A live terrorist would be clinching evidence in any court of law, but Pakistan’s case is entirely different. For a country, which uses lies and accusations as tools of its statecraft, evidences do not matter. This exasperation is not limited to India alone; the USA, which considered Pakistan a strategic ally during its war on terror in Afghanistan had to chastise Pakistan frequently on her lies
Ministry of External Affairs’ mood is upbeat. There are two live Pakistani terrorists in their bag. On 22 August, countering the Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Sartaj Aziz ‘dossier threat’ Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs thundered, “They will show us a dossier, we will show them a zinda Pakistani terrorist, Naveed.” Mercifully for Sartaj Aziz, planned NSA meet on 23 August did not materialise.
Since 26/11 Mumbai attacks, we have managed to capture only three terrorists alive. Ajmal Kasab captured during 26/11 established Pakistan’s involvement in the attacks beyond any doubt. The whole world condemned Pakistan for its complicity in planning and executing the attack. India provided dossiers after dossiers to nail the perpetrators of 26/11 but not good enough to convince Pakistan. The kingpins of Mumbai attacks—Hafiz Sayeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi still roam free in Pakistan.
A live terrorist would be clinching evidence in any court of law, but Pakistan’s case is entirely different. For a country, which uses lies and accusations as tools of its statecraft, evidences do not matter. This exasperation is not limited to India alone; the USA, which considered Pakistan a strategic ally during its war on terror in Afghanistan had to chastise Pakistan frequently on her lies, double-speak and inimical activities favouring al-Qaeda, Taliban, Haqqani network, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and on host of other issues.
India has been painstakingly collecting evidences against Pakistan’s nefarious involvement. During our decades long counter-infiltration and counter-terror operations to thwart Pakistan’s proxy war in J&K, loads of evidences in terms of men, material, weapon & ammunition, documents and recordings have been captured and produced. In Kargil war, involvement of Northern Light Infantry—a regiment of Pakistan army was proved beyond doubt through the prisoners of war, enemy corpses, weapons and incriminating documents. Unabashed Pakistan had refused to even accept the dead bodies of its soldiers.
In bilateral international relations, the issues are decided on the basis of treaties, understanding and code of conduct. For an unscrupulous country to renege on its promise is though unethical but quite convenient. Sadly, this tactic has become the mainstay of Pakistan’s India policy.
Seminaries in Pakistan are known to mould young boys (and girls too) conscripted from the poor and deprived families into hardcore terrorists. Fired by religious hatred and incessant indoctrination these terrorists have staged most daring attacks in India, Afghanistan, inside Pakistan and elsewhere. I have been part of many counter-terrorist operations in the Kashmir valley. All terrorists that we encountered fought till their last. Nabbing of two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists alive within a month is perhaps indicative of Pakistan’s hate-India propaganda losing its sheen and appeal amongst the masses. Are unwilling youth being forced across the line of control to wage jihad in Kashmir? This trend will certainly worry the hierarchy of Pakistan’s Terror Inc.—the Inter Services Intelligence, LeT, Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and the like.
Much before Sub Inspector Tukaram Omble apprehended Ajmal Kasab, many Pakistani terrorists were nabbed by army and police in J&K. Some of these terrorists have even been repatriated to Pakistan after the expiry of their jail term or acquittal by the court.
Is it really worthwhile to catch a terrorist alive?
In a country, where the judicial system moves at the snail’s pace and the prosecution can be influenced or intimidated, punishing a dreaded terrorist could be a wasteful exercise. Ajmal Kasab received capital punishment, because he was tried in Maharashtra. Terrorists lodged in the jails of J&K are administratively supported by their sympathisers and over ground workers. They remain in touch with their bosses in Pakistan over phone. They even direct terrorist activities from the jail. In November 2014, the HM Chief Syed Salahuddin spoke to a terrorist lodged in Srinagar jail, assuring him of financial and legal help for the terrorists lodged there.
As the case lingers on a captured terrorist becomes a liability; and if he is acquitted due to shoddy investigation and lame prosecution efforts, it is a huge embarrassment.
A captured terrorist is not a trophy; it could invite more attacks.
If a terrorist of some stature has been caught, his organisation can carry out some spectacular action forcing the government to release him. We must not forget, what happened in Rubiya Syed’s case or the genesis of Air India flight IC-814 hijacking. Maulana Masood Azhar, founder of JeM was one of the three terrorists that were released by India to secure safe return of passengers. Even the jail break to free the terrorists is not uncommon—Maoists have escaped from Chaibasa and Dantewada jails en masse.
Terrorists captured during operations are normally the ‘foot soldiers’ of their tanzeems (organisations). They can only divulge information of tactical value needing immediate response. After lapse of time, the information divulged by them loses operational value. Location of terrorist training camps, launch pad, route of infiltration, guide, halts and sympathisers are a few things a live terrorist can divulge to the interrogators. Such information is normally known from other sources as well, which can be corroborated.
I fervently hope that nabbing of these two terrorists has not prompted our field commanders to frame such terms of reference where the units and sub-units under their command put in efforts to the extent of being foolhardy to capture terrorists alive. It does not serve any worthwhile purpose. This will unnecessarily endanger the lives of troops. The case of Naveed and Sajjad should be treated as an exception, and not all operations should result into apprehension of terrorists.
With the present dispensation in Pakistan and its hostile attitude towards India, proxy-war is unlikely to cease. Our counter-terror operations must not slacken. Seek and destroy option against the terrorists which has been bulwark of our counter-terror strategy need not be diluted.
A terrorist must be neutralised before it causes damage to civilian lives and property. While an alive terrorist can subdue Pakistan in a media trial, but a dead terrorist is certainly better than two in the bag.
By Colonel (Retd.) U S Rathore
(The author is a threat & risk analyst and defence & security expert.)