Ishrat Jahan Case And India’s Encounters’ History From A Specialist’s Point 

Ishrat Jahan Case And India’s Encounters’ History From A Specialist’s Point Ishrat Jahan
Snapshot
  • Why exactly are counter-terror encounters important? A cop explains.

That Ishrat Jahan was a terrorist – or at the very least a terror accomplice – was never in doubt. It has come from the highest echelons of power that the Mumbra resident may have been providing cover for members of the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT).

Sometimes the only way to prevent a terror strike and protect society is through speedy elimination of would-be perpetrators – before the act is committed. This method is known as encounter killing and is hardly new to India. The media expressing outrage at Ishrat’s death was cheering from the sidelines in the 1970s when hundreds of Naxal terrorists were eliminated in West Bengal. Again, in the 1980s and 90s, the Punjab Police used similar tactics.

The secular media also seems to have developed a case of collective amnesia about the spectacular exploits of the Mumbai Police.

The modus operandi of encounters was explained to this writer in great detail by the late ACP Rajbir Singh of the Delhi Police. Rajbir eliminated more than 50 dreaded gangsters and terrorists before he was himself shot dead under suspicious circumstances.

During the 1980s, it looked like the national capital was on the fast track of joining Mumbai as a city with a well-organised underworld. Delhi was besieged by hardened criminals from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.

But the Delhi Police did not allow the city to become an appendage of the badlands of Uttar Pradesh. How did they achieve this? First up, in 1986 they created the Special Cell, which comprised their most daring men. They were not quite “The Untouchables”. That is, they had the licence to kill, but not with impunity.

KC Brahmachary, a former Delhi Administration officer, explains in ‘We And Our Administration’. “A few middle rung officers in the Delhi Police who hailed from western UP districts and were associated with the gangsters came to their rescue,” he writes. “They succeeded in securing their arrest in Delhi and a safe custody in Tihar Jail.”

During the 2000s, the Special Cell’s focus shifted to combating terror. On December 22, 2000, Pakistani national Mohammad Arif, a.k.a. Ashfaq, along with five other terrorists of the Pakistan-based LeT, sneaked into Delhi’s Red Fort and opened indiscriminate fire on the guards of Rajputana Rifles, killing two soldiers and a civilian.

What is less known about the mission is the six terrorists had come to raise the Pakistani flag on top of the Red Flag. (The presence of the Indian flag on the country’s largest fort, which was the seat of the Mughal Empire for two centuries, is deeply offensive to some Islamists of South Asia. After independence in 1947, some Muslims in Delhi were against replacing the British Union Jack with the Indian tricolour. They even wrote to Lahore’s Dawn newspaper that such an act must not be permitted.)

Rajbir cracked the case in less than 96 hours. His team shot dead one terrorist and captured Ashfaq.

A source who witnessed Ashfaq’s interrogation told this writer that the Pakistani appeared to be uncompromisingly fanatic. After hours of intense interrogation, he had only this to say to the police: “You are kafirs, you don’t scare me. I want you to shoot me dead so I can go to heaven and enjoy my rewards.”

Such are the terrorists that encounter specialists prefer to eliminate rather than book.

When Pakistani terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament in 2001, Commissioner of Police Ajay Raj Sharma asked Rajbir: “Can you solve the case?” He replied: “Give me 72 hours.” The commissioner’s job was on the line because of the serious security lapse. The attackers had been close to entering the Central Hall, and the entire political leadership, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was shaken up.

Even as Rajbir was assuring the commissioner, the Special Cell had made considerable headway – cell phones used by the terrorists were being tracked and the tipoffs provided by intelligence agencies were being followed up. The case was solved in 48 hours.

Inside the mind of a terrorist hunter

Today, secular and communist journalists call Rajbir – and other encounter specialists like him – a cold blooded assassin. But at the end of the day he got the job done. His bosses looked up to him, and the intelligence and investigative agencies came directly to him, instead of going through the Commissioner of Police.

Rajbir was also accused of trying to broker a real estate deal for a businessman. Here is what he told this writer: “Earlier, the Delhi Police used to conduct interrogations inside the Red Fort. But with the army taking over the fort, we need alternate places where we can hold and interrogate terrorists. Sometimes, we keep them for days at secret locations while we are chasing clues. One such location, a farmhouse, was provided rent-free by this businessman.”

Incredibly, the Delhi Police did not have a facility secure enough to hold and interrogate terrorists. Since the State did not provide them adequate crime fighting resources, the police had to accept such favours. “Sometimes we have to repay those favours,” said Rajbir.

There were also allegations that he was engaging in shady deals for his own gain. To this Rajbir said: “I hunt dangerous, highly connected and well-funded criminals and terrorists for a living. Seconds before I am about to drill a bullet through their head, these criminals would beg me to spare them. They usually tell me they are in a position to transfer crores of rupees into any account in any country if I let them go. I have never once accepted their offer.”

Importantly, before he eliminated terrorists or criminals, Rajbir provided sufficient evidence for the state and the judiciary to solve the case. Intelligence agencies would ask him to work out their cases. In his book ‘Dial D for Don’, former Commissioner of Police Neeraj Kumar has commended the work of encounter specialists at the Special Cell.

Getting the job done

Do we need encounter specialists to keep society safe? According to Rajbir, killing the bad guys is better than capturing them for “endless prosecution”.

Quoting a veteran criminal lawyer, Brahmachary illustrates: “In our courts a witness is treated more shabbily than a criminal. He is not offered any seat in the court, the public prosecutor ignores him, the court staff is rude to him and the judges have no time for niceties either. He is the only person who is left alone in an alien surrounding and at the end of the day he is told to come after a month, thank you. Do you think he will come again?”

At any rate, if every terrorist is caught, booked, prosecuted and then sent back home with good wishes, what message will it send to other wannabe terrorists? Allowing such people to live means condemning innocent, law abiding citizens to their deaths.

Leftists and those in NGO cuckoo land have an enduring aversion towards any and all kinds of security agencies, whether it is the Indian Army, BSF or police. But it is a fact that because officers of the Gujarat Police did their job, three terrorists – including Ishrat Jahan – were eliminated and innocent Indian lives saved.

In October 2005 – shortly after terrorists bombed Delhi, killing 62 innocent persons – this writer wrote a story about the role of encounter specialists in protecting the country. However, the resident editor of the Delhi-based newspaper refused to publish it, saying, “I know these encounter cops.”

The editor remains a communist to the core. He probably dislikes the very idea of India. However, he doesn’t mind living under the umbrella provided by the country’s security agencies. He and his family are able to sleep safely because there are policemen patrolling the city’s fog-bound streets at night.

The same newspaper published a news item recently about Afzal Guru’s son doing well at the board examinations. Guru was hanged for his role in the attack on Parliament. But last year the paper blacked out the news of Rajbir’s son Rohit Yadav cracking the UPSC exam and making it to the Indian Police Service. It seems the old media has a twisted way of looking at things: Terrorist = good. Encounter cop = bad.

Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based journalist and writes on defence and foreign affairs for Russia Beyond the Headlines, a global media project of Moscow-based Rossiyskaya Gazeta. He is on the advisory board of Europe-based Modern Diplomacy.


Rakesh’s articles on defence and foreign have been quoted extensively by a number of leading think tanks, universities and publications worldwide. He has been cited in books on counter terrorism and society in the global south.

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