Shinde’s explanation rings hollow, Congress can’t hide truth about Ishrat

Shinde's explanation rings hollow, Congress can't hide truth about Ishrat Jahan

Yesterday afternoon, several reporters asked Union Minister for Home Affairs Sushil Kumar Shinde on why an NIA note (or an excerpt from a report) on the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba agent David Headley mentioning Ishrat Jahan was not being released or confirmed by his Ministry. Shinde avoided commenting on Ishrat’s terror links giving an excuse which holds little water.

Before Shinde’s explanation is examined, it is useful to understand the reason why it was sought by the media. Apparently, an NIA note/report (NIA UO No. 4/2009/NIA/16104) dated 13/10/2010 contains a Paragraph 168 wherein Headley mentions that Ishrat Jahan was one of Muzzammil’s “botched up” operations. This has been circulating in the media for a few weeks now. The writer has previously written a column explaining this.

In response to questions seeking clarification on what exactly Headley said about Ishrat, Shinde said (originally in Hindi) that: (a) he did not have any report with him; (b) whatever Headley may have said, that would have been said to the FBI; (c) there is an agreement between the FBI and our police (i.e. NIA) to not disclose anything.

The reason why this explanation rings hollow, and looks like a rather lame excuse, is that a version of the NIA interrogation report of October 2010 along with Headley’s 175-paragraph statement explaining his association with the LeT is already in the public domain. There are at least two portals where one can find the report and Headley’s statement.

One is The Investigative Project on Terrorism, a US-based non-profit research group founded by an eminent consultant, where a scanned copy of the entire NIA report has been uploaded. Readers interested in examining that report may click here. The other portal, closer to home, is IBNLive. Readers may click here. In fact, this report was made available to the media.

This report, though, does not contain any reference to Ishrat Jahan. It seems increasingly clear now that the version made public is a ‘sanitised’ one which removed references to Ishrat on the pretext that they were in the nature of ‘second hand information’ and ‘hearsay’. Strangely, though, the report made public has several instances of ‘second hand information’ and ‘hearsay’ as pointed out by this writer.

Now, Headley has never been in the custody of Indian investigating agencies. The NIA interrogated him in the US in 2010 after the US Department of Justice permitted it to do so. More importantly, Headley has never been probed by the NIA alone. As the NIA report states in the beginning, NIA probed him for a total of 34 hours in the presence of FBI prosecutors and FBI officials.

Therefore, if Shinde is trying to say that anything said by Headley in the presence of FBI is subject to the non-disclosure ‘agreement’ between the FBI and NIA, that ‘agreement’ has all but lost its efficacy given that Headley’s statement is very much in the public domain.

Moreover, much has been made of former Home Secretary GK Pillai’s volte-face of sorts where he appears as giving Ishrat the “benefit of doubt” despite making vehement assertions on her LeT links two years ago. Lost in this “U-turn” is a critical concession later on in the report where he says that FBI did provide MHA with an input that Headley had mentioned about Ishrat.

Did Headley talk about Ishrat to FBI alone? It isn’t entirely clear why Headley would talk about Ishrat to FBI and not NIA. Moreover, if one carefully examines Paragraph 168 that has been circulating around, it starts with “on being asked about Ishrat Jahan”. This implies that the interrogators asked Headley about Ishrat Jahan pursuant to which he gave information.

If this implies that FBI asked Headley about Ishrat, one wonders why. And, if FBI actually did ask, does it mean that even the FBI thought Headley might know about Ishrat? A US investigating agency questioning an LeT agent about Ishrat is either unfathomable or revealing – either way, it is extremely significant.

If, on the other hand, the NIA asked Headley about Ishrat, why is that information being withheld when 175 paragraphs uttered by Headley are already in the public domain?

It is becoming increasingly clear that Shinde and, possibly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are concealing vital information about Headley’s reference of Ishrat under some or the other pretext. Shinde, Singh and the Congress core group have reportedly seen, and perhaps discussed, this NIA note. It is rather obvious that any concession from these individuals on Headley’s reference to Ishrat would be a political risk Congress cannot afford at this stage.

Secondly, it is useful to remember that the MHA, led by P Chidambaram, had hurriedly rushed a ‘further’ affidavit in proceedings before the Gujarat High Court which sought to dilute the sensation created by its first affidavit. Did Chidambaram, the then Home Minister, have any role in ‘sanitising’ the NIA report of which he would have first access?

This has only muddied the waters further giving rise to some crucial questions, the answers to which might be even more difficult to obtain.

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Kartikeya Tanna

Kartikeya is a lawyer qualified and practising in India and the State of New York. He writes commentary on current affairs, particularly on developments in the legal field.