The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has asked the Union home ministry to take disciplinary action against officers of the Delhi Police Special Cell who implicated and arrested Liyaqat Shah, a Kashmiri, in March 2013 — for allegedly being a Hizbul Mujahideen militant who was returning from Pakistan to plan attacks in Delhi to avenge the hanging of Afzal Guru. In a charge-sheet filed in a special court, the NIA countered Delhi Police’s portrayal of Mr Shah as a terrorist, cleared all charges against him and said further investigations are on to unravel the ‘conspiracy’ to implicate Mr Shah.
The NIA account of the case is particularly disturbing, as it highlights the vulnerability of Kashmiris, and likely other marginal groups, in the face of a security machinery that contains personnel who pick up innocents and plant evidence to contrive a plausible narrative in the interest of claiming counter-terrorism success. In Mr Shah’s case, the special cell used an informer, now wanted in the case, to plant arms and ammunition on the former prior to the arrest. The Delhi Police argues that the NIA did not consider evidence that it submitted to the agency, which just goes to highlight the poor levels of inter-agency coordination in terror-related cases. The framing of Mr Shah has wider political effects. A former militant based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Mr Shah was returning via Nepal to avail of the J-K government’s rehabilitation policy that seeks to re-integrate those who do not have serious charges against them. Mr Shah’s arrest on false charges will have served to discourage others planning to return, thus scuttling a policy that J&K politicians see as important to rebuild trust in state structures.
The Liyaqat Shah case highlights the practice of wrongful arrests by the police, that irretrievably scar thousands of innocent lives that we rarely get to hear about. According to official figures, 3,963 cases of unlawful detention were reported from 2011 till last July. In the same period, 2,532 cases of illegal arrests were reported against the police, of which 405 were pending. Civil liberties activists suspect the number to be much higher, which is unconscionable. The NIA has done well to pursue the case but the accused so far are mostly from the constabulary; the agency must not desist from prosecuting senior policemen if they were involved in the case. Targeting rogue elements in security agencies is important to lend greater credibility to the establishment’s narrative about terror threats that India faces. It will also be a crucial confidence-building measure for India’s minorities and marginal groups, who often face the brunt of everyday police pressure.