There are two ways to recreate the short life of Ghulam Yazdani, or Naveed, as he was called at home. The first relies on Intelligence Bureau (IB) dossiers, interrogation reports and news reports in the media based on the first two. In this narrative, Yazdani appears as an engineering student who turned to a life of terrorism and met his ‘well-deserved’ end at the hands of the police in 2006. A native of Nalgonda, Yazdani was said to have been among the 14 men from Andhra Pradesh (AP) who were recruited to be trained by the Lashkar in Pakistan after the Gujarat killings in 2002.
The alleged mastermind of Hyderabad’s Dilsukhnagar Saibaba temple blast in 2002, the Haren Pandya murder in Ahmedabad in 2003, the suicide attack on the STF headquarters in Hyderabad in 2005, and the bombing of the Delhi-Patna Shramjeevi Express at Jaunpur in 2005, Yazdani quickly rose to head the Lashkar’s South India operations and was among the most wanted men on the AP police list. He had also allegedly hatched a plan to blow up a Ganesh temple near Secunderabad railway station.(1)
And then, there is a more complex plot.
Leave, for the moment, these secret documents and look at the court records. In late 1999, Manik Prabhu Medical Stores, Hyderabad, owned by an RSS worker, witnessed a shootout, leaving the owner’s brother, Devender, dead. An FIR was lodged in the Saidabad police station.(2) The New Year brought the Task Force to Yazdani’s house. He was taken away but not produced before a magistrate. Precisely a month after Yazdani had disappeared, he was formally arrested by the Saidabad police.
The investigation was transferred to the CID in the month of May. The new agency booked a completely different set of accused; among them was Syed Maqbool, recently in the limelight for apparently revealing that Dilsukhnagar was on the hit-list of terrorists.
In the period when Yazdani was in the custody of the Task Force, two more cases were slapped against him. In the first, which was also transferred to the CID, Yazdani was charged with conspiracy and waging war against the nation; in the second, lodged just a day before he was produced in court, the police showed recovery of detonators and pistols, and booked him under the Arms Act and Explosive Substances Act.(3)
Released on bail, Yazdani was ultimately discharged from the Devender murder case and acquitted in the other two cases.
It is not clear how Yazdani came to be called the architect of the Pandya murder, but in circles whose denizens go by the label of ‘security experts’, this has become an article of faith. Yazdani, in fact, is not named an accused in the Pandya murder case.
In the years closely following the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, the cult of the Hindu hridaysamrat was being crafted. The numerous conspiracies directed against Narendra Modi were crucial in fashioning the principal Hindutva icon and cementing the loyalties of his followers.
This was the period when the police and investigating agencies in Gujarat claimed to have foiled a series of potential assassination attempts on Modi by liquidating ‘terrorists’.(4) Most of them are turning out to be fake encounters, with several of Modi’s top cops currently in jail, or under scrutiny. Registration of POTA cases also surged: all those booked under POTA were Muslims accused of either plotting to kill BJP leaders or conspiring to terrorize Hindus of Gujarat.(5)
The most gargantuan of these was the Gujarat ISI Conspiracy Case, more popularly known as the ‘DCB 6’ case, registered in April 2003, a month after Pandya was killed. It had a mammoth list of over 80 accused — a list which kept swelling well after the chargesheets had been filed, and POTA had been repealed.(6)
Yazdani was at home when the news of ‘Hyderabad boys’ being herded to Gujarat in the DCB 6 case started appearing. Similar conspiracy cases were filed in Andhra against all those implicated in the DCB 6 case. Two cases in Nalgonda district were registered against Yazdani where he was declared ‘absconding accused’.(7) One evening, Yazdani did not return home. About 15 days later, his father, old Ghulam Mustafa, received a call from him. Yazdani said he had fled to escape being ensnared in another case again. He refused to divulge his location for fear that he would be arrested.
“I never saw my brother after that,” Ghulam Rabbani tells me over the phone. “We only saw his dead description.”
We do not know what he did in those intervening years. How he lived, where he lived. We will never know perhaps.
Intelligence reports say he rose to prominence in the Lashkar ranks, planning, for example, the suicide attack on the Special Task Force (STF) headquarters in Hyderabad. Did he?
A man with backpack walked into the deserted STF headquarters — Dussehra eve had kept most STF personnel away from office — and blew himself up. His severed head and torso were recovered from outside the office. How he was identified as Mohtasin Bilal, a Bangladeshi national, carrying out the HUJI-B’s first such operation,(8) is itself interesting. From the charred debris of this human bomb, investigators recovered a suicide note(9), and a rubber slipper with a tell-all price tag that read ‘Taka 100’.(10) These clues, salvaged extraordinarily from the burnt description, disclosed to the investigators his identity!
“Two and half month’s later, on December 27, 2005,” we learn that “three HuJI-B militants involved in the Hyderabad attack were arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police.”(11) Less than two weeks later, Deputy National Security Adviser (NSA) Vijay Nambiar and National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) Additional Secretary SD Pradhan met US Deputy Chief of Mission in Delhi Robert Blake to “pledge to seek the NSA’s approval for greater intelligence sharing on terrorism threats within India”. The discussion fixated on terror threats in the South.
Blake, in his confidential cable dispatch that day, wrote: “Pradhan also noted that the terrorists themselves are different and more adaptable. For example, ‘Arshad,’ who was arrested on December 18 in connection with the October 12 suicide attack on the Hyderabad Police Special Task Force office, ‘was a police informer who benefited from a police security escort’.”(12)
Interrogation reports made their way into expert commentary and created ‘mounting evidence’ of Yazdani’s guilt:
“Previously in August 2005, police had arrested Mohammad Ibrahim, a resident of Hyderabad, who revealed details of his travels in Bangladesh in 2004, his meetings with Ghulam Yazdani, the person involved in the Pandya murder in Gujarat on March 23, 2003, and his encounters with several HuJI terrorists from India and Pakistan. Four months before his arrest, in April 2005, Ibrahim had been sent to Karachi on a Bangladeshi passport, from where he was taken to an ISI camp in Balochistan.”(13)
Ibrahim had been arrested on charges of conspiracy and sedition.(14) In November 2005, Yazdani’s brother, then a first-year student of MCA at Osmania University PG College at Saidabad, was arrested in the case and charged with financially supporting Ibrahim in his terrorist activities.
He learnt later that he had been declared ‘absconder’ even as he was attending classes at his college.
In 2009, the First Additional Metropolitan Magistrate acquitted both Ibrahim and Yazdani’s brother of all charges, as the prosecution could bring forth no evidence to substantiate the charges.(15) Meanwhile, however, Ghulam Rabbani’s arrest — added to the legend of the ‘dreaded absconder’ Yazdani.(16)
Yazdani’s father’s impassioned plea to his son to return home in January 2006, at the office of the then ACP, Rajiv Trivedi, was widely reported in the press. The following month, Ghulam Mustafa received a call from Trivedi. He enquired about Yazdani’s physical features and identification marks, and very specifically, if he spoke haltingly. When Mustafa confirmed this, he was advised to forget about Yazdani and focus on the other sons. Trivedi’s words, says the family, appeared ominous to them even then.
On the evening of March 7, three bombs exploded in Varanasi. The next morning, news agencies flashed the encounter killing of Yazdani and another man at the hands of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. Lashkar terrorists had been gunned down in the early hours of the morning in Bawana, the last outpost of Delhi.(17)
This is how a Delhi Police press release announcing gallantry awards for the architect of the encounter — and the hero of the current Liyaqat Ali Shah arrest(18) — described the encounter:
“Information was received that 2 Let militants namely Ghulam Yezdani and Kajol would be arriving at Alipur Narela Road, Holambi Kalan T Point on 8.3.06. Police team headed by ACP Sanjeev Kumar Yadav along with Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma reached Alipur Narela Road and took positions at the strategic points. When terrorists reached the spot, ACP Sanjeev Yadav and Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma disclosed the identity of the police team and asked the militants to surrender. Both the militants were later on identified as Ghulam Yazdani @ Naved … Ahsan Ullah Hasan @ Kabab Mohd @ Shahbaz Mohd @ SajidMehmood @ Shumon @ Jamil @ Ahmed @ Kajol r/o Chorangi Mor, Jheel chuli, Faridpur, Bangladesh. The militants did not pay to the heed and started firing at the approaching police party. ACP Sanjeev Yadav without caring for their life, faced hail of bullets fired by terrorist Ahsan Ullah Hasan @ Kajol and gave chase to him.
The militant was constantly and indiscriminately firing towards him. Unfazed and undeterred Sh. Sanjeev Kumar Yadav in self defence and in order to apprehend the militants returned fire and shot dead Kajol. Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma on the other hand was facing indiscriminate firing from other militant Yezdani who had taken position behind a wall in the field. Inspector Sharma crawled on the road without caring for bodily injuries and took position so that the militant could not take the benefit of boundary wall. During exchange of fire the militant was shot dead… …Recognizing the gallant act, ACP Sanjeev Kumar Yadav has been conferred President Police Medal for Gallantry while (Late) Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma has been awarded 1st Bar to President’s Police Medal for Gallantry.”(19)
This sparse prose is the template for almost all encounter killings in Delhi. Only the names of the victims change.
The family says that the description bore marks of torture, there were deep holes as though he had been drilled into and the head was misshapen. In the absence of a post-mortem report, and the reluctance of the Delhi Police to hand over Yazdani’s description to the family, despite a High Court order directing them to do so, is there any reason to disbelieve them? (20)
Let’s return briefly to Syed Maqbool. A small news item, which has not rivalled the popularity of his interrogation report leaked by Delhi Police, quotes ‘sources’ to say that Maqbool had become a police informant after his acquittal in the Devender murder case, and that his arrest was a consequence of rivalry between the Delhi Police and the Maharashtra ATS.(21) Recall also Pradhan’s frank admission to the US Deputy Chief of Mission that the accused in the STF attack was a police informer.
Did persistent implication in terror cases push Yazdani to seek refuge with groups he was accused of being associated with? Did the police force him to turn informer for them? Was Yazdani used cynically by agencies and then disposed of when it suited them? Was he already in the custody of one agency or another when the telephone call was made to his father?
These are not answers likely to emerge from the dossiers of the IB, reproduced endlessly till they acquire the sanctity of truth.
In this opaque netherland of terrorism-counter terrorism, it is not just loyalties that change sides but entire sides overturn and mirror each other in grotesque ways. The good guys battling the evil ones is a fantasy manufactured by think-tanks and the ‘experts’ industry.
In the confidential dispatch that Blake, sent home, he quoted Nambiar’s assurance to him that the author of Behind Bangalore: The Origins of the Long Jihad(22), “obviously has been briefed, most likely by the Intelligence Bureau (IB)”.
(1)For typical stories, see ‘Yazdani belonged to Nalagonda’ by S Ramu, March 9, 2006, The Hindu; ‘The story of LeT’s south India chief’ by SyedAminJafri in Hyderabad, March 16, 2006, Rediffnews, http://www.rediff.co.in/news/2006/mar/16let.htm and Praveen Swami (2008): The Well-Tempered Jihad: the Politics and Practice of post-2002 Islamist terrorism in India, Contemporary South Asia, 16:3, 303-322.
(2)Crime number 195/1999, Saidabad PS.
(3) Crime No. 1/2000, Saidabad PS and Crime No. 33/2000, Saidabad PS.
(4)For an exhaustive list, see Amnesty Document, India: A Pattern of Unlawful Killings by the Gujarat Police, Urgent Need for Effective Investigations, AI Index: ASA 20/011/2007 (Public).
(5) See ‘Production of Terrorists Act’ by MukulSinha for a full list of POTA cases in Gujarat. http://nsm.org.in/2008/09/29/pota-production-of-terrorist-act/
(6) ISI conspiracy case keeps draconian law alive in Gujarat, TNN, November 24, 2004. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2004-1124/ahmedabad/27156186_1_conspiracy-case-pandya-murder-hn-jhalaTOI.
(7) One Town Police Station and NarkepalliPoilce Station. These were also cases of sedition, including sections 120 B, 121, 121 A, 124 A, 153 A, 153 B etc.
(8)Swami, ‘Well-Tempered Jihad’, p. 309.
(9) ‘Human Bomb in Andhra’, The Telegraph, Friday, October 14, 2005. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1051014/asp/nation/story_5352734.asp
10) ‘Terror’s southern gateway’ By NeenaGopal, Gulf News, February 9, 2006. http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/terror-s-southern-gateway-1.224519
(11) HUJI: Lengthening Shadow of Terror’ by Bibhu Prasad Routray, SAIR 31/7/06
Aug 1, 2006. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/sair/Archives/5_3.htm
(12) ‘D/nsa Supports Intel Sharing On Terrorism; Says Terror In South Not New But Tactics And Targets Are’; Jan 9, 2006, Confidential Section 01 OF 06 New Delhi 000161. Accessed at: http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/01/06NEWDELHI161.html
(13) ‘HUJI: Lengthening Shadow of Terror’ by Bibhu Prasad Routray, SAIR 31/7/06
Aug 1, 2006.
(15) Sessions Case no. 192 of 2006, Judgement pronounced by ShriSreeram Murthy, First Additional Metropolitan Magistrate, November 12, 2007. See also, ‘Court lets off 3 in conspiracy case’, TNN, November 13, 2007, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2007-11-13/hyderabad/27976059_1_conspiracy-case-delhi-police-office-bomb-blast-case. Rabbani’s experience in the interrogation room left him a changed man. Upon receiving bail, he quit his MCA and enrolled in a law college, and is today a practising lawyer. Personal conversation.
(16) See for example, ‘Yazdani belonged to Nalagonda’, The Hindu, op. cit. Also, “Nalgonda supplies ‘terrorists’ in hordes” by Koride Mahesh, TNN, March 10, 2006. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2006-03-10/hyderabad/27824815_1_nalgonda-isi-activities-terrorist-activities.
(17) ‘Two LeT Ultras shot dead in Delhi Encounter’, March 8, 2006, PTI. Accessed at: http://news.outlookindia.com/items.aspx?artid=368758.
(18) “‘Delhi Cops’ ‘fidayeen’ Liaqat Shah is ex militant travelling with family”, Mir Ehsan, Vijaita Singh, March 26, 2013. http://m.indianexpress.com/news/delhi-cops-fidayeen-is-exmilitant-travel…
(20) ‘Encounter victim’s kin stage dharna, seek CBI probe’ by Omer Farooq, The Pioneer, 08/05/2007. Reproduced at: http://www.indiarightsonline.com/Sabrang/relipolcom16.nsf/5e7647d942f529c9e5256c3100376e2e/d9fa52a5d7ec4c03652572f00044105f?OpenDocument. Also personal conversation with family.
(21) See ‘Murder accused spilled the beans on Indian Mujahideenrecce’, TNN, 23 February 2013, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-02-23/hyderabad/3725665….
(22) Praveen Swami, 9 January 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/01/09/stories/2006010904441000.htm