The Malegaon Mystery and its Big Little Lies – Part 2

BY VK SHASHIKUMAR

The second part of the series by veteran investigative journalist, VK Shashikumar, raises difficult questions on the continued imprisonment of Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit’s as an accused in the 2008 Malegaon terrorist bomb attack case. With his customary hard-nosed approach he once again brings into public focus new documents unravelling a disturbing plot to severely undermine the apolitical institutional stature of the Indian Army and the morale of its soldiers and officers.

The Sadhvi & The Soldier

The National Investigation Agency on May 13, 2016 exonerated Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur in the September 29, 2008, Malegaon bomb blast case that left six persons dead. The Sadhvi was an accused along with Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit in the case. The NIA states in the supplementary charge sheet filed in the special court trying Col. Purohit and others: “The evidence on record against her is not sufficient to prosecute her as all the witnesses have retracted their statements. Thus, no case is made out against her.”

This conclusion by NIA surfaces several difficult questions – If this holds true for the Sadhvi, then why is the soldier still in prison? Is Col. Purohit’s continued imprisonment on account his sustained intelligence inputs on terror-related activities of extremist Hindu organizations much before the Malegaon blasts and its aftermath?

There is an outrage in the country over attacks on Indian army personnel serving in conflict zones. Videos of Indian citizens spontaneously applauding and appreciating Indian army soldiers are going viral. During the days of cash crunch last year after demonetization was announced, those frustrated of standing in long queues outside ATMs and banks were consoled by fellow citizens citing the hardships faced by soldiers on India’s borders.

But why isn’t there any outrage over Col. Purohit’s suspicious and continued imprisonment? On May 13, 2016 the NIA also charged the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of planting evidence (RDX traces) against Col. Purohit to frame him in the Malegaon blast case. So, if the charges against the Sadhvi have been dropped, then why aren’t the charges against Col. Purohit being dropped as well? Why is he incarcerated without trial for his alleged involvement in cases involving Hindu terror groups when the cases of accused belonging to such groups seem to be floundering?

On 27 September 2009, a year after the Malegaon blasts, an ‘Action Taken Report’ was dispatched to BGS (Int), Southern Command. The following excerpts from the report clearly vindicate the consistent stand taken by Col. Purohit that as an intelligence officer he was only doing his job as tasked by his superiors. That he had infiltrated extremist Hindu groups which were keen to carry out terror activities to avenge attacks of Muslim terror groups and that after successfully embedding himself in such groups; he was constantly feeding intelligence information to his superiors as per the established chain of command.

On 14 October 2008 the following report was received from Col. Purohit by 3 Det SCLU, military intelligence unit in Deolali, Nashik:

“A Sadhvi named Ms Pragya Singh Thakur may have been involved in the 29 September 2008 Malegaon bomb blast. The lady drives a LML Freedom motorcycle. This motorcycle was reportedly used in the blast. It was likely that police was on the trail of the lady.”

Two days before Col. Purohit’s input was received telephonically by the 3 Det, SCLU (Southern Command Liaison Unit), the ATS had “reportedly picked up/detained the Sadhvi.”

The action taken report states that the information was shared by 3 Det SCLU with Dr. Sukhwinder Singh, DIG, ATS on October 15, 2008. He indicated that the Sadhvi had been “picked up” and “operations were on in the general area Malegaon and Surat.”

In fact, the ATS’s charge sheet against the Sadhvi was anchored on her ownership of the LML Freedom motorcycle which was rigged with explosives to carry out the blasts. But the NIA charge sheet rubbished the ATS version by claiming that she had handed over the motorcycle to Ramchandra Kalsangra, an absconding accused, almost two years before the blasts. The NIA further said that the charge that she attended a meeting in Bhopal to plot the Malegaon blasts could not be proved because two witnesses, Yashpal Bhadana and R P Singh, retracted their statements about her presence at the meet.

In spite of the embarrassingly wide divergence between the two charge sheets filed in the court by two different agencies – Maharashtra ATS and the NIA – there is no doubt in the minds of the police investigators or intelligence sleuths that Col. Purohit knew Sadhvi Pragya quite well.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise when a military intelligence memo eight years ago affirmed that Col. Purohit knew the Sadhvi and that he had indeed met her in Bhopal and Jabalpur. The action taken report dated 27 September 2009 clearly states that he had shared details of his meeting with the Sadhvi.

“The areas mentioned by Lt. Col. Purohit where he supposedly met Sadhvi in person before i.e. Bhopal and Jabalpur are outside own AOR (Area of Responsibility). Thus, details regarding meeting and the background of Sadhvi could not be corroborated in the immediate time frame.”

The military intelligence unit’s assessment in 2009 further acknowledges:

“The officer most likely knew that the police investigation was leading towards the Sadhvi’s trail…The officer had reportedly met the Sadhvi on his own accord more than twice as confirmed by him.”

If the investigating agencies haven’t been able to prove the culpability of the Sadhvi and have exonerated her, then, on what grounds does Col. Purohit continue to be jailed for several years with the trial yet to commence?

When Col. Purohit voluntarily provided inputs on October 14, 2008, just couple of weeks after the Malegaon blasts he was stationed at the Army Education Corps Training College in Panchmarhi. He was learning Arabic as part of his intelligence operations when the police allegedly found and decoded some SMSes that he purportedly sent to an accused after Malegaon blasts. Why aren’t the investigative agencies giving credence to the fact that he already knew that the police was closing in on Sadhvi? Was it because of his successful infiltration of the alleged Hindu terror groups that he was able to glean information even when he at AEC and that if this is indeed accepted, then it might lead to opening of a can of worms?

At this point it must be asked whether the fear in the establishment really is that if he is exonerated, then, that will directly establish what Purohit had been claiming- that he infiltrated the terror group Abhinav Bharat, which allegedly planned and carried out the Malegaon blasts and that he kept all his seniors in the army informed about his activities.

Recent media reports citing affidavit filed by the Ministry of Defence validate Col. Purohit’s consistent plea of just doing his job and keeping his seniors updated and informed. In the last few days media reports suggest the MoD informed the court that Col. Purohit informed his superiors about all his source meetings. “The appellant had informed about the meetings prior to and immediately after the meetings to his superiors in that unit.

Col. Purohit has been tireless in his effort to seek bail and while doing so submitted numerous letters of appreciation from his superiors in the Army. The Nashik police also appreciated him for his work and effective coordination during his tenure as an Army intelligence officer in the region.

Several army officers who have worked with Col. Purohit during his tenure in the Maratha Light Infantry and later in military intelligence have publicly dismissed charges against him as false. Recently, Colonel S.S. Raikar affirmed in a public meeting that the charge that Col. Purohit stole 60 kg of RDX from the army is a fabrication. This has, anyway, been confirmed by the NIA in its supplementary charge sheet. The NIA’s investigation suggests that RDX traces were planted as an evidence to frame Col. Purohit.

Col. Purohit’s counsel Shrikant Shivade submitted official records of from the Army to prove that his client did not and could have illegally shipped out RDX from Jammu and Kashmir during his tenure there between 2002 – 2004. Shivade has also repeatedly emphasized during the hearings of the special court that his client was merely interested in doing his job of “generating intelligence” in accordance with the protocols associated with his job. His superiors were not only aware of his intelligence gathering activities, but were also regularly updated by him officially.

At the end of the heaviness of an inescapable reality is that its increasingly becoming a moral load to bear for soldiers and officers of the Indian Army. Why is an officer in prison for doing his job, when charges against other accused are dropped?

More important, why on earth would Col. Purohit implicate himself in a crime he did not commit?

(VK Shashikumar is an investigative journalist and a strategist. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

Remove Article 370 to salvage Kashmir from Al Qaeda

BY RSN SINGH

For some years now, the Kashmir Valley has been witnessing the most sleazy and abysmal form of jihad by way of ‘stone pelting’. The youth of Kashmir have been robbed off their ability and manliness to cut or chisel rocks for building of society and India. For this they must depend on the labour from outside the Valley. It is this labour which has created the recent Chenani-Nashri Tunnel linking Jammu with the Valley.

Weaned on Wahhabi or Salafi Islam, the life of youth in the Valley is self-destructive. Every stone that is hurled at the security personnel is also a hit on Kashmiriyat and ancestors of the stone-pelters. A segment of the population which treats its geography and history as its enemies, is certainly in the brink of destruction.

If conversion to another religion manifests in hatred for inherited ancestors and ethnicity, surely then security analysts must reflect on those streams of religion which cause ‘terrorism’ and lead to the phenomenon of self-destruction and suicide bombers. The stone-pelting facet of terrorism in the Valley has been the consequence of years of religious ferment. The whole country was aware of this ferment, the Kashmiri Hindus even suffered on that account, and yet we never had the intellectual courage to confront it. It is possible that probably the non-Muslims of India did not exercise their intellect on the study of various schools of Islam like Wahhabi, Salafi and Deobandi.

Kashmiriyat was killed in the Valley the day half a million Hindus were terrorized to leave their ancestral homeland and compelled to become refugees in their own country. The Kashmiri Hindus were the last the most tenuous historical link between the Kashmiri Muslims and the Kashmiri Hindus, between the Valley and the Kashmiriyat.

The demographic purge of the Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley was in accordance with a devious and sinister jihadi strategy. The ghettoization of the Valley had been going on for very long. Wahhabi and Salafi ideologies had been consuming the state for many years through the aegis of Madrasas and Mullahs. Ironically, most of these vicious Mullahs belonged to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Mullahs from these states were also primarily responsible for partition of India and creation of Pakistan.

Once Kashmiriyat was killed and requisite radicalization effected, it became easy for Pakistan-based jihadi organizations like LeT, JeM and HM to spread their tentacles.

There should be no doubt that all jihadi organizations active in Pakistan and India, rather the subcontinent, like the LeT, JeM, HM, IM, JMB or even Islamic State, are linked one way or the other with Al Qaeda. Since the Arab jihadis of Al Qaeda find it difficult to operate in the Indian subcontinent, it has outsourced the responsibility to organizations like LeT to conduct jihad in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives. There are reports to suggest that the organization and structure of Islamic State in the Af-Pak region was established jointly by the ISI and LeT in Peshawar. Sources have also revealed that the Islamic State cadres are operating from the barracks of Frontier Corps in Balochistan.

The subcontinent connection of Islamic State with organizations like LeT, as also the Indian connection has been underscored by a Hindustan Times report dated 19-Apr-2017 in which it has been revealed that the GBU-43B Ordnance, euphemistically referred as Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB), used by the US in Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar, Afghanistan had taken toll of nearly 100 militants of which 13 were Indian recruits. It also included two commanders from India, i.e. Mohammad and Alla Gupta. Amongst the killed, was also an LeT commander Sheikh Waqas.

Writing on the significance of Al Qaeda for the jihadi groups, Vahid Brown and Don Rassler in the book ‘Fountainhead of Jihad’ maintains: “In the sense used by Al Qaeda, jihad has come to mean universal privatized, volunteer, militarism in asymmetrical conflict with globally distributed enemy. This phenomenon – also known as ‘global jihadism’ – arose in large part due to initiative of two famous Arab supporters of anti-Soviet mujahideen Abdullah Azam and Osama Bin Laden.” Hafiz Saeed treats Abdullah Azam as his mentor and Guru.

The affinity between Osama Bin Laden and the Pakistani military is well known. Most jihadi organizations in Pakistan and India are beholden to the Al Qaeda for finances and global reach. The Al Qaeda and its affiliate Islamic State are particularly known for their ability to produce some of the most sophisticated jihadi videos for indoctrination and recruitment. It was Osama Bin Laden, who established the Zhawara jihadi training camp in the Af-Pak region. A large number of jihadi leaders in the subcontinent are products of this camp. This camp produced the nucleus of jihadi leadership for waging ‘global jihad’.

It is therefore not surprising that Islamic State flags are displayed outside the mosques in the Valley after Friday prayers.

In overall perspective, the Pakistan military is also a part of the Al Qaeda. The Pakistani affiliates of Al Qaeda of which the military is an intrinsic part consider the US, India and Israel as their sworn enemies. We should not get distracted by the fact that in Syria the Islamic State received covert support from the US and Israel. It is quite usual for countries to provide covert support to one or more terrorist organization for strategic ends. The same applies for jihadi terrorist organizations as well. They are in a very complicated relationship like the linkages between Afghan-Taliban and TTP in the Af-Pak region. This is because of exigencies of survivability and in deference to the regional and the global jihadi agenda. The Pakistani state uses various jihadi groups because of their specific reach and influence in respective geographical areas. Nevertheless, the overall arching organization of global jihad is the ‘Al Qaeda’.

By corollary it can also be said that the separatists, the Hurriyat and mainstream leaders in the Valley are also directly or indirectly part of the ‘Al Qaeda’ network. Arguably, it is for this reason that President Trump ordered the MOAB to be dropped on that specific area of Afghanistan, wherein a warning could be issued to Pakistan for patronizing the Islamic State (Al Qaeda). The MOAB also caused damage to some buildings in the Khurram Agency in Pakistan.

The challenge before the Indian State is to salvage Kashmir Valley from the ideology and depredations of Al Qaeda. We need to create a counter ideology. If Zia-ul-Haq in the late 70s could hijack the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent towards Arab, i.e. Wahhabi and Deobandi brand of Islam, it would be our intellectual failure to not revert the Indian and Pakistani Muslims to their Indian roots. Zia-ul-Haq while embarking on themWahhabi/Deobandi path had famously said: “If Iran imbibes Indian culture, it will still remain Iran, but if Pakistan retains Indian traditions, it will over time become India.”

The nature of Islam that should impact on India is not the monopoly of Muslims, but it is the responsibility of every Indian to determine. If a particular foreign brand of Islam declares war on India, then it becomes incumbent upon every Indian to crush it.

However in the Valley, there are also Muslims whose hearts beat for Kashmiriyat and for India. In the latest by-election in the Valley, the polling percentage was seven percent. If there was no intimidation by the Al Qaeda and its affiliates, the percentage could have been much more. This seven percent people need to be celebrated. They are the actual braves. If one vote can decide victory and loss in an election, one vote can also be decisive in deciding between democracy and jihadi animalism. By this reckoning seven percent is stupendous.

Last time, when the Valley was ravaged by floods, it was seen that many of the pro-Pakistan elements after collecting the relief material pelted stones on security forces sitting on boats. In contrast, in Shia majority areas, love, affection and gratitude were showered on them. This clearly illustrates that the problem in Kashmir is not political but of religious ideology.

It is the same ideology, which is bent upon dragging Kashmir Valley to the Arab brand of Islam with all its violent shades and manifestations. It may be recalled that when Arab Islam impacted on other superior cultures like Persian, Central Asian or Indian, these regions refused to accept the cultural hegemony of Arab Islam. It is therefore bewildering as to how the cultural richness of Kashmir has given way to Arab Islam.

If people of the Kashmir Valley, who reside in only 7.2 percent of the total area of the state and democratically lord over 93 percent of the area, if the per capita consumption of meat in the Valley is the highest in the world, then, the problem is certainly not political and economic. The main problem is Islamic radicalization by an ‘Al Qaeda State of Pakistan’. Therefore, talking to the separatists or the leaders in the Valley, or Pakistan, will yield ‘no results’ because they are all part of the Al Qaeda.

To re-establish Hindustaniyat and Kashmiriyat, Article 370 needs to be immediately revoked.

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)