After I met Yakub Memon at the CBI headquarters in Delhi shortly after his formal arrest in August 1994, I got an unusual break as a journalist. The senior police officer who introduced me to Yakub gave me a piece of paper with some Karachi addresses written on it. “Can you get them photographed,” he asked.
I had visited Karachi a few times, and I could see that all the addresses were from upmarket residential areas. I was told that two of the addresses were the homes of the most wanted men in India — Dawood Ibrahim and Mushtaq “Tiger” Memon, the chief executor of the horrific March 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai. The third address was of Karachi-based smuggler Taufiq Jallianwala who, the CBI had discovered thanks to Yakub, was the key link between Pakistan’s ISI agency and the Mumbai bombings.
Since I was working on a follow-up report for India Today on Yakub’s sudden and mysterious return to India from Pakistan, I immediately put an intrepid Pathan photographer in Karachi on the job. The pictures arrived a few days later, and the photographer confirmed that the grand bungalows indeed belonged to those notorious characters. All the photos were published in India Today. The senior CBI officer was so excited by this journalistic coup that he showed up at my house early one morning. And then I got to hear the full story.
Yakub Memon had decamped from the Memons’ plush sanctuary in Karachi with a cache of material that exposed the close relationship between the ISI and his older brother Tiger. He had flown to Nepal with the intention of crossing the border and assisting Indian authorities in exposing the heinous bomb conspiracy. But what Yakub had done seemed too good to be true. Was his return another devious conspiracy by the ISI? Was the Pakistani spy agency laying a trap for Indian investigators? CBI sleuths desperately needed to confirm at least one crucial piece of material evidence Yakub had brought along in order to believe his story. The plucky Pathan photographer had done just that. My CBI source was understandably elated.
How has it come about that a man like Yakub, who provided critical assistance to Indian investigators to nail the ISI for the first time ever in the long-running proxy war against India, is going to hang on Thursday morning in Nagpur jail?
When an individual betrays your trust, you have the option of a legal remedy. But when a state displays bad faith, what do you do? The legal dictionary defines “bad faith” as “the fraudulent deception of another person; the intentional or malicious refusal to perform some duty or contractual obligation”. This is exactly what Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s government can be accused of for what it did to Yakub and the other Memons who surrendered to the CBI on his initiative, convinced they would get justice in India.
The CBI showed me the video Yakub had shot, at great personal risk, of the bungalows, including extensive shots of the inside of the mansion given to Tiger by the ISI. I also heard an audio recording made by Yakub of conversations between Tiger and his associates. Yakub also provided detailed and authentic information on how the ISI had chaperoned the Memons, first in Karachi, then for a while in Bangkok, then back in Karachi, and the identity of the Pakistani army officer who acted as their minder.
But here’s the rub. “All the invaluable material Yakub provided us was produced during the trial,” a CBI officer recalled. “But it was interpreted in court as proof that all the Memons — and not just Tiger — were hiding from Indian authorities with the ISI’s help. The evidence that should have helped the Memons was read against them.” The reason was political. By the time the trial started a jittery Rao government was mortally scared of accusations that it had gone “soft on terrorists”.
The irony is that after Yakub’s return, not just CBI officers but even top Indian diplomats based in Dubai and Delhi had helped get the rest of the Memons safely back to India. Yet the top-level clampdown meant that none of these officials could testify in court. Overnight, the Memons were dog meat.
But truth has a way of revealing itself. Quite unexpectedly, the highly respected intelligence officer B. Raman, who had organised the logistics for Yakub’s return, broke the official omerta, albeit from his grave. Following Raman’s plea that Yakub should not hang as he had assisted the Mumbai bombings investigation, retired Justice H.S. Bedi has suggested that the Supreme Court take suo motu notice of Raman’s revelations and ask a trial court to re-examine the evidence. The evidence is already part of the legal record. A judge only needs to reassess it with the help of all the officials who played key roles in l’affaire Memon. But the officials will testify honestly only if they get an amnesty from the charge of contempt of court. For, as he admitted, the fear of contempt was one important reason why Raman did not publish his article against Yakub’s death sentence during his lifetime.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist