Ishrat Jahan -an inconvenient truth

Sometime ago, the Supreme Court of India remarked that the CBI, country’s premier investigating agency was just a ‘caged parrot’. The apparent reference was to the constant misuse of CBI’s probing  powers to achieve political objectives. It would only be a cliché to state that the CBI under current UPA is suffering a severe credibility crisis. But the recent chargesheet filed in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, giving Ishrat a clean chit has set a new low and a dangerous precedent.

It is quite surprising that the CBI did not find a compelling case of terrorism when so much incriminating evidence is already available in public domain. First of all, it is technically incorrect to even call it an Ishrat Jahan encounter, because she was not the only one killed. She was encountered along with 3 other men, all with dubious identities and LeT links. But the story of an innocent girl being brutally killed by rogue police elements creates a more sensational story and wave of public sympathy. Let’s see who were the other three killed in the encounter.

The first one by the name of Javed had already obtained a passport (S-514800) in his name on 28 Jun’14 on which he travelled to Dubai. But in Sep’03, he obtained another passport in the name of Praneshkumar Pillai from Cochin RPO, that too when he was not even residing in Kerela. In an affidavit filed by the central government in 2009 by the then undersecretary for internal security RVS Mani, Javed had a criminal bent of mind and was a rowdy. His conclusion was based on four criminal cases against Javed in Thane district between 1992 and 1998, a period when he stayed in Mumbra and met Ishrat.

The second one was Amjad Ali Akbar Ali Rana, alias Babbar alias Salim alias Chandu alias Rajkumar. As per affidavit from ministry of home affairs (MHA), he was a resident of Sargoda, Pakistan, who entered India under instructions from LeT’s Muzammil to organize terror networks in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Mani’s affidavit says Jammu & Kashmir police arrested 18 LeT terrorists on June 25-28, 2004, and that it mentioned that Amjad Ali had entered India. Amjad Ali was even injured in an encounter with the J&K police and was reportedly treated for bullet injury in May 2004.

As per the central government’s own admission, Zeeshan Johar, the third one, was a Pakistani national and LeT member. His alias was Janbaaz who had infiltrated from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir into J&K. He even procured a J&K government identity card under the name of Abdul Ghani.

It is not that the CBI was completely ignorant about their background. In fact, it is the same CBI which had announced a cash reward of Rs 5 lakh for anyone who gives credible information on the real identities of Amjad Ali and Johar. The very fact that Ishrat had been actively associated with all the three, and had been travelling with them across India would have raised eyebrows over her actual intentions.

The Tata Indica car in which all four were killed also has a damning story to tell. Javed visited Oman just two months before the encounter. Upon his return in April 2004, he bought with himself cash worth Rs 2.5 lakh, a satellite phone and two or three mobile phones. With that money, he bought a second-hand Indica car. A statement by Khan Faiyaz Mehboob, an old friend of Javed, indicates that Javed did not buy the car alone. He was accompanied with another person ‘Bunty’ who accompanied him throughout the transaction. Since Javed did not have PAN card and other relevant documents to get the ownership of the car, he requested the car to be registered in Mehboob’s name. He assured reluctant Mehboob that he will procure the documents in a month and transfer the ownership. But who was Bunty? In a statement by Shajida (Javed’s wife), he had bought home a friend named Bunty. On being shown the photograph of Amjad Ali, she identified Bunty as Amjad Ali. To sum up, Amjad Ali, a Pakistani national as per the MHA, who had had a run-in with the Jammu & Kashmir police (as outlined in Part-I), accompanied Javed for the purchase of a second hand Indica car with cash money from Oman which, Javed ensures, is registered in his friend’s name! The four, incidentally, were found dead in the same Indica car.

In spite of all this, let us give Ishrat the benefit of doubt that she was completely ignorant about the other three’s intentions, and was just unfortunate enough to have been in their company at a wrong place and wrong time.

Tracing the places they had visited before the encounter only raises more uncomfortable questions. Javed, Ishrat and Amjad Ali had stayed at Hotel Mezban International under the names Abdul Rehman, Ayesha and Rajkumar respectively. Ishrat, therefore, was not only staying under a different name, but had also met Amjad Ali before. As per the statement by Mohammad Wasi, a resident of UP, his friend Miraj brought Javed and Ishrat to him asking to arrange for a pistol. Commission of 15000-20000 was offered for getting the work done. Both had even stayed in Hotel Ajanta, Ahmedabad as husband and wife under the name of S Rajesh Kumar and Smt Geeta. Javed had also checked in hotel Radhika in Malegaon under the name Ahmed Yusuf with Ishrat. All these movements have been confirmed with the hotel staff. If Ishrat was truly innocent, then what was the need to take different names everywhere they travelled? Was she not alarmed when Javed wanted to procure a pistol?

Very few people even know that the Lahore based Ghazwa times, a mouthpiece of LeT had owned up and hailed the martyrdom of Ishrat and her accomplices. It was only later that it retracted with an apology. The affidaivit by Central Home ministry unambiguously admits that “Ishrat was actively associated with LeT, and the apology by an LeT mouthpiece [this was issued to her family] is tactical, to discredit Indian security agencies and police and aimed at misleading the court”.

The most interesting development happened when David Headley, one of the prime accused in 26/11 attacks in Taj-Oberoi-Colaba in Mumbai identified Ishrat as a suicide bomber. In a letter dated 25th  Jun 2010, sent by Daniel Clegg, a legal attaché in the US embassy in Delhi to the Indian Intelligence Bureau, he admits about female suicide bomber Ishrat Jahan recruited by Muzammil, LeT’s middle level commander. Another letter also mentions Muzammil’s plans to attack Akshardham, Somnath and Siddhi temples. A US investigating agency interrogating a dreaded LeT terrorist about Ishrat certainly raises significant doubts over her activities. Headley’s statement tallies with claims of Gujarat cops that Ishrat and her accomplices in Gujarat were on a mission to attack the Indian hinterland. Clegg is the pointsperson for the FBI in India and a key liaison officer for Indian security agencies on terrorism issues after 26/11 attacks. Any information coming from him should have been taken very seriously.

All this and much more is already available in public domain. It is absolutely unfathomable why the CBI did not bother to pursue these leads further. Instead, Ishrat has been portrayed as an innocent college going girl who used to work part time and take tuitions to support her family. But the agency has not answered why she was operating with so many different names, or if Headley’s statements are correct or not. It does not even tell us what she was doing with 3 alleged terrorists in 3’ o clock at night. Giving tuitions, let’s assume! All these and many more questions remain unanswered.

Why just Ishrat?

Disproportionately high coverage given to this case in Gujarat would almost lead somebody into believing that Gujarat is the only state where such incidents took place. Mere fact-checking would expose the unnecessary hype. According to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), more than 440 encounter cases were across India in 2002-07. And how many of them were reported in Gujarat? Just five, I repeat, just five. Have a look at the table below, and look where Gujarat stands:

State wise record of encounter cases for 2002-07:

State No of encounters
Uttar Pradesh 231
Rajasthan 33
Maharashtra 31
Delhi 26
Andhra Pradesh 22
Uttaranchal 19
Assam 12
Madhya Pradesh 10
Karnataka 10
Tamil Nadu 9
West Bengal 8
Bihar 6
Haryana 6
Gujarat 5

Source: NHRC

So you had all the bleeding hearts – Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai, Rahul Kanwal, Barkha Dutt, Nidhi Razdan shouting at the top of their voices how could the police execute encounters with impunity without the knowledge of their political bosses in Gujarat? Have you ever heard them sparing even 5 minutes to question how could 231 encounters happen in UP without the involvement of any higher-ups or a minister? Or why so many encounters happened in Congress ruled states? And then they get upset why people in social media accuse them of being Congi spokies.

For any objective political observer, the recent controversy would not come as a surprise. Those who have been crying their lungs out in media debates have no interest in securing justice for the victims (if there are any). Their only mission is to somehow pull down the man who is currently the biggest obstacle standing in the way of UPA3. It can be bluntly stated that full resources of the government, media, NGOs, investigating agencies are currently geared towards preventing Modi’s ascendance. Congress does not gain anything if the cases are settled and culprits punished. Its interest is in delaying and dragging the whole process of filing the full charge sheet, facilitating selective leaks and inserting a sense of victimhood amongst the Muslims.

As the election season heats up, we will witness such insinuations, selective leaks, threat of charge sheets, fake outrage, and much more with increasing frequency. Let me again reiterate that they are not interested in justice; all they intend to do is shoot over the shoulder of victims to score political brownie points.

Whether the encounter was genuine or fake is a different issue. But a country’s main investigating agency handing out character certificates to rogue elements and terrorists is a dangerous game. This will have severe implications on country’s defence preparedness, and will demoralize our security personnel and intelligence agencies in the long run.

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