Saturday, July 6

Truth and Intelligence

Commenting on Ishrat Jahan’s case in his column ‘National Interest’ in The Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta mentions in passing the role of intelligence agencies in containing terrorism in Punjab.

If somebody was able to pen the real story of how terrorism folded in Punjab within a few bloody months in 1993, (Ajit) Doval’s name will appear as many times as KPS Gill’s. Because they so conclusively demolished the ISI’s most ambitions operation ever outside of Kashmir, they were seen as national heroes. But nobody asked how many suspected terrorists they put through “due process”. And when questions were raised about fake encounters, or killing of innocents, the entire government system colluded in never letting the truth out, even when the Supreme Court had wanted it. I am not writing a definitive history of that phase now, but they fought fire with fire, even kidnap with kidnap. When Gurbachan Singh Manochahal, a top-ranked militant, abducted the father of a police SP, the police abducted his son and a peaceful exchange was carried out. That, then, was due process. In fact, Gill used to say that militancy will end the day its leaders were convinced that one of them had moved to the police’s “A” category, he had no more than six months to live. The state police did the firing, but identification, cornering or luring of “militants” was mostly done by the IB’s unarmed operatives riding in a Maruti van. And they were funded directly — mostly in cash by the suitcase — by Subodh Kant Sahay and Rajesh Pilot, then minister for internal security in Narasimha Rao’s cabinet.
Once you start raising these questions, you will need two full commissions of inquiry. One, a more immediate one to look into who all were in the know in New Delhi under the UPA on the Ishrat Jahan encounter and why had they accepted it so far. The second, and a more interesting one, on what our intelligence agencies have been up to in the past, and with what kind of oversight. I, for example, would also love to see answers for some mysteries that have dogged reporters of my generation: ... was there something behind a rash of attacks in the Punjab countryside in 1991 targeting the families of Punjab policemen? It is then that the state police turned against militants and the tide turned. Many of us have wondered what exactly happened and all you can say is that our intelligence past hasn’t exactly been either ineffective or incompetent, nor would it pass with flying colours if subjected to the legal/moral scrutiny of the Ishrat Jahan case.

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