Five years after it filed criminal charges against eight Hindu extremists who allegedly carried out the bombing of the Samjhauta Express in February 2007, the Government of India is yet to move the United Nations Security Council to amend sanctions documents assigning blame for the attack to Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Arif Qasmani, an investigation by The Indian Express has found.
The decision, sources said, was taken to avoid the embarrassment that would have been caused by admitting that dossiers prepared by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), and provided to Pakistan and the US in 2007, were based on a testimony investigators disproved.
In 2009, when Qasmani was sanctioned, the IB knew that the theory that Lashkar was responsible for the attack was legless. Yet, two successive governments chose not to make public the error, allowing lawyers for the accused to point to the UNSC sanctions as evidence for the alleged perpetrators.
The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson did not comment on the matter. Former Home Minister P Chidambaram said the matter of the UNSC listing of Qasmani “had not been brought to my attention” even as he monitored the Samjhauta prosecution.
In June 2009, the UNSC sanctioned Karachi-based Qasmani under Resolution 1267, dealing with al-Qaeda and affiliated terror entities. The Lashkar-affiliated terrorist, it said, had facilitated operations “including the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai, India, and the February 2007 Samjota (sic.) Express bombing in Panipat, India”.
“Between 2004 and 2005”, the UNSC summary of charges reads, “Qasmani provided al-Qaida with supplies and weapons and facilitated the movement of Al-Qaida leaders in and out of Afghanistan”.
“In return for Qasmani’s support, al-Qaida provided him with operatives to support the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai, India, and the February 2007 Samjota Express bombing.”
The UNSC sanctions were soon followed by a statement from the US Treasury Department, also sanctioning Qasmani. The language of the Treasury Department press release is identical to that of the UNSC summary, down to the misspelling of “Samjota”.
In September 2010, when the Samjhauta investigation was handed over to the NIA, officers wrote to Haryana Police — which until then had charge of the probe — seeking information on Qasmani. The Haryana Police’s case diaries did not even contain Qasmani’s name. This was, one investigator told The Indian Express, “a major red flag”.
NIA authorities then wrote to the IB and Research and Analysis Wing in October, again seeking intelligence on Qasmani. The letters got no response. It wasn’t until 2011, a note recording an informal meeting between the NIA probe team and FBI officials states, that some clarity emerged. The FBI, the note records, said the Treasury Department’s statement on Qasmani’s guilt was based on a classified dossier provided by India, not US intelligence.
The dossier was shared with Pakistan, diplomatic sources said, in June 2008, at a meeting of the now-defunct Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism, and passed on to the US. India’s intelligence on Qasmani’s purported involvement, routed into the dossier through the IB, had begun when the Gujarat Police probed SIMI leader Safdar Nagori. Nagori, under induced hypnosis, said the attack had been carried out by his friend Abdul Razzak Masood. Hyderabad-based Razzak, though, had been in prison since August 2005, deported from Iran. During his interrogation, Razzak first brought Qasmani to the attention of the IB, identifying him as a Lashkar financier.
Though Madhya Pradesh and Haryana Police questioned Razzak on the Samjhata case, they found no evidence of his involvement. Razzak was released on bail in 2009, when the UNSC documents sanctioning Qasmani on the basis of his own custodial revelations were being prepared. He passed away in 2012.
Barred by courts in the US and Europe, narcoanalysis has been known to an unreliable tool. Indian police officers were also sceptical of it: in one paper, Andhra Pradesh’s M Sivananda Reddy pointed to a “baffling mixture of truth and fantasy in drug-induced output” in many cases.
“We had nothing but the word of one man shot up to the gills on sodium pentathol on the Samjhauta case,” recalled a senior NIA officer, “we took it all the way to UNSC.”