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Flip-flops on Ulfa, Naxals baffling

Flip-flops on Ulfa, Naxals baffling

Author: Rajeev Deshpande & Vishwa Mohan
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 3, 2007

M K Dhar, an IPS officer who served nearly 30 years in the IB, has suggested in a new book that a chief minister had links with the Pakistani spy agency ISI. He did not identify the chief minister only for the fear of being hauled up in a court for defamation. Prodded by TOI, he limited himself to saying, "he was a CM from a north Indian state''.

In political circles, however, it is not difficult to hazard a guess about the identity of the stalwart. Dhar's colleagues in the IB, both serving and retired, confirm Dhar was not engaging in a sales overpitch for his book. "Political interference is rampant and increasing. What is shocking is the complete lack of sensitisation to the threat,'' a senior IB official, who insisted on anonymity for obvious reasons, told TOI.

A retired officer, who handled a crucial anti-terror station in the IB, concurred. "There have been so many cases where our tip-offs and suggestions for action have generated an 'identity not confirmed' response-a shorthand for reluctance to proceed.'' An immediate case in point is, of course, Andhra Pradesh. Despite interrogation reports of captured terrorists pointing to RDX consignments reaching Hyderabad, the police were not allowed to pick up suspected sympathisers of terror outfits for questioning. It is only after the August 25 twin blasts, that brothers of main accused Mohammed Shahid or Billal were questioned. It took 43 deaths for the police visiting "politically sensitive'' parts of the Walled City to question establishments suspected of radicalising youth. The reason: reluctance to annoy a political party which is supporting regimes in the state and at the Centre.

Significantly, while states have always been sensitive to charges of negligence, the Andhra government has refrained from responding to the criticism. It has also not been able to shake off the perception that two IPS officers were taken off their crucial charge. In Andhra itself, it is not the only instance where the line between political and security considerations blurred into indistinction.

The other glaring example is that of the inexplicable, many would say suspicious, manner in which the present government suddenly upturned its policy towards Naxalites, from June 2004 to January 2005, proclaiming its intention to engage with the 'misguided' youth. The Centre put its stamp of approval when there was nothing to suggest that the Naxals had developed a faith in peaceful means or democratic way of dispute redressal. The farcical ceasefire was called off, but only after the Red ultras had used the breather they had shrewdly gained to regroup, and to beef up their firepower. The continuing massacres in Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand stand stark testimony to the folly. Still, we have no answers from either Hyderabad or the home ministry for the flip-flop.

Informed critics put the inconsistency to political reasons. Authorities deny this, saying that they just wanted to give peace a chance. That they were guilty of naivete, is borne out by militarystyle attacks by Naxals using heavy firepower and army tactics in incidents like the Jehanabad jail bust in November 2005 and the massacre at Dantewada in March where 50 personnel were killed. The boldness of Naxal cadres in imposing their "law'' in tribal areas of five states points to a growing menace.

The lack of accountability is equally conspicuous in the handling of the secessionist and ISIbacked United Liberation Front of Assam with the Centre and the Assam government wavering from "teach them a lesson'' to "doors are always open for negotiations'' rhetoric. This when the terrorists have stepped up killings, going after Hindi-speaking migrants as part of what is regarded as a plan to clear the way for more Bangladeshi illegals. Only this year, Ulfa has murdered 100 migrants after having declared its plans to do so in its mouthpiece in December last year.

The lives could have been saved if only the army had been allowed to finish the job it was given to: liquidate ISI's auxillary in the North- East. Ulfa faced three major military offensives so far. Each time, the outfit suffered heavy losses and its leaders were on the run. It would have been decimated has the government gone ahead with the Operation Rhino II it had planned. But the military, all ready for action, did not get the green light for some inexplicable reason.

The Centre and now even the state government have continued with the pretence of holding negotiations with Ulfa even when the latter's commander-in-chief, Paresh Baruah, contemptuously rejects the condition to negotiate within the framework of the government of India. Worse, the Centre's interlocutors, Indira Goswami and others who become active whenever pressure mounts for military action, don't seem to have even a brief from Baruah and Co, safely ensconced in shelters arranged in Bangladesh by the country's Directorate General of Foreign Intelligence and the ISI.

In UP, the state which has suffered some of the audacious use of terror attacks on Ayodhya and Varanasi's Sankat Mochan temple-authorities have been seen soft-pedalling on terror for long. The startling examples include the lethargy in seeking the prosecution of the accused in the Shramjeevi Express blasts and other terrorists.

The Mulayam Singh Yadav government disappointed many on this score. It ignored tell-tale evidence of the involvement of outlawed outfit Student's Islamic Movement of India to certify its innocence. "What is the signal that the cop on the beat gets from this,'' asked a disgusted police officer. Yadav, prior to the 2007 UP polls, also made a political issue of the extension of the ban on SIMI to UP. This is not Mulayam's only brush with controversy on this score. In 1994, a IB raid with some UP cops on Lucknow's religious seminary, Nadawat-ul Ulema, was botched up as news of it got leaked and the team of sleuths ran into resistance at the seminary. Mulayam whose policemen, sources at the Centre insist, were involved in the action, promptly denied any knowledge of the raid, and suspects at the seminary were allowed to get away. Since then, many places and persons have become no-go zones in the state. Dhar, in his book, disclosed that IB had definite information on ISI links with politicians in different states. According to him, in West Bengal, about half a dozen legislators, prominent labour leaders and students' unions were seen to be influenced by the ISI.

Without mentioning the time period, Dhar revealed that the ISI had reached over 10 legislators and two ministers at different points of time in Assam. Besides, at least four legislators and a minister in Bihar in touch with Kathmandu-based ISI operators who had helped bonding between certain mafia groups in Nepal, Bihar and UP. The damning assertion is yet to be challenged.

In any case, few needed his testimony to learn about the political resistance to seal the border with Bangladesh even in the face of mounting evidence that it has substituted the LoC in J&K as the entry point for the ISI to send in jehadi terrorists. The reluctance to touch the issue of immigration, increasingly mixed up with the the national security consideration was obvious two years ago when minister of state for home Sri Prakash Jaiswal disowned the figure that he had himself quoted regarding the presence of millions of illegals from Bangladesh. He was rescued from the attack by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who said there was no authentic estimate of illegal influx.

In J&K, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen's links with politicians are welldocumented and in one instance, during the chief ministership of Mufti Mohd Sayeed, could have had a disastrous consequence. But this is being winked at on the ground of "special conditions'' in the trouble-torn state.

A senior police official in a state capital seems resigned to political interference, but makes a strong case for not extending it to what he calls "sacrosanct areas''. "In any democracy, political interference cannot be avoided. It is sine qua non of the system we have. It may even be necessary at times. But we should make it clear to all concerned that national security is non-negotiable for the same reason-people's well-being-which is the basis for such interference,'' he said.

In Kerala, Abdul Nasser Madhani, founder of the radical Peoples' Democratic Party, has been acquitted of the charge of organising the 1998 Coimbatore blasts which were meant to assassinate BJP leader L K Advani. The blasts killed 58. But much before he was acquitted, because of what the IB and the home ministry call weakness of prosecution, there was a race among Kerala politicians to proclaim his innocence. There was a unanimous resolution adopted by the Kerala assembly while the DMK government arranged for ayurvedic massages. "We haven't heard of any move to appeal the acquittal-not even by those who have said that the evidence was not fully appreciated by the court. What is the message one can draw from this?'' asked an officer.

In Maharashtra, the state's anti-terrorism squad was taken off the probe into the Malegaon blast and the CBI brought in when they had cracked the case and made the arrest. The switch was made following a hue and cry by politicians and others. Ironically, the same ATS's probe was praised as a breakthrough by authorities in the state as well as the Centre. The cynical use and abuse of the power to intervene has become so rampant that now it is just a few officers who are willing to stand their ground. Most feel the battle against political interference is not winnable and have decided to put career before principles.

(With inputs from Mumbai, Kolkata and Lucknow)

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