The victims of the 1993 terror attack in Mumbai have found closure in Yakub Memon's hanging. But the case that recaptured national attention 22-years down the line, opens another debate on its impact on the credibility of our security-intelligence establishment.
Statecraft is not innocent of dirty tricks. Neither is politics that's expedient the world over. But it's the word of honour that works when spies defect or foreign-controlled saboteurs turn approvers. That's what brings us to the reported pact between Yakub and our deep-state that assured him a fair deal in return of the help he extended to our snoops in tracing back the serial blasts to Pakistan.
Ex-RAW operative B Raman's article carried posthumously by a popular website is at the root of the discourse that wouldn't end anytime soon. If an assurance of protection (meaning immunity from death) was indeed given to Yakub, it's gallows as much for the image of our undercover infantry that, like their peers elsewhere, can't be hamstrung by the niceties of law.
Read: 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon hanged at Nagpur jail
"There's no legal way of collecting intelligence abroad," a top RAW official had told Morarji Desai when he, as PM in the 1970s, questioned the legality of the external intelligence agency's offshore operations. Raman ostensibly was guided by foremost national interests when he induced Yakub into helping our agencies unravel the plot that caused Mumbai 1993 blasts that marked the arrival of urban terror in India.
After all, wasn't Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant Salauddin helped in securing entry in a medical college for his son, by former RAW chief AS Dulat while he did his term in Srinagar? To a lay person, the very proposition may seem outrageous. But that's how assets are developed in the shadowy world of espionage.
"The power an intelligence operative derives is from the faith reposed in him by the government," remarked an old IB hand who played a key role at the height of the Khalistan movement in Punjab. "Why do you think the IB is so powerful in Kashmir and the North-East," he asked. "Its field officers develop contacts for myriad operations including preparing ground for talks with insurgents..."
In the furiously partisan debate on whether or not to hang Yakub in the backdrop of Raman's disclosures, those who opposed mercy for the man -- described by the court as the archer of the arrows planted -- questioned Raman's failure to stand up during the trial of the since hanged convict?
Well, the plain answer to that is that such tales remain untold. Why the Yaqub story is out in the public domain could have been best explained by Raman. A reasonable conjecture could be that he penned his piece for posterity to safeguard against any repeat of such self-defeating play of events.
Had Raman made the disclosure in his lifetime, his action would have met the kind of outrage Dulat's book has triggered in certain circles. The rule of the game is to never own up spies; or leave approvers and defecting foreign agents out on a limb.
Quite illustrative of that oath of Omertà is the ISI's protection-patronage of Dawood Ibrahim, not to mention the veil of secrecy America has thrown on David Hadley's escapades with the ISI. He played a terror scout and spy for the Pakistani agency while being an informant of the US drug enforcement agency.
The hanging thus begs the question: Has death for Yakub strengthened or weakened our ability to nurture intelligence assets at home and abroad? For experience across countries rates human intelligence more actionable than information gathered through other means.