Centre playing a dangerous game by pitting CBI against the IB

Centre playing a dangerous game by pitting CBI against the IB

Will the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) decision to prosecute Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials in Ishrat Jehan fake encounter case mark a paradigm shift in covert operations?

Keeping aside the dangerous politics being played out in full public view on a highly sensitive matter of internal security, the CBI supplementary chargesheet, against recently retired special director Rajender Kumar and other serving IB officers, has raised the larger debate over the need for an in-house independent audit of such operations in the country’s spy agencies that will only enhance credibility and sharpen their intelligence gathering mechanism.

World over intelligence agencies were subjected to scrutiny by their own investigative agencies for suspected operations -- such as the FBI secret probe of CIA’s attempt to murder Saddam Hussien in 1995 that, however, did not go far -- but there is little evidence to suggest that political scores were settled through cases.

Ishrat Jehan along with Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Gulam Sheikh, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were shot dead in June 2004 in an encounter by Ahemdabad police crime branch team led by the then DIG DG Vanjara, who is languishing behind the bars, suspecting them to be Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists.

The targeted killing to wipe out terrorism has courted criticism over the last few decades. It was hotly debated and disparaged during the Punjab militancy days when Sikhs and other Punjabis were killed in an extra-judicial manner and subsequently when Pakistan started using disgruntled elements among Muslims frequently in 1990s to carry out proxy war against India by carrying out blasts to take innocent lives.

The core issues in the debate remain largely the same – looking it through the prisms of law (whether killings were legal); morality (should security forces have the right to take life even of a terrorist) and state craft (right to defend the country).

Though the CBI believes that Jehan was not a Lashkar terrorist, the evidence, including FBI sharing with the UPA government that David Hadley had referred about Lashkar commanders mentioning about her, and Union home ministry’s own earlier stand in the court gave enough indications that she had a terror background.

But, questions remain on the ways of killing her. The case has acquired political connotations with slanging match being played out routinely between the Congress-led UPA and the BJP, since it involves their PM nominee Narendra Modi’s government of Gujarat and that the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner.Independent mechanism

While the court will decide on the genuineness of the encounter, the more important aspect is to remodel the security architecture to avoid controversy on police encounters. A time has come when the security managers should set-up an independent mechanism within the intelligence set up to address questions raised on encounters.

Perhaps, the model that could be replicated with some suitable tweaks is court marshal proceedings the Army, the Navy and the Air Force follow to subject guilty personnel to a court of inquiry which is out of bounds for public. It is done since public trial of sensitive matters can have a bearing on the country.

To bring an element of fairness and impartiality in accountability holding mechanism, officers from Union home ministry, legal fraternity and investigating agencies can be drafted in to have outsiders in such in-house probe bodies.

The exposure of the intelligence assets and last mile details to the outside world not only compromises future covert operations as adversaries become more aware and alert but it demoralises the organisation as a whole. The vibes coming out of the intelligence set-up is no different post what they call ‘targeted framing’.

A senior intelligence officer said that after using IB officers to kill militants who are out to wage war against the nation, they are being dragged to the court. Putting the same logic, American president Barack Obama should also have been put behind the bars for ordering the killing of Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, which is in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, in 2011 May.

Ishrat Jehan case is one of the many encounters that have raised doubts. For the fight against terrorism to be meaningful and enduring, it is equally important that the anti-terrorism forces learn from their mistakes because relying on compiled corrupt database can never throw up genuine leads

At least, a string of saffron terror cases amplified that state special forces went on a wrong trail in some of the blasts that took place from 2006 to 2008 given their straight jacketed investigations.

In about seven cases, that of 2006 and 2008 Malegaon blasts and 2007 Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif blasts, it turned out the police had wrongly framed Muslim youths, the NIA and CBI investigations have revealed. Later, it turned out to be the handiwork of saffron brigade that had the backing of some elements of the RSS as well.

Did security establishment review such erroneous cases and fix responsibility as it involved innocent lives? Had they done that, it would perhaps, have silenced the public outcry for fixing the culprits.

But, it is necessary to punish spies if they are guilty, without dragging such cases into public, just as the rewards they get for successful covert operations also do not get out of the four walls. The dictum should be: Let them remain unsung villains just as they are unsung heroes.

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