NEW DELHI: It was a betrayal by the then UPA government that weighs heavily on the minds of intelligence officials when, in 2013, their spy career was jeopardised by politics of reprisal in the Ishrat Jahan encounter controversy. Two agencies — the CBI and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) were pitted against each other by the Manmohan Singh government, which led to a witchhunt that identified the names of the agents, and had larger consequences on covert intelligence gathering and risked the safety of undercover spies who had penetrated terror cells functioning inside the country.
On Thursday, LeT operative David Headley gave a statement that he had earlier told the FBI that Ishrat Jahan was Lashkar’s suicide bomber. This is what then IB Chief Asif Ibrahim had informed the CBI in February 2013, when the investigative agency wanted to grill intelligence officials, alleging that they had carried out a joint operation to kidnap and kill four persons, including Ishrat in a fake encounter.
“What Headley said today is already in government files. There is an FBI input based on Headley’s disclosure in 2009 to suggest that Ishrat Jahan was a LeT module but that was ignored for reasons now becoming quite apparent. Despite the best of efforts by our seniors, the government was adamant to crucify us,” a serving intelligence official told Express.
Initially, they had no clue why the government was hell bent on prosecuting them for doing a fair job but the feeling of being abandoned and punished had forced them to snap communication channels with security agencies, bringing the process of dissemination of top secret actionable intelligence to a grinding halt on June 13, 2013.
The CBI had charged intelligence officer Rajinder Kumar, P Mittal, M K Sinha and Rajiv Wankhede, alleging that accused officials of Gujarat Police and others were instrumental in securing the illegal custody of the four persons — Ishrat Jahan, Amjad Ali, Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Sheikh and Zeeshan Johar — who were subsequently abducted and later killed in a fake encounter.
The IB Chief had denied the CBI’s charges arguing that being a covert organisation, IB doesn’t participate in any operation. “Disclosures made by David Headley to the FBI mention Ishrat Jahan being a female suicide bomber of LeT recruited by Muzammil, Pak-based LeT commander responsible for terrorist action in hinterland India. David Headley, a US national of Pak origin, arrested by FBI of US in September 2009 for his terrorist activities, has disclosed to FBI which were later communicated to IB,” the IB Chief had written to the CBI in 2013.
“When Zaki (Zaki-ur-Rahman, LeT military Commander) introduced Muzammil to Headley, he talked about Muzammil’s accomplishments. Zaki told Headley about a female suicide bomber named Ishrat Jahan, who was recruited by Muzammil. Jahan was killed by the Indian police during the attack. Zaki mentioned Muzammil’s plans to attack Akshar Dham temple, Somnath and Siddhi Temple. These attacks were revenge for the 1988 attack on the mosque in Yuppe (UP),” he had said.
Not just spies, a former Home Ministry officer, RVS Mani, too had claimed harassment from the UPA government. He said IPS officer Satish Verma, who was handling the SIT probe into the Ishrat case was trying to implicate intelligence officials. “Mr Verma (IG, SIT) dictated a note indicating that two IB persons came to the room of Director (IS) with a draft affidavit which was put up for approval and, after approval, filed on June 6, 2009. Thereafter, since said affidavit was misinterpreted by the Government of Gujarat, on orders from the Home Minister, another affidavit was drafted in the room of JS (IS) with representatives from Ministry of Law, IB etc and the same was filed on Sep 29, 2009. I refused to sign the statement,” Mani had said, adding “signing would be tantamount to falsely indicting my seniors”.