Change system to fight terror

Joginder Singh ji
( Former Director – CBI)

The perpetrators of the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai never thought that they would actually be caught. The conspiracy partially came to light after the arrest of Ajmal Amir Kasab — the lone surviving fidayeen. But there were certain unanswered questions that remained. It was only when Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley and his jihadi colleague Tahawwur Hussain Rana were arrested by the American intelligence that things started to fall into place.

A US federal grand jury in its 12-count indictment against Headley has provided extensive details of the planning behind 26/11. Some of the salient points are as follows. During the course of the attacks, the terrorists were in constant contact with three Lashkar-e-Tayyeba handlers — described as Members A, B and C — in Pakistan. The indictment reads, “During the course of the attacks, they (the terrorists) were advised to, among other actions, kill hostages and throw grenades. LeT Member A also sought to arrange the release of a hostage in exchange for the release of a captured attacker.” It is now known that the ten Pakistani terrorists were given extensive training by the LeT at its various camps in Pakistan.

Pakistani-Canadian terror suspect Rana, under investigation for possible links to 26/11, has admitted that he is a deserter from the Pakistani Army.

In affidavits filed in a US federal court, the FBI has said that Rana, co-conspirator of LeT operative David Headley, “knew in advance” about the 26/11 Mumbai attacks after which he “complimented” the Pakistan-based terror outfit.

Headley has pleaded guilty to the 12-count indictment against him. The plea deal states that Headley “must… when directed by the United States Attorney’s Office …fully and truthfully testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, video-conferencing or letters rogatory”.

The LeT agent has pleaded guilty to the following in order to secure a lighter sentence:

 Conspiracy to bomb public places in India
 Conspiracy to murder and maim persons in India
 Six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India
 Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in India
 Conspiracy to murder and maim persons in Denmark
 Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in Denmark
 And conspiracy to provide material support to terrorist Lashkar

In light of Headley’s past cooperation and expected future cooperation, the Attorney General of the United States has authorised the United States Attorney in Chicago not to seek the death penalty against Headley if he “continues to provide full and truthful cooperation”.

In the meantime, the Government has decided to send a team of NIA officials, along with some Home Ministry officials, to question Headley. A questionnaire is being prepared for this. Though a case against Headley has been formally registered in India, it is more academic than anything else as he will never be sent to India by the US Government to face trial.

However, depending on how it goes, Headley’s interrogation could yield a wealth of information about local terrorist modules, sympathisers and ISI sleeper cells in India. The US has already promised India access to Headley. It should now keep its word.

Pakistan-based terrorists want to carry out many more Mumbai-style attacks. We need to learn from our past experiences and prepare for any eventuality. One thing that is clear is that our intelligence agencies have time and again failed to gather timely information about terror plots despite all the support given to them by the Government.
Second, our laws are not only inadequate but also practically impossible to implement. The need for an independent witness, even in the middle of a terrorist strike, for identification is simply ridiculous. Besides, no witness is going to wait for years for a case to come up for hearing and then depose in court and face threats to his or her life.

The basic problem is that instead of fighting or acting against terrorism we have been only reacting to it. We have also never been able to guarantee strict punishment to the terrorists for carrying out their nefarious deeds. The case of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru is a classic example.

Nonetheless, a welcome sign has been the approach of the Muslim community, which has condemned terrorism publicly. Recently, the Rector of the Deoband madarsa, Maulana Marghubur Rahman, declared, “We condemn all forms of terrorism.” He insisted that terrorism is completely wrong, no matter who engages in it, and no matter what religion he follows or what community he belongs to.

To deal with terrorism we need a holistic approach that involves not only intelligence gathering, investigation and preventive action but also engages each and every section of the society. According to the Home Ministry, there are over four lakh vacancies for the post of constable in police forces across India. This situation has to change.

The long delays in the judicial system also need to be rectified to make our fight against terrorism effective. With over 3.32 crore cases pending in our courts, a former Chief Justice has said that it will take around 370 years for the disposal of all these cases even if not a single case is added from hereon. This is apart from the fact that we desperately need a witness protection programme to ensure the safety and security of witnesses.

Instead of restricting the Plea bargaining Act to a few limited offences, it needs to be amended to include all categories of cases. Indeed, one reason for prompt justice or judgements in the US is that over 90 per cent of the cases there are disposed off through plea bargaining. Trials in India are nothing more than a joke in most cases.

The Bombay bombing cases of 1993 were decided in 2006, 13 years after the incident took place. Some of the accused were finally acquitted and some died during the course of the trial. Similarly, convictions in the murder case of whistle-blower Satyendra Dubey came after six years. This is something that only the Government can sort out. Police bashing will not help as it is not the police which finally acquits or convicts a person. The Government must strengthen and streamline the judiciary at the earliest.