Is India a terrorist state?

Patron Lt Gen (Retd) FS LODI discusses the reason for calling INDIA a terrorist state.

A leading US newspaper the “Los Angeles Times” (LAT) in a report titled “India’s Hands Aren’t Clean” in January this year, is of the opinion that India is indeed a terrorist state.

The US State Department describes the first tenet of its counter-terrorism policy this way: “Make no concession to terrorists and strike no deals”. So why didn’t the State Department complain when the Indian government struck a deal with the hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight 814 and agreed to release three prisoners in exchange for 155 hostages, says the LAT.

If you believe the reports, three dangerous terrorists walked free in exchange for the hostages. But these freed “terrorists” were never even charged, despite years in detention. Yet State Department officials did not point out that the release might encourage more terrorism. Nor did they call for hunting the three down, though they did call for the hijackers to be brought to justice. In fact, they said nothing at all about the prisoner release. This doesn’t begin to make sense until you release what was left unsaid and why, according to the Los Angeles Times.

It is this: The three men were not terrorists. Not only were they never tried or convicted of any act of terrorism, but they never even were charged. All three were arrested in 1994 or earlier. So the Indian government had enough time to file charges, if it wanted to.

“Their long detention was in stark violation of international law, which prohibits arbitrary arrest, requires charges to be filed ‘promptly’ and requires trial or release within a ‘reasonable time’” said the Los Angeles Times. Recognising this, the British Foreign Office announced that the one Briton among the three, 26-year-old Ahmad Omar Sayed Sheikh, is free to return to Britain, like any other British citizen who faces no criminal charges. If Sheikh does return to Britain, Indian officials could not seek his extradition without bringing formal charges.

If they did, Sheikh’s family, who have always protested his innocence, could contest the extradition on the grounds that charges not filed during the six years he was in custody but suddenly filed after he escaped are in all likelihood suspicious. The whole thing could blow up in India’s face, the report says, and Sheikh’s case could become a public reminder to the West, of India’s regular violations of international law in its treatment of those it arrests, particularly supporters of Kashmiri independence.

“Those simply detained indefinitely are the lucky ones. Many are killed as soon as they are arrested, while others die in custody”, the LAT says. “The government can pin wild charges on them because it never has to actually file the charges or try to prove them in court”, it adds.

For example, it says, Mushtaq Zargar, another of the three released, was arrested in 1992 and accused of being the ‘Chief Commander’ of a ‘terrorist group’ called the Umar Mujahideen. The same year, police arrested another man, Mohammed Zargar, and accused him of being the ‘deputy chief’ of the same Umar Mujahideen.

The day after confirming his arrest to the press, Indian officials announced Mohammad Zargar had been killed in an encounter “soon after his arrest”. It was an official admission of custodial assassination and was reported in the Indian press and picked up by Amnesty International.

Mushtaq Zargar merely languished in detention for eight years, until his release after hijacking. “Since neither he nor his dead ‘deputy’ was charged or tried, we don’t know if they really were terrorists or just Kashmiris whom the Indian government wanted to put away”, the Los Angeles Times says.

Another man, Sajjad Afghani, also imprisoned without charge for several years, was killed last June (1999) “while trying to escape” from a high-security prison. His death may have motivated this hijacking, according to sources in the Indian press. The hijackers demanded Afghani’s body and also the release of his colleague, Maulana Masood Azhar, whom they may have feared would be the next person to die “while trying to escape”.

All this, according to LAT, raises troubling questions, such as: when a state shoots people or locks them up indefinitely without due process, how is that state distinguishable from a terrorist organisation? Or when a state indiscriminately wields deadly violence against guilty and innocent alike, would it not generate such hatred against itself as to provoke desperate, irrational and dangerous responses? Like, say, hijacking a plane?

“So, if we want to prevent international terrorism, shouldn’t we be trying to prevent violations of international law by the Indian government as energetically as we try to chase down hijackers”, asks the Los Angeles Times forcefully.

Such inconvenient questions might stand in the way of the US State Department officials stated goal of “working with India” to “combat international terrorism”. And so they keep quiet, the LAT added with irritation. Inspite of India’s “democratic” credentials the world is increasingly taking note of her harsh and brutal behaviour particularly towards her religious minorities and the people of Kashmir. The official acts of suppression of the minorities in India has now reached such alarming proportions that a representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury found it necessary to publicly castigate India.

The Special Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury Church in England, Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine slammed India for oppression of minorities and urged the world to put pressure on Indian rulers for solution of Kashmir dispute. Addressing a news conference at Islamabad during January this year Rev. Augustine, who is Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, said that Muslims and Christians minorities in India are not safe and being subjected to killing, torture and rape.

Talking about the situation in Indian occupied Kashmir, he said, that ordinary citizens are made to suffer and women raped. He said Indian occupation forces are targeting the young, torturing and killing them. Families and individuals are being forced to leave their houses and take shelter in refugee camps.

Recalling his visit to refugee camps in Azad Kashmir a week earlier, Rev. Augustine said he found that educated personalities and businessmen from the Indian held Kashmir were forced to migrate to Azad Kashmir and live in refugee camps. He lashed out at the world community for what he called “becoming silent spectators on the miseries of the Kashmiris.”

He said the long-standing issues like the apartheid rule in South Africa, and the complicated issues like East Timore, Kosovo, Bosnian and the conflict between Huto and Tutsi in Riwanda was settled while the Kashmir issue has been unresolved for 52 years. He said 700,000 Indian troops have been deployed in held Kashmir to crush the innocent people. He urged the Indian rulers to honour the commitments made with the Kashmiris by Jawahirlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, to withdraw occupation forces from Kashmir and allow the Kashmiris to decide their future.

Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, said the so-called largest democracy of the world is making mockery of democratic values, and asked the Christians and Muslims in India to jointly resist the brutal policies of Indian rulers.

Rev. Augustine said that India claims to be the society of multi-religions, ethnicity and cultures but the situation on ground is totally different. He recalled how last year an Australian missionary and his two sons were killed and said the Australian national had been serving the Indian ailing community for 26 years.

He said workers of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP were involved in the killing. He also referred to the incidents of rape of nuns and attacks on churches. He said Indian government had not openly condemned these incidents, as its own members were involved in the attacks.

Rev. Augustine condemned India for not allowing human rights groups to visit Indian occupied Kashmir to witness the Indian forces brutalities in the valley. India should open its border and let the world know the realities in Kashmir, he insisted.

Aside from the Muslims and now Christians, India also persecutes and oppresses its lower-caste Hindus. It is a form of grave human rights violations sanctioned by their religion. These outcasts of society are also referred to as ‘untouchables’, because to touch them is to become impure and fall from grace in Hindu society and in front of the Hindu gods. These untouchables are denied the basic dignity of a human being and physically abused and economically deprived. Recent press reports have indicated that in many areas of India these lower-caste Hindus are trying to convert to Islam for a fair deal.

Terror implies extreme fear, terrifying person or thing and terrorism is the practice of using violent and intimidating methods, especially to secure political ends. India has created extreme fear in her minorities. Muslims were the traditional targets and now the Christians have been added. There is now growing international concern at the number of churches destroyed and the humiliation of Christian priests and nuns. The persecution of the lower-caste Hindus, sanctioned by their religion is a constant and age-old phenomenon.

The harsh and coercive methods employed in India’s eastern states and the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir have the sanction of laws passed only for these areas. These draconian laws are in contravention of all Canons of Justice and human rights and are in complete violation of International law. These must be condemned by the international community and India be asked to allow international agencies access to these areas so that the ground realities can be checked and reported.

India is also exporting terrorism to her small neighbour, Sri Lanka, where the Tamil Tigers are using guns against the duly constituted government. A few months back the President of Sri Lanka was attacked and wounded by the Tamil Tigers. The Tamils are a minority in Sri Lanka and are helped and supported by the Tamils in South India, where they are reported to be having their training camps and are supplied with guns and cash. As the guns and trained cadres cross over to Sri Lanka from India inspite of a strong presence of the India Navy it is evident that these terrorist operations have the support of India and are instigated by them. Recently two Indian boats carrying arms and ammunition from India for the Tamils in Sri Lanka were spotted by the Sri Lankan Navy and fired on. Both exploded and sank.

India has been using terrorism against her own minorities for many years now and also exporting terrorism to her neighbours. These facts are being investigated and commented upon by independent Western Journalists, observers and NGOs working for human rights and other humanitarian concerns. But the Western governments tend to overlook these reports for economic and strategic gains in the region. This surely cannot go on for long, as it amounts to doing business with the devil for immediate profit.

Recently Justice J.S. Verma a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India responsible for exposing the ‘Hawala’ bribery scandal, some years back, has castigated the government of India for state-aided terrorism. As chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission Justice Verma said that terrorism could not be combated by state sponsored terrorism as it would prove counter-productive. He was addressing the participants of a debate on “the concept of human rights in combating terrorism and militancy in New Delhi on Friday March 31, 2000.

Justice Verma said that while performing their duty of defending the unity and integrity of the nation, the security forces were entitled to use force but they should not use more force than necessary to contain the threat that they apprehend to the security of the country. “Always keep in mind that greater the power one has, greater is the self-restraint required”, he said.

Justice Verma went on to say, that experience has shown that any high-handed action by the security forces to contain terrorist activity has only increased the support for the cause espoused by the terrorist. Any person killed in fake encounter shatters the family members of the victim and gives them enough reason to join the terrorists in their activities.

Giving the legal and moral implications of encounter killings Justice Verma said. “Under normal circumstances the role of investigation, prosecution, adjudication and execution never rests with the same agency, which was not the case with fake encounters or torture in custody as all these roles were then usurped by one agency. Methods which were contrary to or forbidden under our own legal system, should not be done in other circumstances”, he advised.

India has got away with state sponsored terrorism for many years now, owing primarily to her size and economic potential which is a perpetual attraction for the trading nations of the West. The United States had delinked India’s human rights violation from trade with that country a few years back. The leading European nations, England, France, Germany and Russia are collaborating in joint ventures with India in defence production and other fields and would therefore not be inclined to rock the boat. The United Nations would therefore be the only organisation which could probably be coaxed to take some action. The UN Secretary General Kofi Anan while addressing the 56th session of the 53 member UN Human Rights Commission in April this year said. “When human rights are being violated the international community has a right and a duty to respond and come to the assistance of the victims”.

Recently the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland visited Chechnya and accused Russia of grave human rights violations. Russia has, therefore, been suspended from membership of the 41-nation Council of Europe. India has so far not allowed any outside humanitarian agencies to visit Indian occupied Kashmir or her eastern provinces to investigate human rights abuses. This should change soon as the world is becoming aware of the two faces of India.