Beyond the fate of Afzal Guru. 13 unanswered questions regarding 2001 parliament attack

2020 February 9 marks the seventh death anniversary of Afzal Guru. Afzal Guru was hanged on February 9, 2013. Afzal Guru was sentenced to death in December 2002 after being convicted of conspiracy to attack the Parliament of India, waging war against India and murder in December 2001. He was tried by a special court designated under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), a law which fell considerably short of international fair trial standards and has since been repealed, in 2004, after serious allegations of its widespread abuse. 

Serious questions have been raised about the fairness of Afzal Guru’s trial. He did not receive a legal representation of his choice or a lawyer with adequate experience at the trial stage. Afzal Guru’s family in Kashmir said they were not informed of his imminent execution. The body was also not returned to the family for last rites and burial.

The supreme court judgment in Afzal’s case acknowledged the evidence was circumstantial: “As is the case with most conspiracies, there is and could be no evidence amounting to criminal conspiracy.” But then, shockingly, the top court of India went on to say: “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”

Back in 2006, in her introduction to a collection of essays on the Parliament attack case trial, award-winning author Arundhati Roy asked the thirteen questions regarding the case of the 2001 attack on India’s parliament building, which were still unanswered.

Question 1: For months before the attack on Parliament, both the government and the police had been saying that Parliament could be attacked. On December 12, 2001, at an informal meeting, prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee warned of an imminent attack on Parliament. On December 13, Parliament was attacked. Given that there was an ‘improved security drill’, how did a car bomb packed with explosives enter the Parliament complex?

Question 2: Within days of the attack, the Special Cell of Delhi Police said it was a meticulously planned joint operation of Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba. They said the attack was led by a man called ‘Mohammad’ who was also involved in the hijacking of IC-814 in 1999. (This was later refuted by the CBI.) None of this was ever proved in court. What evidence did the Special Cell have for its claim?

Question 3: The entire attack was recorded live on close circuit TV (CCTV). Congress party MP Kapil Sibal demanded in Parliament that the CCTV recording be shown to the members. He was supported by the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, Najma Heptullah, who said that there was confusion about the details of the event. The chief whip of the Congress party, Priyaranjan Das Munshi, said, “I counted six men getting out of the car. But only five were killed. The close circuit TV camera recording clearly showed the six men.” If Das Munshi was right, why did the police say that there were only five people in the car? Who was the sixth person? Where is he now? Why was the CCTV recording not produced by the prosecution as evidence in the trial? Why was it not released for public viewing?

Question 4: Why was Parliament adjourned after some of these questions were raised?

Question 5: A few days after December 13, the government declared that it had ‘incontrovertible evidence’ of Pakistan’s involvement in the attack, and announced a massive mobilisation of almost half-a-million soldiers to the Indo-Pakistan border. The subcontinent was pushed to the brink of nuclear war. Apart from Afzal’s ‘confession’, extracted under torture (and later set aside by the Supreme Court), what was the ‘incontrovertible evidence’?

Question 6: Is it true that the military mobilisation to the Pakistan border had begun long before the December 13 attack?

Question 7: How much did this military standoff, which lasted for nearly a year, cost? How many soldiers died in the process? How many soldiers and civilians died because of mishandled landmines, and how many peasants lost their homes and land because trucks and tanks were rolling through their villages, and landmines were being planted in their fields?

Question 8: In a criminal investigation, it is vital for the police to show how the evidence gathered at the scene of the attack led them to the accused. How did the police reach Mohammed Afzal? The Special Cell says S.A.R. Geelani led them to Afzal. But the message to look out for Afzal was actually flashed to the Srinagar police before Geelani was arrested. So how did the Special Cell connect Afzal to the December 13 attack?

Question 9: The courts acknowledge that Afzal was a surrendered militant who was in regular contact with the security forces, particularly the Special Task Force (STF) of the Jammu & Kashmir Police. How do the security forces explain the fact that a person under their surveillance was able to conspire in a major militant operation?

Question 10: Is it plausible that organisations like Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed would rely on a person who had been in and out of STF torture chambers, and was under constant police surveillance, as the principal link for a major operation?

Question 11: In his statement before the court, Afzal says that he was introduced to ‘Mohammad’ and instructed to take him to Delhi by a man called Tariq, who was working with the STF. Tariq was named in the police chargesheet. Who is Tariq and where is he now?

Question 12: On December 19, 2001, six days after the Parliament attack, Police Commissioner, Thane (Maharashtra), S.M. Shangari, identified one of the attackers killed in the Parliament attack as Mohammed Yasin Fateh Mohammed (alias Abu Hamza) of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, who had been arrested in Mumbai in November 2000, and immediately handed over to the J&K Police. He gave detailed descriptions to support his statement. If Police Commissioner Shangari was right, how did Mohammed Yasin, a man in the custody of the J&K Police, end up participating in the Parliament attack? If he was wrong, where is Mohammed Yasin now?

Question 13: Why is it that we still don’t know who the five dead ‘terrorists’ killed in the Parliament attack are?

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