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‘The ISI controlled,coordinated 26/11 attacks from beginning to end’

G K Pillai took over as Home Secretary in difficult times,months after the Mumbai attacks.

Written by The Indian Express | New Delhi |
July 17, 2010 8:03:04 am

G K Pillai took over as Home Secretary in difficult times,months after the Mumbai attacks. He has had his hands full ever since: following the 26/11 trail to Pakistan,dealing with Naxal attacks and monitoring the situation in J&K. In this Idea Exchange moderated by Ritu Sarin,Editor,Investigations,Pillai speaks about Headley’s ‘Bombay Project’ and the ‘Naxal-activists’ link

Ritu Sarin: Does the government consider calling out the army in J&K a huge setback? Also,the lack of equipment and training of the CRPF was highlighted both in J&K and in the recent Naxal attacks. What are you doing about it?

The message that I took to Srinagar during my visit was that the paramilitary forces and the state police must act,even though they have their own problems. They need to implement a curfew,if they have imposed one. You can’t have a curfew and then allow it to be broken. In Chhattisgarh,I am quite optimistic. It will take about 3-7 years to build up the forces. We are short of forces there even though Chhattisgarh is one of the states that has doubled its forces in the last five years. But it is still not enough. For example,I found that despite deploying five battalions of the BSF in the state’s Kanker district,a 400-sq-km stretch on the southern-most tip of the district is a no man’s land and has no forces. We have problems in other districts like Bijapur and Dantewada. In Kanker,ever since the battalions came in,there has been road movement,the PDS has been functioning and contractors are willing to take tenders because they are feeling confident. This is the kind of work we are doing,but it will take about 3-7 years.

Ritu Sarin: What is the the confidence level of the local people in the J&K government and the Chief Minister in particular? Is there a credibility crisis?

It is very difficult for me to say because unlike in many other states,the Home Ministry hasn’t gone down to the people there. In the north-eastern states,the Home Ministry has held many development seminars. You need to reach out to the people—not only in Srinagar,but in other districts too. If you concentrate everything in Srinagar,people in other districts have to go to Srinagar for everything. Today,if there is something wrong with the primary health care centre,one has to go to Srinagar and meet the health minister. So giving the power to people at the local level is critical.

Maneesh Chhibber: What is your view on the PDP boycotting the all-party meeting on J&K?

I think the PDP is quite a frustrated party. They have yet to come to grips with the fact that they have lost political power in a democracy and are now in the Opposition. There has to be constructive opposition—it’s not only about being in power. That frustration is what is being demonstrated.

Amitabh Sinha: On the Naxal front,the civil society is agitated about the kind of aggressiveness coming from the Centre and the Home Ministry in particular. They say this aggression has led to the Naxal attacks being more vicious.

I don’t think we were aggressive in that sense. We wanted to say that this is a serious problem. Many people do not realise that the Maoist problem is something that has been built up systematically over 10-15 years. Tackling it is still not on the radar of many political parties. There is only so much that the administration can do but you have to have political activity on the ground,which is not happening. What the Maoists are doing is terrorism. You have seen that happen in Visakhapatnam—gram panchayat presidents are being forced to resign. The same is happening in Orissa. This year alone,they have killed around 358 civilians,80 per cent of them allegedly police informers. Anybody who raises a voice against the Maoists gets killed. That’s what we need to worry about. I went to a village in Kanker which was called a ‘liberated’ area till the BSF occupied it this year and put up a company post. Six months down the line,the villagers are happy with the camps set up. We will consolidate the area,provide roads,schools,mobile ambulances and then move to the next area. Earlier,we used to clear out an area and leave after seven days for the Maoists to come back. Only if you stay for a few years and assure them that you will not leave,will the local population support you.

Amitabh Sinha: Has the recent spate of Naxalite attacks forced the Centre to have a relook at its operational strategy?

There hasn’t been much change. The casualties have been in Dantewada and Narayanpur. These are not the areas where I moved the forces in last year. We haven’t been able to tie-in these areas but the areas where we have moved in,like Kanker and Rajnandgaon,are being consolidated and people are setting up infrastructure. People who went to Dantewada after the massacre said that the troops there were still living in primitive conditions with no toilets or even water. There is still some confusion on whether the state or the Centre should improve conditions. The normal practice is that when a state requisitions the CRPF,they provide the land,money and infrastructure. Now we realise that if we rely on the states,we have to wait for years because they don’t have the money either.

Unni Rajen Shanker: Is there an operational or coordination problem with the states fighting Naxalism,particularly in Chhattisgarh? When the last attack took place,the state DGP said that they can’t teach the CRPF how to walk. Then,the state police issued a press release saying that the mastermind behind the attack on a Congress leader in Dantewada is in Delhi. Instead of issuing a press release,shouldn’t he have been picked up?

The state police have a lot to learn about media management. If there is a mastermind,you do not leak the information in a press release because then the ‘mastermind’ goes underground. This is what I call ‘non professionalism’ on the part of the police. They have to learn to protect a scene of crime and keep the evidence intact. That training (of police forces) is so critical is yet to be realised. It has been a decade since Jharkhand was formed out of Bihar,but Bihar does not have a police training college because the police training college at Hazaribagh went to Jharkhand. That shows the level of attention and priority given to police training!

Unni Rajen Shanker: You are up against people who are organised,have a very clear command structure,and a good intelligence mechanism. How do you tackle this?

If I am a DGP in one of these areas and I have 50,000 policemen and am short of people,I keep howling and eventually I get five battalions. Instead of using them as an arm for offensive operations,I set up a CRPF camp at these police stations and use them instead of recruiting more people. In areas like Dantewada,the CRPF has not been used as a force supplement. In the last four years in Dantewada,they were made to sit there at the camp just to show state presence. We are now challenging the state government since the area where the attack took place is still a dirt track. It is only now,after our pressure,that they are calling in tenders. Changing mindsets and training takes time.

C Rajamohan: What is your long-term plan for generating resources,dealing with federal issues and creating a credible police force to man this country?

The long-term plan is to recruit people. Last year,36,000 constables were successfully recruited in UP. It was absolutely flawless and none of them had to pay a rupee to get in. Many states have paid lip service to police reforms but we now have to see that they actually implement them.

Shubhajit Roy: You visited Pakistan recently. What is your assessment of the 26/11 trial there?

We have given a series of data to Pakistan and it is up to them to conduct investigations within Pakistan. We have given them the names,the descriptions (of the attackers and their handlers),we have given them their height,their complexion…we have given them voice samples. We are asking them to identify and verify the persons in the samples and if not,give them to us. Their Interior Minister has said,‘You won’t be disappointed by our response’. All we can do is wait and watch. The main concern is that you need time to stabilise Indo-Pak relations. If there is another major attack,in the same form as 26/11,I don’t think we will be in a position to continue any form of dialogue further. So you need time to build trust and to move forward.

Coomi Kapoor: We are charmed by the fact that you are such a forthcoming IAS officer. Why is it that your colleagues do not want to give out information which should be in the public domain?

I think they are being cautious,they are worried about what comes in the media. I need to put across the policies and the programmes as well as the difficulties of running the Home Ministry because people need to know.

Ritu Sarin: Do we have evidence that activists are involved in Naxal violence? If so,what is the nature of evidence?

Nobody minds activists raising any issue related to the drawback or misuse of any government programme,like mining or tribal rights. We are not concerned by that kind of activism. We are concerned about whether the activists are getting used by the Maoists. As an example,if I tap a Maoist cadre’s telephone and I hear him telling an activist,‘Tomorrow,go and do this and then put out a press release’,and the activist goes and does that,I would be concerned because the CPI(Maoist) is a banned organisation. I think whether you are an activist or not,you can’t be a ‘mouthpiece’ or be exploited by them.

Shekhar Gupta: Have you seen instances of this?

Yes,we have some telephone intercepts. And we are not intercepting the telephones of activists but those of Maoists. Members of the Maoist central committee are in touch with activists and we hear them telling the activists,‘Hold this rally against Operation Greenhunt’. If activists want to do it on their own,it’s fine,but not at the instigation of the CPI(Maoist). The body of evidence is slowly building up on this aspect (of links with activists).

Ritu Sarin: What were the spin-off benefits of the five-day interrogation of David Headley?

Headley was very cooperative. He talked a lot and we also got a bit of gossip from him. The real sense we got is of the significant role that the ISI played (in the 26/11 attacks). It was not just a peripheral role; they were literally controlling and coordinating it from the beginning to the end. The same goes for Hafiz Saeed. He was not a peripheral player. He knew everything. For example,when Headley had a difference with his wife,she went and complained to Saeed. She said,‘This guy is neglecting me’. Headley told Saeed that if I spend more time with her,the ‘Bombay project’ will suffer. Saeed said,‘Nothing doing,your wife can wait,the Bombay project is more important’. So that’s the kind of relationship and knowledge he had about the ‘Bombay project’.

Ritu Sarin: Our body of evidence against Hafiz Saeed was weak compared to that for other 26/11 accused. Has the Headley confession added to that?

The rest of the investigation on Hafiz Saeed has to be done in Pakistan. We have evidence from Kasab and others who say that he came here. Let Pakistan say that on such and such day,Hafiz Saeed was in Islamabad,not in India.

Nistula Hebbar: In the last one-and-half years,we have heard about Hindu terror. How seriously is the Home Ministry taking this?

This is a matter of concern,this is the last thing we want. We are taking up investigations wherever there are links. In Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat,there are cases. In one case,we have written to the Madhya Pradesh government since they have closed the case. We have asked them to give it to the CBI. So we are concerned.

DK Singh: The Army chief has said that much of what is happening in Kashmir today is because we have failed to build on what the security forces had done there. Do you agree?

I think an effort was made at all levels to push the political process forward. The talks were moving in a particular direction,but the people involved in the dialogue came under pressure from people in Pakistan. And then,(moderate Hurriyat leader) Fazal Haq Qureshi was shot (in December 2009),and they just backed away from the talks. You’ve got a political vacuum. The separatists are responsible for the vacuum. You can’t not talk to India but talk to Pakistan,and expect the problem to be solved.

Amitabh Sinha: Is there a unified view in the government on the use of the army in Naxal areas?

As of now,a decision has been taken in the Cabinet Committee on Security that the army will not be deployed. The helicopters are available for deployments. We are not using them for an offensive role but for moving armed troops and for evacuations.

Pranab Dhal Samanta: The CRPF has taking a battering. Their morale is low,they are losing men,questions of leadership have come up. What needs to be done?

The first is,training in jungle warfare. What the forces do in J&K and North East is totally different from election duty or a lathi-charge. They have not been trained for what they must do if something goes wrong. If you are ambushed,you have to fire and move on,not take positions. You have to be mobile. The CRPF has learned it the hard way.

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