The deposition of American-Pakistani terrorist David Headley that Ishrat Jahan, who had been killed by the Gujarat Police, was a suicide bomber of the Lashkar-e-Taiba is startling. But it still leaves unresolved the issue of fake encounter killing, which the Gujarat Police have been accused of. The facts of the case are these. In June 2004, an Ahmedabad police team headed by deputy commissioner DG Vanzara, who was until recently behind bars as a prime accused in another fake encounter case, had killed Mumbai-based Ishrat and three others on suspicion that they had hatched a plot to kill Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat. In September 2009, then Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate SP Tamang had termed the encounter fake, basing his judgment on forensic and medical reports. The magistrate had recommended criminal action against 22 policemen including Vanzara. In September 2010, the Gujarat High Court had constituted a special investigation team (SIT) to investigate the case. In January 2011, Satish Verma, an IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre and an SIT member, had filed an affidavit stating that the encounter was not genuine. He also accused two other members of his team of not allowing a probe to be conducted in an unbiased manner. Another SIT, headed by Rajiv Ranjan Verma, a Bihar cadre IPS officer, told the court that the encounter was staged. However, the CBI, which took over the case later, had said two persons who were killed along with Ishrat had links with Kashmir secessionist groups.
It is commonly known that the police have to follow a standard operating procedure in handling criminals, including terrorists. If Ishrat Jahan and the three others were terrorists (it is not clearly known if they were travelling together), it would have been much more profitable for the police had they been arrested. And it was not difficult to nab them because they were, by all accounts, unarmed. And killing them, except in accordance with the procedure established by law, is unacceptable in a democracy. In Gujarat the police have acquired a bad reputation in this respect because there have been allegations of quite a number of fake-encounter killings and in at least one case the state government had admitted to it.
Still David Headley’s account has to be taken seriously because this is something the Central government and the whole nation had been waiting for. His testimony can be used to put pressure on Pakistan to act. But it has not been judicially established whether Ishrat had terrorist links. This piece of evidence could provide a start for that line of investigation.