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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The 26/11 Case - How Pakistan and its Judiciary Help the Terrorists - Part II

After framing the charges against the seven accused (two in absentia), the Anti Terrorism Court-II (ATC-II) at Adiala adjourned the hearing by a week until July 24, 2009, by which time the Sharm-el-Sheikh meeting was scheduled to be over. We know that Hammad Amin facilitated funds and hideouts for the prepetrators of the attacks, while Mazhar Iqbal was handler, Abdul Wajid and Shahid Jamil were facilitators. (Two other associates, Jamil Ahmed & Younus Anjum, were later arrested.) Expectedly, when the next hearing came up on July 24, 2009, the Honourable Court adjourned further hearing by a month but not before a startling revelation was made. Contrary to reports that stated that a week earlier, charges had been framed against all the accused, the government's prosecutor, Malik Rab Nawaz Noon, said formal charges against the accused had not yet been framed. Even by September, 2009, it was not clear if the suspects had been indicted and for what because the FIA had prepared two sets of chargesheets. Since the ATC has ordered strict censoring of proceedings in the media and since the entire proceeding is in-camera with no journalists allowed (contrary to how India conducted the Ajmal Kasab case), the information has been sketchy and not authentic. In his order on the blackout of proceedings, Justice Baqir Ali Rana, the trial court judge said, "the proceedings would be kept totally secret and not published in any manner as the case had implications for national security and national interests". The ATC's order on in-camera trial is obviously to prevent the relationship between the Pakistani Army and the terrorists from being aired in the public. India was outraged and objected strongly to the secret trial but it did not register in Pakistan. This lack of public information also helps the Pakistani government to fudge the issue and present it with whichever spin it wants, hiding under the twin excuses of a pending trial and the gag order by the court. Having got what it wanted in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Pakistan now went back on what it promised to Ms. Hillary Clinton and the Indian Government. Every step forward was immediately followed by several steps backward by Pakistan. Nothing unusual there regarding Pakistani behaviour.

Meanwhile, in India, on July 20, 2009, Kasab (alias abu Mujahid, a name given him by the redoubtable Prof. Hafeez Saeed saheb himself, no less, at the Chekhalabandi Mountain Terror Camp near Muzaffarabad) made a startling confession before a magistrate, Ms. Sawant Waghule who explained to him that this confession could be used against him and also gave him 72 hours to ponder over the implications of his request to confess. In his confession, he explained in detail about the training he had undergone in the hands of various LeT commanders including Prof. Hafeez Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi (alias Abu Wahed Irshad Ahmad). He also narrated the entire sequence of what transpired from the time he joined LeT to the time he was captured by that selfless martyr Assistant Sub Inspector Tukaram Omble. Of course, Kasab's confession has been corroborated by several eye witness accounts (including a brave 10-year old girl, Devika, who is crippled by Kasab's firing at the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway terminus), electronic records (such as video footages, data from the five GPS devices and a satellite phone recovered from the terrorists), ballistic evidence, trace of the geographical locations of the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses used, visual evidence by photojournalists from Times of India who captured vividly his terror spree, and various other evidences painstakingly gathered. In the court, Kasab's attorney, Abbas Kazmi, urged the judge to accept the entire confession and not to prolong the trial, a request that was rejected by the Judge saying that complete guilt must be established through a trial even though the criminal had confessed (only partially in Kasab's case). Three weeks later, Kasab would plead guilty to all charges framed against him.

Expectedly, the Pakistani Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar rejected the confession as induced under duress, thus proving yet again that Pakistan was continuing to live under denial. A few days later, July 29 to be precise, Pakistan's Attorney General and a close confidante of President Zardari, Latif Khosa (who has recently become Governor of the Punjab province after the assassination of Gov. Salman Taseer), said that JuD Chief could not be prosecuted because there was no evidence against him. The very next day, the Pakistani newspaper DAWN carried a report that Lakhvi and Shah had confessed to their involvement in the 26/11 terrorist attack. On August 1, India sent the certified copy of Kasab's confession to Pakistan along with interrogation reports of Fahim Ansari and Sahabuddin Ahmed.

However, the euphoria raised in India by the dossier that was sent by Pakistan on the eve of the Sharm-el-Sheikh meeting, because Pakistan accepted culpability for the action of the terrorists in that dossier for the first time, soon evaportaed on closer examination of the document. It disproved the DAWN report that Lakhvi and Shah had confessed to their crimes. It was indeed only the two lower level operatives, Hammad Amin Sadiq and Shahid Jamil Riaz who had confessed to "their guilt and their contribution in planning, preparing, financing, arranging boats, logistics, training, facilitating and launching LeT terrorist attacks from Karachi and Thath to Mumbai." The dossier did not link Kasab or the two Pakistani confessors to Lakhvi, Shah and Mazhar Iqbal alias Abu-al-Qama. The dossier did not detail any findings against these three accused as well. There was no voice sample analysis done to establish their role. In short, the dossier gave the impression that Pakistan was simply unwilling to take the investigation beyond those two low-level operatives and go all the way up to its logical end which probably would have implicated Gen. Musharraf, Lt. Gen. Kayani and Prof. Hafeez Saeed.

A further proof of this unwillingness was to come soon when on August 3, the Pakistani Supreme Court indefinitely adjourned a hearing challenging the release of Prof. Hafeez Saeed ostensibly due to the resignation of Punjab's Advocate General Raza Farooq. Another excuse ! On August 6, 2009, the Interpol announced Pakistan's request for lookout and arrest of 13 more Pakistani foot soldiers who were connected with the 26/11 attack. It was becoming clearer that Pakistan was more interested in lower level terrorists and was quite unwilling or unable (or both) to touch more senior leaders and masterminds. Meanwhile, the Interpol also issued red corner notices (RCNs) for Prof. Hafeez Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi based on the arrest warrants issued by the Mumbai court of Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani. The Pakistani Interior Minister Mr. Rehman Malik was quick to react when he said that even if a red corner notice had been issued against Professor saheb, the government was not obliged to immediately arrest him. “The country makes its own investigations against the person, and only then decides,” Mr. Malik said. He also said that the evidence provided by India in three dossiers "is, in our considered view, not sufficient to link Hafiz Saeed to the (Mumbai) attack". Even before the Indian evidence could be presented to the Court or even analyzed by his lawyers, it was shot down by Rehman Malik, an ex-police officer. This has been the pattern. It has been a battle of wits between a top notch lawyer like the Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram claiming that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Prof. Hafeez Saeed with the ex-police officer rejecting the same out of hand and immediately.

Finally, on September 19, the Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed that no charges had been so far framed against any of the accused (now totalling nine) and that would be done at the next hearing of the ATC, Adiala on September 26. Simultaneously, reports also appeared of Prof. Hafeez Saeed's house arrest on September 21, though Pakistani newspapers also spoke of his 'movement being restricted for his own security'. The 'arrest' came ten days after he had been invited as a guest for an iftaar party hosted by the Lahore-based X Corps of the Pakistani Army ! This in spite of an Interpol RCN pending against him ! As Indian Foreign Ministers were expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting at New York on September 27, Pakistan slapped two First Information Reports (FIRs) against Prof. Hafeez Saeed for his speech glorifying jihad against kafir on August 27 & 28 and for collecting funds. Ostensibly, the FIRs were delayed until after the iftaar at the Army Command ! When questioned about this development, Prime Minister Gilani vaguely referred to Prof. Hafeez Saeed being 'in custody' even as Prof. Hafeez Saeed's lawyer claimed that the restriction was only against him leading the Eid prayer at the Gadaffi stadium and there was no restriction otherwise, a fact borne out by a NY Times reporter later. Two days later a petition was filed in the Lahore High Court to quash the investigation. However, Interior Minister Rehman Malik sought more time from India to investigate the role of the detained JuD chief Hafiz Mohd Saeed thus making it appear as though some progress was being made !

Then September 26 came and went quietly by. Unlike what was promised by Rehman Malik, no charge was framed against the accused as the Judge went on leave and the hearing was once again adjourned as it had happened so many times before. The Judges retire, or go on leave or get transferred all the time in Pakistan, especially in the 26/11 case. Contrast this with how the case proceeded in India to understand the various means that Pakistan resorts to blunt the wheels of justice.

In their New York meeting on September 27, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi assured his Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna that the formal trial would start on October 3, 2009 !! Pakistan had given several such assurances to India from Jinnah downwards, only to be flouted in the very next breath and Makhdoom would turn out to be no exception.

(To Be Continued. . .)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The 26/11 Case - How Pakistan and its Judiciary Help the Terrorists - Part I

The Honourable High Court of Mumbai has confirmed the death sentence awarded by the Special Judge M.L. Tahliani in a lower court to the lone surving terrorist of the 26/11 Mumbai urban warfare carnage. Ajmal Amir Kasab was caught red handed, video footage electronic records show this jihadi rambo shooting from the hip calmly at innocent and unarmed men, women and children, there is his voluntary confession before a magistrate and yet due process of law has been followed so far with enough opportunities given to the accused (now a convict) to defend his case. A remorseless and unrepentant Ajmal Amir Kasab still has at least a couple of opportunities left, the appeal in the Supreme Court followed by a mercy petition to the President of India in case his death sentence is confirmed by the Supreme Court also. Who knows, he may even get a pardon from a President of India, most of whom do not want to hang any convict and have been deciding mercy petitions in favour of the convicts. It would be a shame if it were to happen but India will have to simply grin and bear it if that unfortunately comes to pass.

There are two aspects to the Kasab case. One was his criminal action of waging war against a democratically established Indian State, killing innocent citizens and fighting its Army and Police forces. The second was the conspiracy that was hatched and planned in Pakistan and then executed with Pakistani masterminds directing every step of the terrorists in Mumbai remotely all the time. The Indian investigative agencies and prosecutors have gone through the entire complex web as best as they can (in spite of total non-cooperation from Pakistan where the entire scheme was conceived, planned, funded, and manned). No doubt there have been some loose ends (especially Headley), but they do not materially alter the proceedings against Kasab per se.

The biggest difference is that the Indian court, prosecution and defence have been at it every single day since the court was constituted. Nobody can accuse them of resorting to extra judicial processes, delaying tactics etc., for any adjournments were genuine and warranted. On the other hand, Pakistani investigators have done very minimal work in exposing the crime, have constantly demanded evidence from India for even events that took place on their soil, and even when the players and masterminds live in their own country.

While Kasab, the foot soldier of the Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT) has been given a death sentence by an Indian court, for anything else would simply be a travesty of justice of the highest order, the masterminds in Pakistan who sent him in on a fidayeen attack, live to plan and excute more such attacks. They have the active support of the Pakistani Army, Government, and the Judiciary. I have another blog on how the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has treated the chief of LeT (let us not kid that he is only the head of the charity organization Jama'at-ud Dawah, JuD, and that there is no organization called LeT any more). It can be seen here under the caption, "Prof. Hafeez Saeed, LeT, and the Support from the State of Pakistan". I would therefore limit myself in giving an overview in this piece and the following, about how farcically the Pakistani judiciary has acted in conducting the 'endless exercise' of the 26/11 case at their end.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) registered First Information Report (FIR) vide number 1 on February 12, 2009 (over two years back)under several sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). It implicated seven persons including two in Indian custody, Ajmal Amir Kasab, a Pakistani and Fahim Ansari, an Indian. The remaining five, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Abdul Wajid alias Zarar Shah of Sheikhupura, Mazhar Iqbal alias Abu Al-Qama of Islamabad, Shahid Jamil Riaz of Nasirabad Behawalpur and Hammad Amin of Rahimyar Khan are in custody at Adiala prison, Rawalpindi. Of these, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Hamad Amin and Zarar Shah are key founding members of LeT. Lakhvi, also known as 'Rehman chacha', is the Chief Operational Commander of the LeT. Zarar Shah is claimed to be the Communication Chief of the LeT and an urban warfare expert. Zarar Shah was the one of the calm voices (the other being that of Mazhar Iqbal alias Abu Al-Qama) that could be heard in telephone intercepts directing the operation at every step, urging the terrorists to kill their hostage in cold-blood and motivating the terrorists with visions of Paradise. These are very dangerous men who have conducted innumerable terrorist operations against India.

It was on March 4, 2009 that the in-camera trial of the seven accused started in the Anti terrorism Court II (ATC-II) in the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. On May 5, the Court distributed chargesheets to the accused. Soon, the judge hearing the case retired and therefore, without framing any charges, the case was postponed until a new judge was appointed. Why was a judge about to retire given this most important case at all except as a Pakistani perfidy to delay the hearing ? Days before the Sharm-el-Sheikh meeting of July 16, 2009, Pakistan handed over a dossier to India in which it claimed that Lakhvi was the mastermind behind the attack and Kasab was indeed a Paksitani. As has been the Pakistani practice, enough ground is conceded just before an important even only to be re-taken after that. For her part, Ms. Hillary Clinton predicted that there would be some movement in the next few days to enable Indian leaders a face-saving excuse to tell their citizens as to why at all India should agree to a talk at Sharm-el-Sheikh. On July 18, chargesheets were framed against the five accused.

(To Be Continued . . . )

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Egyptian Turmoil and its Likely Impact on Pakistan

That Egypt is in deep turmoil is an understatement. Just a week before the troubles started there, there was an unprecedented wave of anger in Tunisia which saw the long-running autocracy of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali come to an end with Ben Ali seeking asylum in Saudi Arabia, the ultimate refuge for scoundrels of Islamic countries. The long-exiled religious leader of Tunisia, Rachid Ghannouchi, has returned invoking memories of the triumphant return from Paris of Ayatollah Khomeini thirty years back that has thrown a liberal Iran back to an Islamist state today. No wonder then that the Saudi monarchy, led by the octogenarian King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, has supported the long running autocracy of Hosni Mubarak as well. Another King Abdullah, a much younger one and this time of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is also deeply worried as protests have surfaced there as well. Apart from other West Asian countries, which seem to be ripe for such a revolution, a la Orange, Rose and Pink Revolutions in Central Asian Republics about five years back, there are other countries in their immediate neighbourhood that may also be worried about the fall out of the on-going Egyptian crisis. One such country must be Pakistan, where the situation is far more critical and explosive than in Egypt or Tunisia or Jordan. While the Arab countries suffer from autocracy or autarchy, the situation in Pakistan is rapidly moving to anarchy. A worried Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, eager to scotch the idea of a ‘Green Revolution’ reacted to say that “the situation in Egypt and Tunisia cannot be compared with that of Pakistan as our institutions are working and democracy is functional”. This is certainly a blatant and unadulterated lie, something which Mr. Gilani seems to have said with a very straight face. Long before Mr. Gilani, a rampaging dictator, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq had justified to his American counterpart that a Muslim was permitted to lie for a good cause.

The Egyptian uprising seems to be well coordinated, with a simple message that the loudspeakers of mosques across the country seem to be carrying: “You have a right to protest”. People have taken this message to heart and have poured out to the city centres and town squares with the Egyptian Army seemingly standing as mute spectators. It will be impossible for the Army to fire upon the protestors or even use strong arm tactics, though it seems to engage in a show of strength to intimidate the protestors, a tactic that has borne no fruits so far. Curfews have had little effect as the Army is unwilling to enforce them for fear of bloodshed, after the police, target of people’s wrath, have simply disappeared. Hosni Mubarak’s replacement of the Prime Minister, appointment of a Vice-President and the reshuffle of the cabinet are merely cosmetic and are not going to materially alter the ground situation. The masses are protesting directly against Hosni Mubarak himself and therefore these changes are not going to cut any ice with them. The fact that foreign governments are evacuating their stranded citizens and even their consular staff and their family, go to show how serious the situation is.

Egypt’s recent history, at least since World War II, has been characterized by instability, violence and espousal of Islamist ideology. Even the relatively calm period of Hosni Mubarak after the assassination of Anwar Sadat has been punctuated by violent Islamist terrorist attacks now and then, court dramas, and ruthless police action. One has to look at recent history to understand the current situation perhaps.

When the Ottoman empire was dissolved in c. 1924, it left a deep sense of loss and listlessness among the Muslims of the world as a nearly 1300 years of Islamic Caliphate came to an end. The overwhelming might of the Western countries, against which the Muslims seemed to be utterly powerless, ignited an urge to seek inwards for solutions to their problem as the Believers imagined that Islam was in danger of being wiped out. Egypt was thus naturally pushed to a central stage in the revivalist movement. For long Al Azhar was the most important sunni theological centre. Islamist thinkers like Afghani, Mohammed Abdu and Rida had already laid the foundation for reform of Islam in consonance with modern and emerging world by arguing the case for ijtihad. In the turbulent times following World War I, the dissolution of the Caliphate and the rise to power of fiercely secular nationalist leader Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, was born a new star in Egypt, Hassan al Banna. He established the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanul Muslimeen) in c. 1928. He is An important member of the modern day Islamist revivalist movement. He wrote Risalat-al-Jihad that has become fountainhead of indoctrination for modern day Islamists and jihadists. Another important pillar of the Egyptian movement was Syed Qutb. He was often described as ‘First thinker of Islam in our epoch’. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the important leader of the violent Al Gama al Islamiyyah of Egypt and later the second in command of Al Qaeda, has been shaped by Qutb’s thoughts.

The question here is not whether the current uprising is justified or not. Today, one can definitely see the hand of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan ul Muslimeen) behind this uprising. The exhortation from the mosques, the invisible hand that seems to coordinate the as yet leaderless unrest throughout the country all point in that direction. The sudden, united and synchronous chorus against the regime is otherwise impossible in a large country such as Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is possibly exploiting the widespread feeling of disenchantment among the Egyptian masses for the unchanging Mubarak regime. However, a significant number of protestors also are against the entire gamut of politicians, both in the ruling National Democratic Party and the Opposition. This is certainly playing into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. The people’s anger is also directed against the ‘ugly’ Americans who are seen as having bought out this regime through aid packages etc. Recent Wikileaks revelations have come handy in this respect. The already simmering hatred for the Americans because of their steadfast support for the Israelis will only erupt more forcefully now. The Hosni Mubarak regime is thus finding that the American support is turning out to be an albatross around its neck.

The distance from Alexandria to Cairo (apprx. 220 Kms) is eerily similar to the distance from Lahore to Rawalpindi/Islamabad on the Grand Trunk Road (250 Kms). The 2009 Long March by lawyers, Nawaz Sharif and the masses forced an adamant Zardari to reinstate the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The Army intervened as the situation threatened to go out of control and the Americans began to put pressure on all stakeholders in the drama. President Zardari was forced to eat the humble pie very quickly. The probable Long March in 2011 as part of a Green Revolution can be violent and far more threatening than the earlier one as the deprived masses shepherded by the Islamist parties such as Jama’at-e-Islami (JI), both factions of Jama’at-Ulema-e-Islami (JUI), Jama’at-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and the sectarian jihadi outfits of Punjab such as the resurrected Sipah-Sahaba-e-Pakistan (SSP) and other outfits, take on a much harassed government teetering on collapse. The assassination of Salman Taseer has united the Islamist parties of various sects, both Sunni and Shi’a as their Karachi meeting of January 13, 2011 showed. Even the pro-military Jama’at-ud-Dawah (JuD) joined the protests. If any uprising were to take place, JuD cannot be expected to remain non-participative as that would quickly lead to its own decimation. JuD is already under pressure as its cadres are finding it attractive to join the other Punjabi Taliban group such as Brigade 313 who are more aggressive.

One can reasonably expect that the over three dozen terrorist tanzeems would perforce join such an uprising especially if the reasons for such a revolt are carefully crafted to appeal to Muslim sensibilities. These along with the Islamist political parties are capable of amassing a few million people if they join for a common cause. The trick therefore lies in finding a common ground for protests. As Muslims are more prone to emotions, especially in a Pakistan which prides itself to be guarding the ideological frontiers of Islam and as the only Muslim Nuclear Weapon country, the fire can spread easily. The silent majority will remain silent as usual or a significant section may even support the revolution because of the dire economic and security situation. The sectarian jihadi tanzeems will be emboldened in the coming weeks to think of such a window of opportunity in months ahead. Such a revolution would also be a Godsend opportunity for the beleaguered Haqqani group in North Waziristan whose leaders have accepted that the intense and prolonged US drone attacks are taking a heavy toll of them. They, along with the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, will also be correct in thinking that a change of regime in Pakistan would inevitably suck the oxygen out of the US fire as a new regime, which could be more Islamist in nature, may take tougher stance vis-à-vis the US in transit routes, military engagement and political dialogue to find an Afghan solution. The Pakistani Army, might decide to remain neutral in the revolution as the Egyptian Army appears to be currently doing, for fear of the situation going out of control and leading to a lot of bloodshed or even a mutiny within its own rank and file. Unlike Egypt, where ruthless and high-handed government action for over three decades have almost decimated terrorist groups, the all-pervasive terror tanzeems in Pakistan would certainly exploit the situation especially as they have a large number of supporters in the Police, Army and the Establishment.

(To be Continued). . . .