Time to Internationalize Samjhauta Express case
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on March 22 called for formulation of laws by the United Nations to tackle rising cases of Islamophobia in an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) in Istanbul. He also suggested that the listing of UN-designated terror groups be expanded to include extremist organisations of other religions. Foreign Secretary briefed the Islamabad Diplomatic Corps on the historic injustice done to the forty-four Pakistanis killed in the Samjhauta Express terrorist attack in 2007 in India, with the acquittal of all four perpetrators, including Swami Aseemanand, the mastermind of the heinous attacks and an activist of the Hindu terrorist organization, RSS.
A Special National Investigation Agency (NIA) Court in India’s Haryana state acquitted four individuals on March 20. Foreign Secretary stressed that the NIA itself had earlier charge-sheeted the perpetrators. Around 224 witnesses of the total 299 testified before the court. Indian media reported extensively about the connection between the Samjhauta Terrorist Attacks and Hindu extremists, including Lieutenant Colonel Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur who were subsequently arrested in October 2008, including for provision of (Research department explosive (RDX). On 18 December 2010, Swami Aseemanand publicly confessed before the New Delhi court that Hindu terror outfits were behind the blasts. Foreign Secretary stressed that despite repeated requests by Pakistan for a fair trial and expeditiously bringing the perpetrators to justice, after a lapse of more than 11 years. Nearly 70 people were killed in the train blasts, which took place near Panipat in Haryana on February 18, 2007.
Pakistan registered a strong demarche with the Indian High Commissioner on 20 March 2019 against the acquittal. This acquittal is also reflective of the Indian state policy of promoting and protecting terrorists. This state patronage of extremist Hindutva ideology is not only detrimental to the lives and liberty of all minorities in India, but also dangerous for peace and security in the region. Foreign Secretary urged all fair minded people to call upon India to explore all judicial remedies to ensure that the terrorists are brought to justice.
Pakistan had consistently raised lack of progress and concerted attempts by India to exonerate the perpetrators of this heinous terrorist act. Matter was raised repeatedly, including at the side-lines of the senior officials, during Heart of Asia Meeting in 2016. Formal demarches were also lodged regularly with India on the lack of progress and acquittal of the accused in other terror attack cases. “The acquittal of the accused, 11 years after the heinous Samjhauta terror attacks makes a travesty of justice and exposes the sham credibility of the Indian courts. It also belies the rampant Indian duplicity and hypocrisy where India reflexively levels allegations of terrorism against Pakistan, while protecting with impunity, terrorists who had publicly confessed to their odious crimes,” said a statement issued here by Pakistan’s foreign office.
An application filed on March 11 by a Pakistani resident, Ms Rahila Wakil, was dismissed by the court. The application had sought permission for out-of-court testimonies of Pakistani witnesses in the case. “The NIA Special Court has concluded that the investigating agency has failed to prove the conspiracy charge and ruled that [the] accused deserve a benefit of [the] doubt,” The Indian Express quoted NIA Counsel RK Handa as saying. Probe was handed over to the National Investigation Agency in July 2010, which then filed a charge sheet in June 2011 after conducting a probe, indicting eight individuals.
NIA’s probe had come to the conclusion that the accused were upset with previous attacks on Hindu temples and had conspired to target the Pakistan-bound train as revenge, according to NDTV. “The accused had conspired and propounded a theory of ‘bomb ka badla bomb’ (a bomb for a bomb),” NDTV quoted the NIA as stating in the charge sheet. Aseemanand had confessed to his role in the three blasts before a magistrate at Tis Hazari court, but retracted from his statement in 2015.
Beside Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand, the accused persons include: Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan, and Rajinder Chaudhary, all of whom appeared before the court. Sunil Joshi, the alleged mastermind of the attack, was killed in December 2007, according to Indian media. The remaining three accused, namely Ramchandra Kalsangra, Sandeep Dange, and Amit, continue to be at large.
Only after legal experts had studied the order would the agency decide if the acquittals could be challenged in a higher court or not, said a senior NIA official. Earlier, NIA did not challenge the acquittal of Aseemanand and other accused in the Mecca Masjid and the Ajmer Dargah blast cases of 2007, which NIA had claimed were carried out by the same group. While nine persons were killed in the Mecca blast, three died in the Ajmer Dargah bomb blast. The verdicts in the cases came in 2017 and 2018.
Earlier in 2015 Pakistan had protested India’s decision to not oppose bail for the prime accused in the case. Pakistan expects India to take steps to bring to justice all those involved in the heinous act of terrorism on the Samjhota Express. Pakistan also suspects the involvement of Colonel Prasad Purohit, a serving Indian Army officer, in the Samjahuta Express blasts. In 2008, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad had revealed that Purohit supplied the RDX used in the Samjahuta Express bombing.
Indian approach of hatred against Muslims is crossing all etiquettes and norms. International community needs to intervene and ask India to behave in a decent way. One is surprised over the judgment. The very confessional statements of Swami Aseemanand, a key figure in the Hindutva terror network, and others of their involvement in Samjhauta terror attack were sufficient to sentence and award the culprits a strict punishment.
Given the posture of Indian leadership, Pakistan should not expect that any justice will be done in the case with the victim families. The injustice meted out to the victim families of Samjhauta express must be taken up strongly at all the international forums including during bilateral meetings with the world leaders. If India can move the ICJ over the arrest of its terrorist-spy Kulbhushan Yadav who was involved in sabotage activities in Pakistan, then why cannot we do the same? If NIA does not file an appeal against the verdict, Pakistan should take the matter to International Court of Justice and United Nations Human Rights Council.