Without a doubt, the arrest in Kashmir of Deputy Superintendent of Police Davinder Singh as he was escorting two suspected militants in a car along the Srinagar-Jammu highway, en route to Delhi, has to be one of the biggest stories on the national security front in months, if not years. And as the man who advises the prime minister on national security, Ajit Doval, I am sure, has been thinking of nothing else in the past 48 hours
Singh was arrested on Saturday with Naveed Baba and Altaf of the Hizbul Mujahideen. The fourth person in their car was a lawyer of sorts, whom the Jammu and Kashmir Police are describing as an OGW, or overground worker of the militants. The police say they also recovered weapons from the car; subsequently, they raided various premises linked to Singh and made further recoveries or arms.
In a press conference on Sunday, the inspector general of police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, said Davinder Singh was being treated like any other terrorist and would be booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Now, there is talk of the National Investigation Agency – which is the Centre’s primary anti-terrorism wing – taking over the investigation.
The reason I believe Davinder Singh’s arrest is a really big deal is because there are no benign explanations for his presence in a car with wanted terrorists.
Something rotten has just been exposed to the harsh glare of the winter sun – of that there is no doubt – and the only question on everyone’s mind is just how deep this malignancy runs.
In an undated letter to one of his lawyers written while he was in Tihar Jail, Afzal spoke about how Davinder Singh and another officer, DSP Vinay Gupta had tortured him at the STF camp in Hamhumma near Srinagar. At the time, he ended up giving them Rs 80,000 and his scooter. But at some point late in 2001, he had another meeting with Davinder, a meeting which, if he was telling the truth, ended up costing his life. This is what Afzal wrote:
“D.S. told me that I had to do a small job for him that has to took one man to Delhi as I was well aware about Delhi and has to manage a rented house for him. Since I was not knowing the man but I suspected that this man is not Kashmiri as he did not speak in Kashmiri but I was helpless to do what Davinder told me. I took him to Delhi. One day he told me that he want to purchase a car. Thus I went with him to Karol Bagh. He purchased the car. Then in Delhi he used to meet different persons and both of us he, Mohammad, and me used to get the different phone calls from Davinder Singh.”
The ‘Mohammad’ whom Afzal said Davinder had asked him to take to Delhi ended up being one of the five terrorists who shot their way into the parliament precincts on December 13, 2001, killing nine people before being gunned down.
A probe that was never done
Now, we have no way of judging the veracity of what Afzal wrote and I dare say there is no reason to believe what a condemned man will say in an attempt to save his own life. The judge who convicted Afzal now insists that even if this allegation is true, it would not have changed the verdict he handed down. But serious intelligence agencies are not supposed to work that way. Israel’s Mossad, for example, follows the ‘tenth man strategy’ – if nine people in the agency believe a particular story, it’s the duty of the tenth to try and disprove it. Now, the STF in Kashmir was notorious for being corrupt and someone in the Indian intelligence community ought to have sat up and said, “Hang on a minute, Afzal has said something awful about Davinder Singh. We need to check it out!”
Sadly, no one did anything. Could it be because of the usual Indian inefficiency and inertia? But then we are talking about the most spectacular terrorist incident to have taken place in the capital city! Surely the system would not have been so casual.
So could it be because the STF was seen as operating on the frontlines of the fight against terrorism in Kashmir and pointing a finger at a DSP or even asking questions would have ended up ‘demoralising’ the good men in uniform? Perhaps.
Or could it be that the intelligence and security brass knew Davinder had not acted alone and for a few rupees – that he was part of some wider operation which obviously went horribly wrong and needed to be covered up? I’m not talking about what is called a “false flag operation” – I find the idea that Indian agencies staged the parliament attack utterly implausible – but something quite different. We know that intelligence agencies around the world infiltrate terrorist groups and sometimes even lure them into what they hope will be a trap. But a game that the agencies play can, and is, also played by the terrorists, and what was meant to be a trap can end up hitting the wrong target. At which time, the preferred strategy is to batten down the hatches and pretend nothing went wrong.
Flawed war against terror
The fact is that we simply don’t know why Afzal’s allegation against Davinder was never investigated. What we do know is that the failure to investigate his charge was a lost opportunity to see if there were others also involved in the plot, other weaknesses in the system. And this is no way the fight against terror can ever be won.