Stop petty politicking

Ishrat Jahan case and national security

‘Never share your secrets with anybody, it will destroy you’ -- Kautilya.
The case of Ishrat Jahan’s purported fake encounter has polarised thinkers and social activists across the board. It has brought the CBI and the IB, two pivotal investigation and intelligence agencies of India at loggerheads with each other. The nation has witnessed fiery debates on its various facets day in and out, along with soaring prices of potatoes and tomatoes -- measuring both in the same scale. Ironically, no one seems to have fathomed its implications on the national security of India. Kautilya is turning in his grave!

The CBI owes its allegiance to the Special Police Establishment (SPE) raised in the 1940s, by the British government amidst fire and fury of the World War II. The SPE was raised to investigate cases of corruption linked to the supply of war material. Later, the ambit of SPE was extended to cover all offices of the government. The present day CBI came into existence in April 1963 through an Act of the Central Government of India. The motto of CBI as enunciated by its founding fathers is “Industry, Impartiality and Integrity”. Over the years we have seen this premium investigation agency fall of its lofty pedestal and has come to be known as the ‘caged parrot’ in the hands of our political bigwigs. There has hardly been a case of corruption in which political honchos were involved that has culminated in their conviction – be it Bofors scam, the fodder scam of Bihar, 2G scam, coalgate and so on. The CBI’s performance has been clearly in violation of its motto. It has been often seen playing to the tune of the party in power.

 The Intelligence Bureau had come into being in 1885 to acquire information about Russian movements in Afghanistan. In the early 19th century, it was restructured to keep tabs on the Indian revolutionaries during the freedom movement. After 1947, the IB was placed under the ministry of home with the task to acquire intelligence on internal security, counter-intelligence and even external sources, till the RAW was raised in 1968.

In 2008, in another Act by the Central Government, National Investigation Agency (NIA) was raised to investigate cases impacting the sovereignty, integrity and security of India with focus on terrorism and left wing extremism. The irony is that we have often found our intelligence woefully wanting in delivering timely and actionable intelligence. Now with the CBI pitted against the IB, it could further dampen our ability to acquire real time intelligence and fight the monster of terrorism and ensure security of India.

The rights to life and justice are the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution. No right minded Indian would ever condone the killing of an innocent person, be it Ishrat Jahan or anyone else.  At the same time it is imperative to understand that in the era of terrorism there are no defined lines of white and black. The terrorists and their modules operate only in the grey zone and thrive on the voices raised by activists who expect the security forces and our intelligence agencies to be in the public domain – a demand oblivious of ground realities. Britain with much deeper roots in democracy than India has its key intelligence agency, MI-16 operating in total secrecy for more than a century and continues to do so.

Political bomb

If Ishrat Jahan along with three others were picked up and killed in a staged encounter, it is hard to believe that with the IB officers being involved in providing leads, the top brass of the IB and the home ministry at the Centre were in the dark. These things are often communicated by the word of mouth. Was this information kept under wraps to be unleashed as a political bomb preceding elections, without even a feeble thought towards the national security? The former home secretary G K Pillai in his recent statements to the media has given the benefit of doubt to Ishrat since she was probably used by one Javed as a cover without her knowledge. It has also been reported that IB used Javed to lure the other two who were Pakistani LeT operatives. Intriguingly, it was during Pillai’s tenure as home secretary that the two conflicting affidavits were filed in Gujarat high court – the first named Ishrat as LeT operative, whereas the second omitted her name. Analysis of Pillai’s reported statements throws light on what ails our intelligence agencies – political/ bureaucratic control to use it to their personal advantage, ignoring the national interests.

 One has to fight a terrorist like a terrorist, especially when they have acquired the right to shoot first. It puts the security forces and the intelligence agency in particular at a grave risk. It is for this reason that the intelligence agencies are often given the right to operate under the veil of secrecy. Their misdemeanours are to be handled on the quiet without letting it became a case of public debate, ensuring justice to innocent victims, if any. The system has enough checks and balances and does not require a new ombudsman provided the hurdles of personal interest and politicking are swept aside.
The new baby on the block, NIA simply decided to ignore the statement of David Headly that Ishrat Jahan was a LeT operative, terming it as hearsay. Even if the statement was made to CIA, omitting it from the report as hearsay sounds absurd and appears to be a by-product of our petty politics mould. The incident has no comparison to holding Ajmal Kasab in prison and taking his trial to conclusive stage. Each of such case has to be handled on its own merit – the national interests and integrity of India being paramount. India is already paying the price by not handling Masood Azar’s case in sync with our national interests. We were forced to let him go in exchange of the passengers of IC-814 and turned him into a hero with the Jihadists in Pakistan.

The ripple effects of this episode have already surfaced in Punjab where a police officer with some activists came out claiming that police encounters during Punjab terrorism were staged. How convenient it is to forget that many innocent families in Punjab had suffered at the hands of terrorists and got wiped out for not meeting their diktats? The state had remained engulfed in fear till the police and the security forces restored normalcy. Those involved in the recent statements, did they ever speak out against terrorists when they were violating all norms of our society? Similar demands are awaiting to erupt in J&K where the security forces and the IB have been fighting shoulder to shoulder to ensure integrity of India, when in 1989, it was virtually deemed that Kashmir was lost. Terrorism in Punjab and J&K has been an off shoot of placing politicking over national security. When will our leaders learn from the past follies and keep the nation first over petty vote bank politics?

(The writer is a retired Major General in the Indian army)

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