Afzal Guru’s Hanging and the Unanswered Questions
With wanton execution of Afzal Guru at Tihar and burial of his remains within the jail premises, the curtain has finally come down on the charade of attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 Dec 2001. Hanged twelve years after that fateful episode, Afzal emerges as the ultimate fall guy who had to give his life to justify Indian claims that the attack on the Indian Parliament was an act of war which merited launching of largest ever mobilization of armed forces against Pakistan; exposing the Region to the specter of a nuclear holocaust . Ironically when the five attackers, who have remained unidentified all along , commenced shooting, Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri and a surrendered militant was not even close by. Despite that strange twist of chance, fate and circumstances led him into the web of intrigue, crudely set up by Indian agencies which remained unquestioned and unchallenged by various tiers of Indian judicial setup.
Unraveling such attacks is a time consuming and painstaking process but within a day of the Parliament attack Indian security establishment had unearthed a conspiracy in which Afzal Guru, his cousin Shaukat Guru; a fruit vendor, Shaukat’s wife Afsan Guru and S.A.R.Geelani a professor of Arabic in a Delhi College were hauled up as conspirators and logistic providers. When the case began its journey through the Indian Judicial system, odds were heavily loaded against the accused. At first tier, the special court headed by Judge N. Dhingra, known through the sobriquet of the ‘hanging judge’ for his rubber stamp judicial executions , sentenced the three men to death while Afsan was given 5 years’ rigorous imprisonment. On appeal, the High Court found no incriminating evidence against Geelani and Afsan Guru and acquitted them, retaining death punishment for the two remaining accused. Afzal and Shaukat appealed against the verdict in the Supreme Court which announced its decision on August 4, 2005; upholding the death sentence for Afzal while lifting the award on Shaukat; giving him ,instead, 10 years in prison. At the end of the day , Afzal remained the lone figure carrying the heavy mantle of responsibility for conspiring to attack the Indian Parliament
A scrutiny of Afzal’s life provides heart rending picture of a vulnerable surrendered militant struggling to escape the clutches of Indian intelligence agencies while trying to build up a reasonable enough future for his traumatized family, comprising a wife and a young son. His surrender made him amply available for exploitation in whatever manner that suited whims of the dreaded Special Task Force’ (STF); a shadowy counterinsurgency outfit associated with worst kind of human rights abuses in the IHK. As per established practice he was under constant surveillance, suspicion, harassment, extortion and even torture by the security forces - a routine that was movingly reflected by his wife Tabassum in a letter to the Kashmir Times dated October 21, 2004. If Afzal was, and it was established he was, under constant surveillance by the STF, then how come he was able to hatch such a complex attack plan that allegedly involved across the border terrorist organizations and the ISI. Also, how could Jaish-e-Muhammad, claimed by Indian intelligence to be behind the attack, rely upon such a person, so deeply associated with STF, as the principal link for their operation? It is intriguing that the judicial process failed to take cognizance of his established association with the STF, as a factor, in ascertaining the truth regarding his involvement in the episode.
Afzal’s hanging seems to have been pre determined. His trial was tailored to produce a victim or how else could the Indian deployment for Operation Parkaram be justified. This aspect is made manifest by persistent failure of the Indian State to provide him with credible and effective legal assistance to ensure a fair trial. The state appointed lawyers only compounded his case by adopting a couldn’t-care-less approach while the courts failed to put right, or take notice of the damage caused to his defense by unchallenged admission of doctored evidence that tightened the noose around his neck. According to Tabassum, Afzal’s wife,” The court appointed a lawyer who never took instructions from Afzal, or cross examined the prosecution witnesses. That lawyer was communal and showed his hatred for my husband. When my husband told Judge that he did not want that lawyer the judge ignored him.” As the case progressed through higher courts, the practice continued, even degenerated to become more damaging.
It is pertinent to recollect that evidence to hang Afzal was presented before the courts by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police, notorious for false arrests and fake encounters. The very fact that at least three innocent co-accused persons; Gilani, Shaukat Guru and Afsan , were framed casts shadows on the integrity of evidence used to indict Afzal in the same case. High Court judgment even mentioned the tell tale lapses– the false arrest memos, doctored telephone conversations and illegal confinement of people to force them to sign blank papers by the infamous investigating agency - to fabricate evidence in the high profile case. Under these circumstances how can it be assumed that the evidence leading to Afzal’s conviction was not willfully doctored? The motivation was obvious. The failure to find the smoking gun would only have been at the cost of acute embarrassment, loss of credibility and face by India at home and abroad. Or how else would have Indian Government justified its ten month long deployment and saber rattling against Pakistan which cost the Indian exchequer Rs1000 crore and 800 casualties as cost of mobilization process.
Afzal’s hanging has enabled India to formally close the case of attack on the Indian Parliament yet many a questions remain unanswered. Who masterminded the Parliament attack? Who were the attackers? What was their conspiracy? If Pakistan’s role in the attack has been ruled out through judicial findings then who was behind the attack? Was it an attack orchestrated by the Indian agencies? What role was played by the shadowy Special Task Force (STF) in the episode? Why did the infamous Special Cell of the Delhi Police, known for its fake encounters chose to subvert the evidence as observed by the Indian High Court? Why and how the Indian political leadership chose the incident to set the two countries rolling onto a course of inevitable collision in those fateful winters of 2001 that was averted by narrowest of the margins. When, how and who will answers these nagging questions; remains an enduring enigma.