kashmir and to attain this goal he would go to any length.
Although the ISI has contained him to the Valley alone, it is still a worrying factor that the man is out on the lose. His outfit undertakes only fidayeen strikes and they seem to have one of the best in the business.
According to the Indian Intelligence Azhar has been toying with the idea of joining the battle at Afghanistan, but the ISI has ensured that he continue to fight the Kashmir battle. He is an inspirational figure to his cadres in his own right and as long as he lives it only means India has a head ache on hand.