My encounterswith the world’s worst terror attacks had been somewhat personal in nature. I was working with an American publishing house when the infamous 9/11 shattered the country, as a series of co-ordinated suicide attacks by al-Qaeda hijackers destroyed the World Trade Center, killed thousands and left the entire world terror-struck. Imagine the horror and the grief of those working out of the India office when the disaster struck our American colleagues. They have been left with irreparable losses – both as a nation and as individual human beings. And a feeling of utter dejection came over me as I realised how helpless we are in the face of well-planned hate attacks.
The 26/11 Mumbai terror attack struck that point home even further. By that time I was working with a national daily and saw the tragedy unfold before my eyes. As hundreds died and many were left maimed for life, as defence forces and police personnel fought valiantly, the same feeling of helplessness came over me. My friends abroad were anxiously making queries whether I was okay. But there were many whose lives were not worth a dime that day.
From then on, the country must have had only one agenda – it should NEVER happen again. We, the commoners, felt that those in charge – the ruling party, the opposition, the intelligence wing, the keepers of the law – must have taken a vow to keep India safe. From then on, an all-out fight against terror should have topped the Indian government’s (or any government’s, for that matter) priority list. But the recent goof-up in India’s ‘Most Wanted’ list of terrorists, allegedly hiding in Pakistan, once again shows how lackadaisical and inefficient we can be. It seems at least four people wanted by the CBI for alleged involvement in terror activities are either in an Indian jail or out on bail or already dead.
How authentic is our terror list?
In 2008, just after the 26/11 attacks, the Ministry of Home Affairs prepared the most wanted list of terror suspects, allegedly sheltered by Pakistan. The list was prepared with input from the Maharashtra police, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
In the wake of Laden’s killing and the subsequent global outrage against Pakistan, India has felt it to be the most opportune time to nail its neighbour even further and remind the world of the country’s close connect with terrorism. So the Indian government has recently given the list of 50 ‘most wanted’ fugitives to Pakistan in a bid to step up the pressure on Islamabad. This list includes underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, his 20 aides, 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind and Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed and dreaded terrorist Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.
But the erroneous list, prepared by the Central Bureau of Investigation and formally handed over by the home secretary, has left the Congress-led UPA government deeply embarrassed. Incidentally, the CBI has named 40 people while the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has added 10 more suspected terrorists in the list, according to Home Ministry spokesperson Onkar Kedia. Although NIA has checked up its list and stands by the names forwarded, the CBI has egg on its face as the blunders it has committed continue to unfold.
The first lapse was discovered on May 17 when it came to light that two men on the list were actually in India – one out on bail in Thane (a Mumbai suburb) and another in a Mumbai jail. The list included the name of terror accused Wazhul Kamar Khan (mentioned as Khan Wazhul Kamar) who has been living in Thane’s Wagle Estate with his family, after he was let off on bail. He was an accused in the 2003 Mulund blasts and was also involved in the 2003 Vile-Parle and Ghatkopar blasts, as well as the 2002 Mumbai Central station blasts.
Mumbai Police had arrested Wazhul on May 21, 2010. It was also learnt that in January, 2011, the Mumbai Police had conveyed to the subsidiary office of the IB in Mumbai that Wazhul Kamar Khan had been arrested. However, this information had not been directly conveyed to the CBI. So, who’s to blame for the gaffe – Mumbai Police, IB or the CBI? Incidentally, CBI has already removed the name of Wazhul Kamar Khan from the list of wanted persons.
There was further embarrassment when it was learnt that another suspect Feroz Rashid Khan is right now in the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai. Feroz’s is the 24th name in the list and he was arrested by the crime branch of Mumbai police from a village in Navi Mumbai in connection with 1993 Mumbai blasts. Mumbai police had alleged that following Dawood Ibrahim’s instructions, Khan had arranged for arms, ammunition and transportation used in the blasts. CBI had issued an Interpol Red Corner Notice against Khan in 1994 but the notice was not withdrawn even after the agency got his custody.
More bloopers in the list
In the latest blooper, the name of Mohammed Abdul Shahed, aka Shahed Bilal, a dead HuJI (Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami) leader, has been found in the most wanted list. Incidentally, he had been killed in Pakistan and also had an Interpol notice issued against him. The list also includes HuJI leader (believed to be second-in-command to Bilal) Shaikh Abdul Khaja aka Mohammed Amjad, who is currently in a Hyderabad jail. What’s more, the name of Rajkumar Meghen, a leader of the United National Liberation Front (a Manipuri militant group), is also featured there, although he is still in the custody of NIA. He had been arrested from Bangladesh and brought to India in October, 2010.
The collapse of credibility
In spite of scathing media reports and nationwide anger, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s attempt to downplay the situation and cover the goof-ups as “genuine human error” is rather disheartening. “Obviously, it embarrasses the ministry of home affairs,” Chidambaram told CNN-IBN’s Karan Thapar. “But we rely on the lists given by the CBI. They maintain the list of most wanted against whom red corner notices are given. Please remember mistakes occurred in one part of the list, namely the red corner notices and that is a list prepared by the CBI,” he said. Was the minister hinting at fragmented responsibility, since the CBI does not operate under the home ministry?
If that is the case, nothing can be more unfortunate. If the government of a country won’t hold itself responsible for such fatal flaws, it amply reflects that those in power could not care less even when it is something as vital as people’s safety and the country’s security. Moreover, the government’s failure to link various state and central departments, intelligence and investigation agencies, easily leads to a complete lack of co-ordination, lack of transparency and finally, an ugly blame game when things go wrong. It has also been observed that these agencies often work at cross-purposes, instead of working together and towards a professed goal – that of fighting terrorism and lawlessness across the country.
Worse still, there can be no possible damage control as India suffers humiliation and loss of credibility before the entire global community. Now, the ‘most wanted’ list will most definitely be under scanner and its authenticity will be questioned – not only by Pakistan but also by other countries. That will be a huge diplomatic victory for Islamabad who will further delay the process and India may be exposed to further terror attacks.
For the average Indian, the message now gets crystal clear. There will be no respite from security lapses and terror attacks until those in charge can shed the traditional red-tapism, the laid-back workplace culture minus efficiency and the all-pervading ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude that makes the robust backbone of credibility as brittle as can be. And till then, we are doomed to suffer as a nation and fated to grieve over our personal tragedies even as they get prominent lip service and then fade into oblivion.