So nothing new has happened on Wednesday, 07 September 2011! Just a blast at Gate No 5 of Delhi High Court with 9 dead and 91 injured. The news and reactions which is being poured is so very similar and seems that old tape is being re-run. As far as those who have lost their loved ones, loss is beyond any repair but with nation of having second highest population, these numbers are minuscule and hence no action will be taken to book perpetrators. We are not Israel or US for that matter so we will do lip service and then forget it in next week.
As always our dearest and one of the most prolific PM, Dr MMS has condemned the blast and has roared like tiger saying that we are not going to succumb. We will not be bogged down by this cowardly act of the terrorists. Our Home Minister pointed finger to our friendly neighbouring state. Few VIPs have visited the injured at hospitals with lot of media.
All said and done but they have not said that they will act but only react. Few days of coldness with our neighbour and then extend the hand for FRIENDSHIP because that is the best way out as per Indian Govt is concerned because these blast have happened to derail the peace process which has given tremendous output ever since beautiful Pakistan Foreign Minister met ours in New Delhi.
But few points linger on my mind:
1.Why is that we have become so dud in doing anything of national importance? 2.Why is that our govt is spineless? 3.Why is that specialist investigating agency NIA has failed to solve any of the cases till date? 4.Why something happens when govt is in some trouble? I just hope that this may not be a diversionary attack. 5.Why is that we cannot do justice by punishing “few” perpetrators we have captured and spending crores for their security but not a penny for the citizens of this nation? 6.Why the victims are always common people and never one from political class?
And above all, what credibility do we have to show the world when we can never act to safeguard our national interest. Perhaps, the life of a common man is very cheap! We are being governed by shameless and submissive set of people who have no guts and nuts to act. This is the fate of world’s largest democracy. and who’ll change it.
It’s been a year since 10 young men without soul though, shook the financial capital of India. But has anything changed yet? Have our politicians who took moral responsibility of the attack and resigned done something concrete for beefing up the security of the nation? Chuck the selfish politicians. Have people realized their duties and taken some materialistic steps to protect the dignity of our motherland? Has the “Fizz” behavior which they showed by thronging roads of Gateway of India in lakhs on December 3, 2008 led to something substantial?
Things have definitely changed in the course of time. There were waves in the political industry after the terrorist attack. Our Home minister then Mr. Shivraj Patil now only enjoys the Rajya Sabha seat unlike before where he was privileged to be our Union home minister too. And lets not forget that he is been considered as one of the candidates for Governor of Punjab’s seat too. Seems a remarkable change, huh? The renowned Deputy Chief minister of Maharashtra then Mr. R R Patil has had a rollercoaster ride. He resigned quoting he had gone by his conscience and hence decided to step down but I wonder what moral grounds made him comment then that “small incidents like this do happen in big cities.” Post 26/11 he enjoyed the cushy party head post of Maharashtra for NCP. That’s the change, where you are debarred of one postion and you get the other. On an astonishing note he has been awarded the Home ministry again after the 2009 elections of Maharashtra. A notable change that he has gone through personally is that his conscience, on grounds of which he resigned, is dead as he has accepted the Home ministry again. The Chief Minister then, Vilasrao Deshmukh, who took famous Bollywood director Ram Gopal Verma along with him to the terrorized location The Trident, so possibly that he could make a movie or probably a mockery out of the shattered lives of many, comfortably holds Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises enjoying a Cabinet Minister status. Is this the real change we are looking for? 200% the answer is NO.
We as citizens of the country expect more safety. We want modernized safety institutions which can protect our country effectively. We want more transparent system where the government is answerable to the public of its every act which probably would enhance accountability of government towards public. We demand more respect for people guarding us i.e the Army at the borders, the Police Force, the NSG, the CRPF, the SRPF, the RPF, the Navy, the Air force. Governments please wake up and provide them with modern equipments to fight terror. Please do not treat our security forces as garbage. Assign them proper accommodation unlike the SRPF jawans who are posted at the Taj and Trident since two months but have only their van where they eat, sleep, change. Will even a single elite minister survive in a van, forget around 20-30 surviving in one like them? Those people consider it their duty to guard and hence are keeping all atrocities faced by them aside. Ministers, please learn a lesson from this that duty comes first and then the self interest. Although the NSG has already landed in the island city but they are facing “N” number of hurdles to set themselves up. Can’t the process be smoothly carried out for the force protecting us risking themselves. Government it’s time you realize “All said Nothing Done” will not work. It’s high time you stop pampering Ajmal Kasab. Nail down the culprits of the nation. Rise to your responsibility.
Although I feel it’s not only government but every individual’s duty too. Rise to the call of your nation. Convert the “Fizz” behavior depicted in the road show of strength to concrete actions. Question the government for injustice then only would the government be compelled to answer. Ensure that you vote to bring the right person to power. Let’s not forget Maj. Unnikrishnan, Gajendra Singh, Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte, Vijay Salaskar, Tukaram Omble and 10 other policemen who sacrificed their lives in line of duty. Let’s not forget every soldier of nation who has till date always kept their personal lives on back burners against their work. Let’s rise and be one of them. If that’s not possible at least we can make sure they get due respect and recognition for their work. Every individual has the potential to make a difference however small it may be. Let’s collectively make the difference a huge one. Let’s get out of our habit of deafening ourselves at the call of a poor citizen. Let the call of justice be same for the rich and poor.
So folks at the tragic anniversary of Mumbai carnage where around 183 people died and 500 plus injured, let’s take an oath to change the face of nation. Let’s unite and pledge that the shape of our nation will be different at the carnage’s second anniversary. Let’s swear that we will together work to take our very own India to new heights every year, every day and infact every moment.
THE MAGISTERIAL report probing the encounter of four people on June 15, 2004, says that the encounter was ‘staged’. Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year old student of Khalsa College, Mumbai and three others who were proclaimed Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives out to kill Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, were actually killed a day before they were officially shown as having died in a police encounter.
“Ishrat Jahan was killed by Gujarat police in a cold-blooded, pre-planned way…. The police crime branch officials carried out the fake encounter for their personal gains, for promotions and other benefits. They wanted to show they were doing a great job, essentially to seek appreciation from the chief minister,” says the 243-page report written in Gujarati.
This is the second such case during the tenure of Narendra Modi after Sohrabuddin Sheikh, which the government confessed before the Supreme Court was a case of ‘fake encounter’.
This latest news of encounter being ‘planned’ and executed ‘mercilessly’ has been described as setback to the Gujarat government but I feel that it is a setback for the entire nation if true. As a citizen of this country, it is really something to ponder upon. ‘Police Waala Gundas’ are worst than the terrorists. This can happen with any one of us. Imagine, four people being gunned down for sake of vested gains. Then they are labeled as ‘terrorists’. This is the ‘Death of Democracy’ where the citizens are being killed by its own police. The same police which is meant for safeguarding the residents of the country. This is really shameful for this country. The Indian National Flag should fly at half mast in shame for what happened to Ishrat Jahan and others.
It is now quintessential that the justice is done and all the culprits should be punished. At the same time, government must ensure that these incidents don’t happen in future. Such type of heinous crime will only widen the gap between different communities in the country.
According to one of the statistics, 70 per cent of India’s population falls under the youth category ie, below 35. The questions arising at this stage is – can the country’s largely youth population, change India? The obvious answer to this is YES if one uses the ideas, has the ambition to do something, has the confidence to win, and has a righteous heart. Everywhere we hear people complaining about lack of amenities, increasing crimes, sky rocketing food prices, corruption, red tapism , terrorism, injustice etc. – but do we ponder on how can we change it all?
The 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai saw people coming to streets demanding some action. Less than a year later, we cannot even compel the government to take stern action against the culprits. Why? It’s high time every individual realises that we should raise our voices demanding action. Youth are the leaders of tomorrow, so it’s our duty to raise ourselves with the goal to serve the nation, however petty it may be. Remember each and every Indian can make a difference. You need not belong to the Gandhi family or be a descendant of the Scindias, Ambanis or the Birlas. You just need to inculcate intellectualism, human values and observe a commitment to service. With everyone following this, India will surely become more tolerant.
Our politicians are using the British policy of “divide and rule” in their selfish interests Let us remind them “United we stand and we will”. We crib of our government not providing world class solutions and facilities, but how many of us follow our fundamental duty to vote? Remember, to vote is a right and a duty. It is the building block of tomorrow. If we do not use our franchisee, we have no right to complain of corrupt people in the political arena.
It’s on account of our apathy that our farmers are dying out of debts when agriculture is said to be India’s prime sector. We keep on complaining about rising food prices but we do not give any thought that it may be due to agriculture land being converted to SEZ (Special Economic Zones). Can’t we raise our voices for thepoor, uneducated farmers rebelling against SEZ and demand irrigation facilities. Can’t there be a hundred Medha Patkars in a population of billion plus. We believe corruption is the root of most problems, but we don’t hesitate individually when we bribe a peon just to avoid long queues? We, the face of India tomorrow, should practise what we preach.
Self realisation is important to an individual and there are millions of alternatives if one wants to really do something. One can be a part of a NGO and can at least give physical support if not monetary help. Join the armed forces to protect our motherland. Create an environment of sound health facilities for those who cannot afford health facilities. Feed the poor, encourage parents to send their children to schools. Practice and preach family planning which will help keep population growth under control. IT companies can create IT solutions for upliftment of villages to reduce the urban-rural divide. Use public transport which will help India maintain environmental standards. Stop deforestation and plant more tress for a greener India. Raise voices against crimes against women, children, or anyone for that matter. Use the Right to Information (RTI) to get answers from the government. Be a law-abiding citizen. Use the media constructively. Join the IAS and be an active part of society. And there are numerous other options available.
Albert Einstein once said,“Problems cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them”. Youth, its time for you to wake up before it’s too late.
It’s that time of the year again.
Every July since the year 2000, the Indian media and the Army in that order, celebrates the eviction of Pakistani intruders from the forbidding heights of Drass and Batalik (and not Kargil, as we all in the media keep referring to for some completely unfathomable reason).
The Army, of course, appropriately remembers its martyrs — the young and not so young officers and several hundred jawans — who sacrificed their lives in recapturing a piece of real estate that the Pakistanis had encroached upon. It was a heroic battle against heavy odds. After that conflict, Vikram Batra, Anuj Nayyar, Manjo Pandey, to cite just three martyrs, became household names.
This year, on the 10th anniversary, the Army has planned a larger celebration and rightfully so.
We in the media have also gone into an overdrive to commemorate the occasion.
After all, Kargil was this generation’s first war. It was also India’s first televised war. We made citizens feel that they were part of the war by beaming images right into their bedrooms.
In many ways, Kargil (I actually hate using the word, but Drass or Batalik do not have the same resonance in the people’s mind as Kargil has) is also a landmark in the military-media relationship in India.
Till 1999 the Army establishment generally looked upon the media as a nuisance. Post-Kargil, the armed forces have woken up to the media’s potential as, what the military fondly calls a force-multiplier. An uneasy relationship till then gave way to greater awareness about one another facilitating meaningful interaction.
This year in fact the Army has made special efforts to invite all those who had reported the conflict from the area that summer. This, the Army says, is its tribute to media’s contribution in the Kargil conflict.
I, like many others, was in the sector in 1999, reporting the events for Outlook magazine. Every year since 2000, I too have written or spoken about the experience in the Kargil-Drass-Mushkoh-Batalik sector.
I am also hoping to be at the Drass memorial on 25th and 26th July later this month to meet up with friends who made Kargil (that word again!) such a memorable experience in our life a decade ago.
And yet, ever since I went there last week to report on what has changed and what has not in the decade since the war, a sense of unease has gripped me. At first I thought it was plain tiredness. After all, one is older by a decade and the body doesn’t take the rigours of travelling in the high mountains as easily as it did 10 years ago.
But deep down, I knew there was something more to my disquiet than just creaking old bones.
Then suddenly it hit me this morning: Are we in the media guilty of over hyping Kargil and its martyrs at the cost of totally ignoring the others? To be honest, the answer is yes.
By admitting this, I am in no way taking away the sacrifice and heroism of our soldiers during the 1999 conflict. Or trying to belittle the tough conditions under which we in the media operated and reported the conflict.
But I will also be less than honest if I don’t admit that collectively we in the media are equally culpable in ignoring or downplaying the unending internal battles fought by the Army as well as other security forces across India.
How many of us for instances, know the names of Col. Vasanth or Subedar Chunni Lal? Or for that matter Constable Tukaram Ombale? How many of us remember the faces of the unnamed police and CRPF constables who die by the dozens in the battlefields of Chhattisgarh and Orissa? Or for that matter army jawans who continue to sacrifice their lives in counter-insurgency skirmishes in India’s north-east?
In Kargil, nearly 500 people lost their lives.
Every year since then at least 400 security personnel have died in action across India.
Is their martyrdom less significant? Don’t their families deserve similar adulation? They certainly do but I am afraid even we in the media tend to report on these incidents for a day or two and move on to our next story.
In the process, we have ignored the interminable internal security threats that India faces, be it in Kashmir, the north-east or in the heartland from the Maoists. And underplayed the sacrifices made by the gallant soldiers who fight them.
In less than a fortnight, when the nation pays a collective tribute to the Kargil martyrs, all of us can perhaps introspect and review our attitude towards other, lesser known but equally valiant soldiers who fight on without expecting anything in return.
As I look ahead, post the Kargil anniversary, it is perhaps time for me to do away with my Kargil obsession and refocus on the current and future battles.
FOR SOMETIME now, I am really wondering that when wills this case of Ajmal Kasab will end. I don’t see it ending in near future. I was always of a view that we should try him at court and not to hang him without a trial. But the snail pace of judiciary is making mockery of the trial. Seven months have passed and we haven’t been able to bring a terrorist caught on camera killing innocent men/women/children to justice.
What a shame?
The media has gone a long way in making a hero out of Kasab. The number of reports on him in last seven months has made him a well known figure of world. His photograph has been flashed on television and print media umpteen number of times. By now most Indians know where Kasab was born and what his parents did. What made him run away from home and how did he come contact with the LeT. We also know Kasab’s love for mutton and chicken dishes and his sole wish to meet Amitabh Bachchan.
We have up to date information on how Kasab is reacting in court or whether he is repenting his crime or not. Why the hell we need this information? This reporting can be termed as callous behaviour of media towards the one who suffered in the 26/11 attacks.
Imagine what pinch they must be feeling when the news channels show over extended coverage of the culprit. I was just reading the story of Captain Amitendra Kumar Singh, who was part of NSG team carrying operations in Oberoi hotel. Hearing about captured terrorist Ajmal Kasab, the 28-year-old braveheart admits, makes his blood boil. “He has become a bigger hero than us.
They should have stoned him to death at some crossroads in Mumbai that time itself.” How true he is when he says that Kasab has become a hero. He is so popular that the producers of reality shows might consider him as a contestant. When Monica Bedi and Rahul Mahajan can become celebrity then so can Kasab!
The money that is being spent on his security and trial could have been efficiently utilised in updating the security infrastructure and helping the kin of the deceased. He must be executed at the earliest. The case should get over now.
This is the apathy and irony that the so called ‘concerned citizens’, who came out in lakhs on December 3, 2008 at Gateway of India forgot the date of election. They preferred spending vacation than doing their duties. The same set of people were crying and shouting on politicians after the attacks. The numerous groups that were formed after the attacks have lost the steam and MA Naqvi’s comments of ‘lipstick wearing socialites’ stands true. The soldiers who risked and laid down their life for us have faded from our memory and media has found a bigger hero in Kasab…
THE GENERAL elections have begun in the country. In the coming 25 days, the world’s largest democracy will elect a new government. But one thing that peeves me is the way the political parties are trying to garner votes from the Muslims of the country. Instead of uniting the different sections of society, which ideally is their job, many politicians are playing the “Divide and Rule” game which the British preached, to keep their vote banks intact.
MJ Akbar has mentioned in an article that “A history of riot, and the threat from organizations like the Bajrang Dal are sewn into wild conspiracy theories by ‘leaders’ of the community to shape minds on the eve of an election. For secular politicians, the Muslim vote comes at an easy exchange rate. Other communities demand rice and roads. The Muslim needs nothing more than the old ploy used to help children go to sleep: stories of ghosts and monsters at the door.”
Almost 62 years of independence, 14 Lok Sabha elections and numerous Assembly elections, Muslims are still falling prey to the gimmick of our politicians. And this time too the story isn’t different. In the last one month we have seen politicians from various political parties projecting themselves as true saviors of the community.
Varun Gandhi’s rhetoric at Pilibhit landed him in jail. What Varun said was indeed shameful but the act of charging him under NSA by Mayawati government was clear move to woo the Muslim votes. Laloo Prasad Yadav then said that he would run the road roller on Varun Gandhi. Then Congress’s D Srinivas went a step further and threatened to “chop off the hands of those pointing fingers at the minorities.” A million dollar question is, Would Varun Gandhi be capable of doing what he said? I don’t think so. But these politicians made sure that they use Varun Gandhi to their advantage and projected him as the biggest threat to Muslim community.
The Babri Mosque demolition was one of the shameful incidents to happen in the history of independent India. After spending more than a decade on the lap of the Congress, Laloo realised that Congress was responsible for the demolotion incident as well. But the timing of his speech was such that it clearly showed that he wanted to prove that Muslims have to fear both the national parties and vote for him instead. Unfortunately, he forgot that there are more issues concerning to the community which needs to be addressed right away. But then he somewhere knows that this is the best way to gather Muslim votes. Seems Laloo is a champ in playing such vote bank politics.
Mulayam Singh Yadav projects himself as the messiah for Muslims. Ask him what he has done in Uttar Pradesh, while he was in power, for 23 per cent Muslims living in the state. He very happily argued that SIMI should not be banned. Though there are clear links between SIMI and few of terror strikes in the country. Isn’t this an act to appease Muslims? Also to consolidate the Lodh votes in the state he didn’t hesitate to include Kalyan Singh in his party. The same Kalyan Singh whom he had once labeled, a villain of the Babri Mosque demolition. He now has justified that Kalyan Singh was not responsible at all.
Why didn’t government try to investigate on the local support for 26/11 attacks?
What did Dr Manmohan Singh mean when he quoted that “Muslims should have first take on nation’s resources”? Aren’t they granted equal rights by the Constitution of the country? Can’t the condition of Muslims be improved by creating more awareness and making the resources more accessible to them rather then appeasing them? Won’t the broader problem remain unsolved by just appeasing them? Why didn’t any political party oppose to the lollypop of reservations to Muslims? Isn’t it similar to creating vote banks with caste based politics? Why not have some other criteria for reservations apart from caste and religion?
The answer to all the questions above lie in what MJ Akbar had once written in his article. “Indian Muslims will get development the day they vote for development. For sixty years they have voted out of fear, so that is what they have got from those they elected: the politics of fear.”
The community needs to self introspect and avoid being used as a vote bank. Community leaders need to empower their community through better education and awareness. Muslims have to realise they will get development only when they demand and vote for it. They need to seek answers from their leaders. They should make their elected personal more accountable. Things will change, if the community takes the initiative to bring that change. People of country will readily support them if they are given privileges as a citizen of this country and not as Muslims of the country. Change has to come within community itself.
A closed mind can never liberate a community from the shackles.
There is a national debate going on throughout the country, whether the Indian Premier League (IPL) Cricket tournament scheduled from 10th April 2009 should be postponed due to security concerns as the dates clash with 15th general elections or to go with both events simultaneously. Recently, our home minister voiced concern over terror threats on both of these events.
Earlier, it was believed that terrorists would never attack cricketers or cricket matches in the sub-continent as it will bother the sentiments of this cricket crazy part of the world. But, the Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team disproved this conventional notion. And looking at the impact of those attacks, any fool can predict that the next terror strike could be on the high profile cricket event IPL to be held next month in India. And it makes it even worse for security agencies that this event of tremendous public interest clashes with another major event with heavy public involvement – the general elections. For a huge democratic country like India general elections would be the event of utmost priority and no cricket tournament is bigger than elections. The constitutional requirement is that the general elections to the Indian Parliament were due before May 2009, which has to be fulfilled. So it is very much clear that elections are going to be held as per there schedules.
If we look at arranging both the events simultaneously then it will be a tough job for our security forces. Making security arrangements for the elections in the rural and urban areas is always a very difficult task. And also, the level our political parties can go down to in the crucial election periods if there are lapses in the security arrangements is not a very big secret. And to conduct polls in such a huge region, we require our entire force. So it will be tough for our security agencies to protect IPL at the same time.
West Bengal and Punjab already said that go for IPL if you don’t want security for elections, Andhra and Delhi denied the security while Maharashtra and Rajasthan asked for central forces, which means they are not providing the state police forces for IPL. There could be another reason behind this stand taken by above states. Most of these states are Congress-led and it may be the anxiety of Congress not to step down before Sharad Pawar, who’s the honcho of cricket in India along with a ministry in UPA cabinet and can also be playing the major role in preventing the professional judgment in above matter. Also, the IPL chief Lalit Modi is close to Vasundhara Raje (BJP). We have seen what happened to him in Rajasthan as soon as the government altered from BJP to Congress in Rajasthan. T he stand taken by these states might be just an extension of that. But, no matter what, the security of the life and property of common citizens along with the pride of the country, should not be put up on stake. If we do not postpone IPL and go on with these two major events simultaneously with some changes sought by IPL organizers and if there would be any attack on any event due to lack of security, then this will be a major setback for us. As we are hosting some major sporting international events in upcoming years, including the Commonwealth Games(one of the reasons of Delhi’s fast track development) and the Cricket World Cup 2011, our authorities should be much more careful and sensible in taking such decisions.
Taking a look at the other side of the coin, if we go on to postpone IPL, it will be a win for terror groups and looking at IPL’s prospect, a large commercial loss as they are just one month away from the tournament. It will be close to impossible for organizers to hold this event at some other time of the year, as ICC’s schedule for international teams would keep most players out of it and climates then would not favour the game. One more thing we should not forget that cricket and IPL earn some reputation for India, though they are not bigger than our democratic identity
What’s the bigger picture here? What’s the issue of concern here? Is this politics or is this security concern?
Whatever it is that is happening, what is more important here is a sensible decision that all the concerned authorities need to consider in benefit of all.
So, we have to find some alternatives to the concerned situation. We still have some amount of time and better cricketing infrastructure at our hand to manage the tournament. Ultimately, it is the home ministry who’s doing to decide the faith of IPL. The picture will be all clear in few weeks. But, I still feel that security should be given prime concern and elections are utmost important than any cricket tournament. We hope that our home ministry and IPL organizer come up with a more professional and practical solution.
Youth for Equality (YFE) is a group of alert aware citizens who share the youthfulness to believe in ourselves to “Get the system right and keep the system right”. YFE is an all India organization encompassing men and women of all walks of life irrespective of caste, creed, class, religion and region. It draws its strength from its large support base mainly from the youth and students of India along with all the responsible citizen of the country. YFE along with the Art of Living has come together to start a campaign called ATAC (Against Terrorism Against Corruption).
His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder, Art of Living, has conceptualized this march to awaken and empower citizens in order to create an on-ground structure that will actually effect a change in societal circumstances and situations, in keeping with His vision and mission of a stress-free, violence-free planet where individuals contribute towards the goal of a One-World Family. The objective of the march is to awaken and empower the people of India, especially the youth, to participate in the democratic process. This march is the first step of a nationwide campaign aimed at amplifying the collective voice of the citizens and propelling the youth of India against Corruption and Terrorism. We Endeavour to catalyze this movement, across the nation, with a 3 fold solution: AWARENESS, ACCOUNTABILITY & ACTION.
With this motive Youth for Equality along with WAYE and AOL has planned a march on March 1st, 2009. India has been badly hit by terrorism in last decade or so and yet our government hasn’t done any concrete step to enhance the security and intelligence of the country. Corruption, another evil in our system is eating up all the progress which we are making towards becoming a developed nation. If we want to prosper it is very essential to uproot terrorism and corruption. As a country, we need to actively start moving in a concerted way against these twin evils that are now threatening our very existence. So let us send out a call to our country to create a safe society. A society where there is no fear in walking into an airplane, a train or a bus. Or when we enter a mall, a cinema or a hotel, with our children. Or even our very own homes.
Let us take responsibility and bring the change – for our future and our future generations. Ask not what your country can do for you, Ask what can you do For your country.
We need to take future in our hands; see it resting on our palms and take nation ahead.
Change is inevitable and it is important that Indian Youth takes the responsibility to bring the change. So, here is the call for all the citizens whose conscience is yet awake and they want to make the system effective. Be the Change.
A correspondent from Hindustan Times was allowed to visit a Lashkar-e-Tayyeba outlet very close to the border, and believed to be their headquarters. The below is a report published today as HT’s main headline citing Harinder Baweja’s experience during the visit.
“You are in an educational complex, but you are from India and you work for Tehelka, so it will take you time to change your mind.”
That’s what Abdullah Muntazir, (my guide and the spokesperson for the foreign media), told me within minutes of reaching Muridke, commonly believed to be the headquarters of the Lashkar-e-Taiyyebba (LeT).
It was for the first time that due permission had been granted to any Indian journalist to visit the sprawling campus that lies forty km out of Lahore. The barricade that leads to the complex is heavily guarded and no one can enter without prior consent.
The guided tour took me through a neatly laid out 60-bed hospital, schools for boys and girls, a madarsa, a mosque, an exorbitantly large swimming pool and a guest house.
Nestled between tall trees and a meshed wire boundary, the 75-acre complex has manicured lawns, turnip farms and a fish-breeding centre. The students who enroll in the school pay a fee while those who study in the madarsa and pass out as masters in Islamic studies can come for free. Learning English and Arabic from class one on is elementary and so is a course in computers.
Trimmed lawns and microscopes
The administrators of the complex, drawn from the LeT’s political wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, are clearly at pains to disassociate themselves from the group widely believed to be behind the terror attack in Mumbai on 27/11. Other foreign journalists were guided through the complex a few days before my visit and during their orchestrated tour, saw students working in chemistry and physics laboratories, peering into microscopes and connecting electric circuits.
None of us went there thinking we would see firing ranges or target shooting in progress, but the tour itself is surreal. As you walk through the neatly trimmed lawns and veer left or right to see the hostel or the mosque or the hospital, the conversation itself is dotted entirely with words like terrorism, Lashkar and in my case, Kashmir.
Even though the gates have been opened – after clearance from Pakistan’s security agencies (read ISI) – to dispel the impression of Muridke being the training camp that “India has made it out to be,” the conversation is not about the school syllabus but wholly about how India is an enemy.
A day after I visited Muridke, I met a family whose sister-in-law lives right next to the complex. “But of course it’s a training ground. You can hear slogans for jehad blaring out of loud speakers in full volume and you can also sometimes hear the sound of gunfire,” members of this family confided. But during the two hours that I spent within the complex, there was enough conversation about jehad even if there were no signs of it being a sanctuary not just for the Lashkar-e-Taiyyebba but also believed to have been used as a hideout by al-Qaeda operatives, including Ramzi Yousef, one of the conspirators of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.
‘Without doubt, you are the enemy’
Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist who was captured alive in Mumbai, is supposed to have studied here, according to his interrogators, and it’s time to ask some straight questions.
So did Kasab study here, in Muridke?
“Even if he did, we are not responsible for what any one of our students do after passing out.”
Do you support the Lashkar-e-Taiyyebba?
“We used to.”
You used to?
“Yes, we were like-minded but the group was banned after Indian propaganda following the attack on its Parliament which was done by the Jaish-e-Mohammad and not the LeT. We use to provide logistical help to the Lashkar, collect funds for them and look after their publicity.”
Did you also provide them with arms?
“They must have bought weapons with the money we gave them. They were obviously not using the money to buy flowers for the Indian army.”
The Lashkar has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Red Fort in Delhi and the airport in Srinagar.
“We do not consider Kashmir to be a part of India. It is a part of Pakistan. Those who attack the security forces are not terrorists, they are freedom fighters.”
President Musharraf moved away from the position that Kashmir either secede or be given independence. He proposed joint control.
“Musharraf did not have any legitimacy. He had no business making such proposals.”
Do you consider India an enemy?
“Without doubt. India is responsible for the attack on Islamabad’s Marriot hotel, for the bomb blasts in Peshawar. Sarabjit Singh has been convicted for being a RAW agent.”
Your Amir, Hafiz Sayeed has given calls for jehad.
“He supports the freedom movement in Kashmir. We think it is right. It is ridiculous to call him a terrorist. Even when a thorn pricks India, the whole world stands up. Why did Condoleeza Rice not put pressure on India for handing over Narendra Modi after the Gujarat carnage?”
Kashmir is no longer entirely indigenous. Foreign fighters like Maulana Masood Azhar were arrested in Anantnag.
“He was a journalist and still is an inspirational writer. Anyone from here can go to Kashmir. We don’t see it as part of India.”
Did you sanitise this place before bringing me in?
“This is an educational complex and the Jamaat ud Dawah is a charitable organisation. There are very few people here because of the Eid break.”
Does the ISI support you?
He just laughs.
A Pakistani Hamas
Jamaat ud Dawah, banned by the US in 2005 for being a Lashkar alias, draws patronage from the ISI and though proscribed abroad, has a free run in Pakistan. It has branches all across the country and is as famous for its social work as for its terror activities. It sees itself as a movement and not an organisation and has appeal to many in rural and urban areas.
When a correspondent from London’s The Observer newspaper went to Kasab’s village in Faridkot, close to the border with India, to establish if he indeed was a Pakistani, he was told that “religious clerics were brainwashing youth in the area and that LeT’s founder Hafiz Sayeed had visited nearby Depalpur. There was a LeT office in Depalpur but that had hurriedly been closed down in the past few days. The LeT paper is distributed in Depalpur and Faridkot.”
The Jamaat ud Dawah has a wide base and operates 140 schools and 29 seminaries in different towns and cities of Pakistan. According to the Jamaat’s website: “Islam does not mean following a few rituals like performing prayers, keeping fasts, performing the pilgrimage to the Ka’ba (Hajj), giving alms (Zakat), or donating to charitable works, but in fact, it is a complete “Code of Life”.
That is why Jamaat-ud-Dawah’s struggle is not limited to any particular aspect of life only; rather, Jamaat-ud-Da’wah addresses each and every field of life according to the teachings of Islam. Jamaat-ud-Dawah is a movement that aims to spread the true teachings of Islam, and to establish a pure and peaceful society by building the character of individuals according to those teachings.”
Its appeal extends to urban professionals like doctors who were out in large numbers in Muzaffarabad (the capital of Azad Kashmir or POK, depending on which side of the line of control you are on) in 2005, after a devastating earthquake. Unlike the Taliban, the Jamaat is modelled after Hamas and is not merely an army with gun-toting members but a complex and intricate organization with a social and political agenda. It has a huge following and reports have often indicated that in its annual congregations, where Hafiz Sayeed gives a call for jehad, , as many as 100,000 people are present in the sprawling Muridke compound.
It is groups like the Jamaat and the Jaish-e-Mohammad — started by Maulana Masood Azhar soon after he was set free in Kandahar – which both India and Pakistan are up against.
Not the time to pick a fight
The complete U-turn, post 9/11 when General Musharraf lent complete support to George Bush, saw Pakistan take a slow but sure journey that has today placed it in a dangerous crosshairs.
While Musharraf joined the war against terror – forced to by Bush who had infamously said you are either with us or against us – he also got isolated from the his own people. They took to the streets, openly protesting his support of America that was bombing and strafing civilians, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.
The last straw came when his own Army stormed the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in mid-2007. Reports of machine guns being used against innocents who got trapped in the Masjid, converted many within the Army and the ISI and those who had retired from these outfits.
It was the tipping point, said former ISI chief, Lt Gen Assad Durrani: “It was the most blatant homage paid to the Americans. The mosque is located under the nose of the ISI headquarters, and you can’t first allow it to become a fortress and then fire on people who were willing to surrender. ”
The storming of the Lal Masjid was a tipping point in more ways than one. If the release of Masood Azhar and the subsequent formation of the Jaish saw the advent of fidayeen attacks in Kashmir, the Lal Masjid operation led equally to the birth of intense attacks by suicide bombers.
The suicide attacks were not just targeting civilians, they were seeking men in uniform and the figures, in fact, tell the story. The first half of 2007 saw 12 such attacks all over Pakistan between January and July 3, and an estimated 75 people were killed. But after the Lal Masjid operation which reduced large parts of it to rubble, 44 suicide attacks took place between July and December, killing 567 people, mostly the members of the military and para-military forces, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the police. December also saw the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a grim reminder of the fact that the militants had declared a war against their ex-masters. The attack on Islamabad’s Marriot Hotel, the city’s most high-profile landmark, only confirmed the fact that terror can strike at will, any time and anywhere. It confirmed also that terror was not restricted to Pakistan’s tribal belt alone. President Musharraf himself had in fact also survived three assassination attempts and now lives under extremely tight security. The terror threat in Pakistan, can in fact, be gauged from the fact that both President Asif Zardari and the Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, in a complete first, offered Eid prayers at their respective residences on December 9.
The wave of suicide attacks in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan does not just testify to the revival of al Qaeda and the Taliban networks but as Ahmed Rashid, strategic writer and author of several books on the jehadi networks, said: “The army is embroiled in fighting these forces in the Frontier and one third of the country is not even in the state’s control. This is hardly the time to pick a fight with India.”
More Lashkar than Lashkar: Retired soldiers
The ratcheting up of tension and animosity between India and Pakistan after the Mumbai terror attack on 27/11, points to another dangerous faultline – while the Pakistani Army joined the global war against terror, it never completely gave up its support to the jehadi network that is active on its border with India.
Even after the Lashkar and Jaish were banned, neither was their back accounts frozen, nor was they’re any attempt at forcing them to shut shop. The Army and the ISI continued to support fronts like the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, which does more than just equip men with arms.
It motivates and indoctrinates minds and as Rashid pointed out, “Musharraf used to place Hafiz Sayed and Masood Azhar under house arrest for Western consumption. He may have stopped infiltrating them into Kashmir too under international pressure but there was no attempt to stop their activities in Pakistan after they were banned. They were just allowed to hang loose.” Former interior secretary, Tasneem Noorani, said: “There was no effort to mainstream the radicals.”
Kasab’s journey from a remote village in Faridkot to Mumbai is a testimony to this. So is his revelation to his interrogators that a ‘Major’ trained him.
Zardari may have been right when he attributed the Mumbai attack to ‘non-state actors’ because the Major does not necessarily have to be a serving officer employed with the ISI.
“Retired ISI officers are helping the Pakistani Taliban and they have become more Lashkar than the Lashkar,” said Rashid. Any number of strategic and security analysts will testify to this dangerous trend – to how ex-ISI officers are still in business because they have now attached themselves as advisors to militant organizations like the Lashkar and the Jaish.
“You don’t need large training camps,” admitted one such analyst who prefers not to be named. “Ex servicemen are imparting arms training within the compounds of their homes. Different officials are attached with different groups.”
The switch from one alias to another – Lashkar-e-Toiba, Markaz-e-Toiba, Markaz-e-Dawah-Irshad, Jamaat ud Dawah – speaks of the Establishment’s (the Army and ISI combine are referred to as the Establishment in Pakistan) more than subtle support of groups that are used against India. The long-standing relationship between the Establishment and the India-bound militants is now under pressure. The overriding message from America after the Mumbai attack is for these groups to be reigned in and this is testing not just the Army’s carefully crafted support for the militants but has also focused attention on yet another faultline – the equation between the Establishment and the civilian government.
The effect of Indian television
Committed to better relations with India, Pakistan’s top-most civilian representatives responded instinctively to the horror in Mumbai, in keeping with what Zardari had told the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, held a few days before the gun and grenade battle at Nariman House and the Taj and Oberoi hotels.
In what took the Indian government by surprise, Zardari committed Pakistan to a no-first-use of nuclear weapons. It was the first major security-related statement to come from Pakistan’s government after the February 18 election and more than just surprise the Indian government; it caused unrest amongst its own Establishment.
The next statement, made by Prime Minister Gilani – and confirmed through a press release issued by his office – pertained to the civilian government agreeing to sending its top most ISI officer, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha to India on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s request.
The sequence of events following Gilani’s offer and Zardari’s quick retraction, saying they had agreed to send a director and not director general Pasha, in fact speaks of the internal battle of supremacy between the Establishment and the civilian authorities, especially on the crucial issue of national security which the Army believes to be its exclusive domain. As Imtiaz Alam, a peacenick and head of the South Asian Free Media Association, who had dinner with Zardari a day after the Mumbai attack explained: “Zardari is very firm on terrorism. He thinks democracy is a better weapon but the terrorists have succeeded in creating a psychological gulf between India and Pakistan. Instead of Pakistan fighting the jehadis, it has become a fight between India and Pakistan.”
Senior journalists in Pakistan admitted that briefings from the ISI changed the post-Mumbai discourse. Reacting perhaps to the loud, jingoistic demands on Indian television channels, for action against Pakistan, the ISI told a select group of journalists that India had in fact ‘summoned’ their Chief. Jamaat ud Dawah Amir, Hafiz Sayeed – with a clear nod from his handlers – appeared on one news channel after another, making the same points: that the list of 20 most wanted which also includes him, was old hat, that India was playing the blame game without evidence, that India had its own band of ‘Hindu terrorists’ and India should give freedom to Kashmir and end the matter once in for all.
The leak soon after, of the hoax call, purportedly made by Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherji to President Zardari, sealed the debate – India bashing was back in business. The jingoism overtook the more important debate of the threat Pakistan itself faced from terror networks flourishing on its soil.
Who’s in Charge? Not Zardari
Pakistan’s news channels went on overdrive and as some even blared war songs, the question that gained importance through the entire din, was – who really runs Pakistan? Who is in control?
The answers to the questions are both easy and complex. Mushahid Hussain, Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate was clear about the answer: “War on terror, national security and relations with India, Afghanistan and China are the domain of the army. Thanks to India, the army has been rehabilitated and the war bugles are all over. No one person, no one institution is running Pakistan. Musharraf ran a one-window operation and the Army and the ISI used to report to him but now decision-making is murky and that is causing confusion. The hoax call and the DG ISI controversy are symptomatic of that.”
There are other examples. Only a few months ago, Zardari quickly retracted his effort to bring the ISI under the control of the Interior Ministry. And even as the Pakistan government’s response to Indian pressure to rein in the terror networks, plays itself out on a day to day basis, it is evident that the civilian authorities have had to embrace the Establishment’s point of view vis a vis India. Therefore, the talk that India should provide concrete evidence. Therefore, Zardari’s statement that the guilty – if found guilty – will be tried on Pakistani soil. That the 20 most wanted will not be handed over. Even on sourced reports, put out in the local media, that Masood Azhar had been put under house arrest, Prime Minister Gilani went on record to say that no such report had come to him yet.
If India believes that Pakistan’s response has been poor – two Lashkar men, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah have been arrested in Muzaffarbad – it is because the Establishment and pressure from its own people tie down the government here. It cannot be seen to be buckling under pressure either from India or America.
Some moves seem to be on the cards, including the banning of the Jamaat ud Dawah. But Lashkar was banned in the past as was the Jaish. Prime Minister Gilani has committed to not allowing Pakistani soil to be used for terror attacks, but then Musharraf had made the same exact promise on January 12, 2002 soon after the Parliament was attacked in Delhi.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has gone as far as to say that “Pakistan needs to set its own house in order” (see interview) but he is in the Opposition and he can afford to make such statements. If Pakistan has begun to resemble a house of terror, it is because the Army and the ISI are yet to change their stance, not just vis a vis India but vis a vis the terrorists it creates and supports. Until then, the sprawling compound in Muridke will continue to remain in business. If the Jamaat ud Dawah does get banned, all it will need is another alias.