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The Rediff Special/Sheela Bhatt
September 25, 2003
Five important facts relating to the repeated bomb blasts in Mumbai since December last year appear to have not received the attention they deserve.
The blasts are clearly a wake-up call for India's political leadership, national security managers, and intelligence and security agencies, as they illustrate the extent of alienation of certain sections of the Muslim youth after the Gujarat riots of 2002.
Also, they are proof of the systematic attempts by external forces, based not only in Pakistan but also in the Persian Gulf region, to exploit this alienation and anger to fuel terrorism and bleed the country, creating a picture of insecurity in the minds of foreign investors about conditions in India's financial capital.
These five aspects have been gleaned from interviews with the Mumbai police brass, Mumbai-based leaders of the Muslim community, some relatives of those accused of involvement in some of the blasts, and some of the accused themselves.
Fact one: Gulf exposure
The interrogation of some 20 persons accused of involvement in various blasts has revealed that after the Gujarat riots, Gulf-based operatives of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence have seized on a readymade opportunity. In the last 18 months, they have scouted, selected, brainwashed and trained many Muslim youngsters in terrorist activities. Hyderabad too has become vulnerable because of the ISI's networking in the city.
"It's worrying to note that our people in Dubai, and the rest of the Gulf region, have become vulnerable to the preying eyes of ISI agents," Additional Commissioner of Police Rakesh Maria, who is heading the investigation into the blast cases in Mumbai, said. The police have no idea how many people have been "indoctinated to spread terror."
During their investigations, the Mumbai police came across an instance of a poor Muslim worker from India having been blackmailed into working for anti-India forces. One of the accused told the police that many Muslim workers have their passports taken away by their employers and local maulvis put tremendous pressure on some of them. Senior officers say indoctrination against India is easier in foreign lands.
Pradeep Sawant, deputy commissioner of police (crime), Mumbai, said: "ISI agents try to blackmail the Indian working class who are at the mercy of their local Arab employers. When brainwashing by the Pakistanis does not help, they try to blackmail our people."
This system of recruiting and training operatives and financing, planning and executing terror strikes has been perfected by the ISI over the years.
Fact two: Suspicion of an Indo-US nexus against Islam
Sayyed Mohammed Hanif Abdul Rahim, an accused in the twin bomb blasts of August 25, revealed a dangerous notion spreading in the minds of a large section of ordinary Indian Muslims. Though it is not publicized much, Hanif told the police that the Gateway of India was selected as a target because that is the precinct in Mumbai where American tourists are most seen, and the Taj Mahal Hotel nearby is the place where Americans and Europeans stay.
"American tourists were the Lashkar-e-Tayiba's target when Hanif planted the bomb at the Gateway of India," DCP Sawant said. Hanif was apparently told by his sponsors that "if you kill foreigners you will get a lot of publicity."
Hanif on his part agreed to plant the bomb because "America is the biggest enemy of Islam."
A source in the Mumbai police said: "We don't have the time or the inclination to analyse this information and the perceptions of the blasts accused. But obviously, their perceived notion about an Indo-US nexus against Islam is not going to help maintain law and order. These accused who were good citizens until recently should have known that India's fight against terrorism is neither like the American war on terror nor is it aimed against Islam."
Fact three: Distrust of the police
To fight terrorism in a giant city like Mumbai, security agencies need various types of intelligence inputs. A large-scale, well-oiled machinery is given the task of gathering this intelligence. But in Mumbai, ever since the 1992-93 communal riots in the city, very little intelligence is forthcoming from within the Muslim community.
Many officers in the crime branch of the city police told rediff.com that before 1992 most of their informers were Muslims. But the numbers have fallen drastically since then. And not many new informants have come forward to replace them, leaving a huge gap in the inputs that reach the police force.
On the one hand, reliable intelligence is not forthcoming. On the other, large numbers of ordinary Muslims see the Mumbai police as an unjust Hindu-dominated force. As a result, their trust in the system is weakening rapidly, which ultimately results in their losing faith in the State.
In the Muslim-dominated areas of Byculla or Mohammad Ali Road, "police kuch bhi kar sakti hai [the police can do as they wish]" is an oft-heard comment. A Muslim professor from a prestigious Mumbai college told rediff.com, "For Hindus, the Mumbai police is merely a wretched, corrupt force. But we think the police is following the agenda of its boss, Home Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who is originally from the Shiv Sena, which is openly anti-Muslim."
Such unsubstantiated notions have been spreading as insecurity increases in the city. This distrust set in after the release of the recording of a conversation involving policemen in the troubled days of early 1993, says a Muslim teacher from the Char Nal locality in Dongri, south Mumbai.
A science professor in a college run by the Muslim community told rediff.com that his community's anger after the Gujarat riots has been redirected against the Mumbai police. "Whenever we hear of an 'encounter' of a terrorist, we know it's one more example of the persecution of Muslims," he said.
When Nasir, prime accused in the August 25 twin blasts, was killed in an 'encounter' on September 12, a senior Crime Branch officer was questioned about its genuineness by a journalist the next morning. This was the officer's reply: "I am not going to tell you the reasons for the killing of Nasir even if you think it's not a genuine encounter. I'll give 10 good reasons to God after my death why he had to die. After a day's work I go back to my community, which wants security. They ask me point-blank, 'darr gaya ya paisa khaya? [were you scared or bribed?]' "
The cost of providing security to the prime accused in blasts cases is so prohibitive and the logistics of following up on court cases so tough that many officers don't regret these 'encounters.'
A senior officer with 35 years of service told rediff.com, "After I retire, I want to play with my grandchildren in America. Due to my duty, I missed out on my children's childhood. According to the law, the investigating officers of a police case are bound to appear before the judge when the court hearing of the case starts. I don't want to come back again and again and waste time in court proceedings once I retire."
Pervez Memon, a Mumbai lawyer with a good knowledge of police functioning and court procedures, said, "I see every day the injustice meted out to the accused in general and Muslims in particular. Unjust prosecution and persecution of people in court is grossly under-reported. I understand why educated youngsters pick up an AK-47. I have studied law, but even I can pick up the gun."
Fact Four: The Gujarat factor
The Mumbai police and Maharashtra's Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal are not entirely wrong when they say the blasts are in retaliation for the riots in Gujarat. Of course, the ISI's agenda to 'bleed India with a thousand cuts' is not new, with terrorism in India going back two decades. But the current blasts are being carried out by Indians who are upset with the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. Most frightening is the fact, again not highlighted enough, that after the Gujarat riots, Saquib Nachan, one of the prime accused in the earlier Mulund train blast, had arranged two camps in the Mahuli and Karve hills to impart arms training to around 25 educated Muslim youths. This happened right on the Mumbai's outskirts.
When rediff.com met a few residents of Padgha village, where Nachan lived, they were quite straightforward in their reactions when asked about the alleged arms training received by some Muslims after the Gujarat riots. A community leader told rediff.com, "Someone might have, I repeat might have, imparted arms training to our youngsters after the Gujarat riots. Because we saw the videocassette of Bilkees who was raped by Hindu boys in Gujarat. We now need to gear up to protect our daughters and wives for future events. What's wrong if we prepare ourselves to defend our women?"
Fact Five: Mumbai is a soft target
India's terrorism experts have rightly said that Mumbai was made a target because hitting Mumbai destabilizes the Indian economy. Mumbai-ites will have to keep this factor in mind always.
The police say they have no idea how many Nasirs have been financed and trained to carry out such activities.
Additional Commissioner Maria told rediff.com, "Now, the Mumbai police is only as good as its investigation of the last blast. We have no time to relax. It's frightening the way they have indoctrinated our guys in Dubai. We are just waiting for the next blast."
Design: Dominic Xavier