The more one looks into the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, the more the details that emerge appear to be murky. With various agencies at war with each other and the National Investigation Agency all set to enter the fray, it appears like a case in which the truth may never be told.
Without a doubt there is a lot at stake in this case. It threatens to shake up the top bosses of the Intelligence Bureau, who the Central Bureau of Investigation blames for providing false inputs. However, there are a couple of issues which suggest that even the central government has not acted in the right spirit while handling this case. When the NIA concluded it’s questioning of terror suspect David Headley in the US, there was talk that the 26/11 accused had spoken about Jahan and termed her as a Lashkar-e-Tayiba suicide bomber.
The NIA was asked to testify before the Gujarat high court regarding the Jahan angle following the Headley questioning. However, the NIA only told the court that they did not probe too much as it was nothing but hearsay on part of Headley. While the NIA did not really get into the details of the case, the bigger question that needs to be answered is why the FBI report sent to both the NIA and the government of India was not considered and spoken about before the various agencies probing this case. Prior to the questioning of Headley by the NIA, they were granted access to the FBI report on Headley. The FBI report clearly speaks about Jahan, but the government of India chose to remain silent on this.
There is a lot of controversy on the issue of the intelligence alert regarding Jahan and her accomplices. The alert was sent out to all the states on April 22, 2004 and an Intelligence Bureau official tells rediff.com that they had warned local police about an assassination plot in which Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani were targets. The alert also mentions that the Lashkar was planning on targeting religious places. At that point in time the top rung of the security circle comprised of Nechal Sandhu, who was in charge of counter terror operations (now deputy national security advisor), K P Singh, the IB director and M K Narayanan, who was the advisor on internal security. There is no doubt that these persons would have known about such an important alert rated Grade A. All are silent on the case today.
The exact information that the IB had at that point in time was analysed following the death of a Lashkar operative named Ilahi. On him they found a letter which spoke about a plot which also involved a lawyer from Gujarat. Further probing led to more details about the plot which involved four persons who would come into Gujarat to execute their plan in a vehicle bearing the number MH-02-JA-4786.
The first argument of those seeking justice for Jahan was that it was a case of mistaken identity. They said that the Maharashtra police, the state from where she hailed had no record against her. The next question would be about her association with Javed Shaikh who has several cases against him.
Shaikh, originally a resident of Alappuzha in Kerala had converted to Islam after he married a Muslim woman. Shaikh has been booked for rioting four times and this is the extent of the crime file against him. In 2003, he left for Dubai where he is said to have undergone a major change. He was shown videos of the Gujarat riots. He then left for Oman and later returned to India in 2004. He purchased a Tata Indica, the vehicle in which he was present at the time of the encounter. Shaikh’s association with the Lashkar has been clearly documented and a government of India document even suggests that he was close to senior Lashkar operative Muzzamil Bhat.
It was on May 1, 2004, that Shaikh met Jahan and convinced her to join him as a sales girl for a perfume business. He is then said to have taken Jahan with him and checked in at a guest house in Bardoli in Surat. The testimony from the guest house staff indicates that he along with Ishrat had checked in at 2 am on June 12, 2004. It was after this that the Gujarat police, acting on a tip off from their state control room shared by the central intelligence, got into action. They say that they killed Shaikh, Jahan and two others in an encounter as opposed to the counter argument that Jahan and the rest were illegally detained before being killed off in a fake encounter.
The CBI case is also that some member of the IB had even gone to the extent of providing arms for the operation. However there is a testimony of Muhammad Wasi, who is alleged to know Shaikh, which has not been considered. He told a magistrate in Ahmedabad that Shaikh had purchased pistols and a sten gun from Uttar Pradesh in February 2004. He also says that he was introduced to Shaikh by a person called Mehrazuddin Mohammad.
Questions for the CBI:
Where is Mehrazuddin Mohammad, the man who introduced Wasi to Shaikh? The CBI has not sought any details on him and neither have they tried to track him down. The CBI has also not questioned Abdul Razak, who is in the custody of the Delhi police. Razak, who is with the Delhi police since 2005, had said that he was the one who sent Sheikh for training. The questioning of these persons could lead to more information on Shaikh and also his association with Jahan.
The top rung of the security apparatus set up at the time of the encounter and also when the input was shared have also not been questioned by the CBI. Such an important input could not have skipped the top officials and they would have a lot of information on it.
The next bit of information that the CBI has not yet sought is the evidence regarding Shaikh’s connection to Muzzamil Bhat. The government of India had claimed in 2004 that the information was Grade A and even went on to file an affidavit before court on it. The evidence which the government claims it has continues to be classified and is not yet public. The CBI has, however, not sought this evidence which proves that Shaikh was in touch with Bhat.
The last question is does the CBI have enough evidence in this case to implicate so many officers? The big question that is being asked by some officers in intelligence circles is why the agency failed to file charges against officers Anaju Chaudhary, Girish Singhal, J G Parmar, Bharat Patel and Tarun Barot? All these five officers were present at the spot when Jahan and the rest were allegedly kidnapped and shot dead. However all these police officers came out on bail only on the ground that the CBI could not press charges against them in the stipulated 90-day period.