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The Rediff Interview/SAR Geelani, activist

'How many terror masterminds are there?'

October 07, 2008

SAR Geelani
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Terrorism in India has become almost routine. While the government, Intelligence Bureau and security agencies grope in the dark, the Opposition is on the offensive, accusing the government of completing failing in its duty to check terrorism.

While this is one part of the story, academics feel the only way to control the menace of terror is by ensuring social justice. Also, incidents such as the Jamia Nagar shootout, which has been questioned by several fact-finding committees, will only contribute to the frustration and anger of the youth, academics feel.

Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, an academic who was acquitted by the Supreme Court in connection with the Parliament attack case, has seen it all. He spent 20 months in jail and was a victim of the draconian POTA before the Supreme Court stepped in. Geelani spoke at length with Special Correspondent Vicky Nanjappa, sharing his views on the present scenario and what is the need of the hour if terror has to be rooted out.

The National Human Rights Commission has served a notice to the Delhi [Images] police about the Jamia Nagar encounter. The fact-finding mission too has found many holes in the police's claim. In light of this, do you plan to seek judicial intervention in the matter?

We have demanded a judicial inquiry into the matter. However, let us first see what the Delhi police have to say in reply to the notice issued to them by the NHRC.

The police have drawn a link between the Indian Mujahideen [Images] and the Lashkar e Tayiba, which operates mainly in Jammu and Kashmir [Images]. Do you think the Kashmir insurgency is a breeding ground for terrorism in other parts of the country?

Well, for starters, one does not know what exactly this Indian Mujahideen is.

The Lashkar-e-Tayiba says it has nothing to do with the Indian Mujahideen. It is just the police which seems to be going on and on about this new outfit. Sometimes I wonder if it is a creation. No one is sure who is doing what. The police ought to come clean on all the allegations that they are making before any of us can jump to any conclusion.

What I fail to understand is before an act of terror the police has absolutely no clue, but immediately after a strike they seem to have all the details and they even claim to have nabbed the culprits. I would like to ask as to how many masterminds are there. It just raises doubts in one's mind.

What is your own takeĀ about the Students Islamic Movement of India?

Prior to its ban SIMI [Images] was an unknown organisation. I have gone though all the papers regarding the case against SIMI and I should say there is no evidence against it. Moreover, in the affidavit filed by SIMI, they clearly state that they are not against the country.

I have also heard the arguments in this regard. Let us not confuse ourselves here. One has to be loyal to the State and not being loyal to the governance is not an offence. What is the harm in questioning the governance? Every political party says the system has to be changed and SIMI too had raised the same point. SIMI had just said the Khilafat rule is the right rule. Even Mahatma Gandhi [Images] had said the same thing. In my view SIMI has every right to be entitled to its view and also propagate it.

As an academic, how do you think the threat of terrorism can be stemmed? Do you have a solution for this menace?

We need peace, and peace comes with social justice. When there is no peace and so much unrest, how can you expect peace? Social and economic issues and their imbalances have to be dealt with and sorted out. Only then in my view there will be peace in this country.

Are stronger laws the answer to the problem?

I feel that stronger laws will only add to the problem. We had laws such as TADA and POTA. What happened? They were misused. As I said earlier, social and economic problems have to be sorted out first. Take the Naxal issue, for instance. Various reports suggest that this is not a law and order problem. These were directly related to social and economic issues.

Moreover, the manner in which cases are investigated too have to be given a second look. The manner in which blasts are taking place and the investigation is being conducted, only makes me think that there is something fishy.

Between the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance, which is more effective in terms of dealing with terrorism?

Well, both have failed in handling this problem. It is not about changing prime ministers and their respective governments. Replacing L K Advani [Images] with Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] is not the solution. Policies have to change. When I look at the functioning of both the NDA and the UPA, I have realised that in respect of both these governments, the policies have not changed.

Look at the manner in which the IB is functioning under both governments. I have faced the IB. I only have to say that the IB is communal and criminal.

In fact, they are extremely dangerous and they are damaging the social framework of this country. Governments ought to look into such issues also.

You have dealt with a lot of cases in Hyderabad and other parts of the country, including the Jamia Nagar shootout. What change do you see among the Muslim youth? Do they feel agitated, and do they think they are being wronged?

I have been to various parts of the country looking into such issues. I have very closely seen the manner in which the police are functioning.

As I said earlier, they don't have a clue before the blasts and immediately after it, they seem to have the entire case worked out. They have rounded up so many youth and they don't seem to have evidence too.

Yes, the youth are angry. If they continue to be prosecuted with no proof, there is every chance of them going astray and even retaliating. The issue has to be dealt with carefully and it is the duty of Muslim leaders and the youth to think collectively and fight collectively too.

The message that I want to send out to the youth is to fight out problems collectively with Muslim leaders. Never take the fight individually, as this trend could prove dangerous.

I was told by a youth in Hyderabad that he was unable to bear the police torture and hence thought it best to own up to a crime that he had not committed. What do you have to say about this?

I completely understand what this youth was telling you. Human endurance has a level. Youth are picked up and subject to some unbearable torture. What do you expect these youth to do? There is a limit to how much the human body can take.

Let us see if some of the lawmakers are able to bear such torture. In fact, I was once told that if some leaders were picked up and subject to similar torture, the police would get clues about a lot of incidents, including as to why Mahatma Gandhi was murdered.

Several Muslim clerics have come out in the open and condemned terror activities in the country. However, the tag against the community continues to persist. Is the community doing enough to battle perceptions?

The basic approach itself is wrong. Muslim leaders should not come out and protest against terror only with a view of saving the reputation of the community. Terror should be condemned in the right perspective.

Terror as a whole should be condemned and this is not something that is community-oriented. Muslim leaders should do more and send out a signal that they are completely against terror. They should not be on the defensive, but should act more effectively.

I must also add that the Bharatiya Janata Party's approach, that 'not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims', is wrong. Terrorism [Images] is not restricted to just one community.

Lastly sir, what are your thoughts on the comments made by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari that those fighting for a separate Kashmir are terrorists?

Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were called terrorists by the British. But were the British right? No, they were not. These people were freedom-fighters.

The statement made by Zardari was foolish. He is unaware of the situation since he has recently taken over and it seems to me that he was overwhelmed by the Americans and it was under that influence that he made such a statement. It is an unfortunate statement.

The Kashmir movement does not need the endorsement Zardari, and neither does it require any certification from Pakistan.

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