The world stood with India in strongly condemning the attack.
It was a warm, sunny December day. New Delhi was going about its usual business. The posh Connaught Place area was gearing up for a carnival as Christmas was just around the corner. I was at the Bangla Sahib gurudwara for a photo story. At the gurudwara, I was planning to have my lunch at the langar which was about to start. Suddenly, at around 11:30, a loud explosion was heard along with some gunshots. I stepped out of the gurudwara to check. Outside, on the road, people looked tense and a bystander broke the news that the Parliament was under attack. Hardly a kilometer away, I ran towards the Parliament where I saw a huge contingent of men in olive fatigues surrounding the Lutyens building. For a moment, I thought it was a coup. “It is a terrorist attack,” a policeman told me. India’s Parliament was under siege.
13 December 2001 is etched in the collective memory of the Indians. It was around 11 in the morning that a white Ambassador car with a red beacon and stickers, similar to those issued by the Home Ministry, pasted on the windscreens, crossed the security barrier from the gate which opens on the Parliament Street and Talkatora Road roundabout. Kamlesh Kumari, a lady constable from CRPF’s Bravo Company, was posted at gate no. 11 when she waved the car to pass before seeing five people snuggled inside which made her suspicious. She ran towards the next gate to stop the car. The men inside started spraying bullets killing her on the spot. But just before that, Kumari succeeded in flashing the message about the car on her wireless set.
At that moment, the lower house of the Parliament was adjourned and the parliamentarians were spread across the building premises. As the winter session was on, the staff, the security, the marshals, the catering, the clerks and the politicians were all busy.
Meanwhile, on the courtyard, four security personnel were killed in the exchange of fire. Four of the five attackers were gunned down while the fifth one detonated his suicide vest. The battle was over in thirty minutes.
Back in Aabpara in Islamabad, where the ISI is headquartered, one man was watching the attack closely. Ehsan-ul-Haq, the then director of ISI, was an experienced military man with deep technical knowledge. He was somewhat dumbfounded but could connect some dots. Pakistan was in for some trouble, he thought.
In New Delhi, Home minister L K Advani, who was also the Deputy PM, gave a statement that all the five attackers were from Pakistan. Incensed by the deadly attack, people across India and from all sections of the society protested, demanding a fitting response.
In two days, Delhi’s crime branch headed by the infamous ACP Rajbir Singh zeroed in on a suspect, claiming to have found a postpaid SIM at the encounter site. The number, 9810081228, belonged to S A R Geelani, a professor from Delhi University’s Zakir Hussain College. Geelani, a Kashmiri, was arrested from his Mukherjee Nagar residence. Two more Kashmiris, Afzal Guru and Shaukat Hussain, were also arrested while they were on their way to Srinagar from Delhi.
During the investigation, police found some calls placed to J&K from Geelani’s SIM which led them to Guru and Hussain. When the police raided Guru’s residence in Delhi, they grilled his pregnant wife Afshan Guru. A day later, Guru and Hussain were arrested en route to Srinagar.
All three of them were booked under POTA (Prevention of Terrorist Activities, now a defunct law). Police from the Lodhi Road Crime Branch unit claimed that the duo was on their way to Kashmir to handover a laptop, which carried sensitive information, to the mastermind of the attack, Ghazi Baba.
Ghazi Baba was a top commander of Jaish-e-Mohhamed (JeM). Born in Pakistan’s Bahalwalpur, he had entered Kashmir and married there. Baba and his partner in crime, Tariq Ahmad, were responsible for many attacks across India.
Prior to the Parliament attack, ISI somehow got to know that Ghazi Baba was up to something big. ISI used their moles to penetrate JeM but little could be learnt about what was brewing. ISI was somehow convinced that Tariq, a commander who could execute deadly operations, had been coopted by R&AW and IB. It upset Eshan-ul-Haq but there was precious little he could do about it. He knew that, in Delhi, his counterpart Vikram Sood and his predecessor A S Dulat were smart enough to penetrate into JeM, HuA and LeT.
As all the fingers pointed towards Pakistan, the world stood with India in strongly condemning the attack.
The US, meanwhile, was busy clearing up Al-Qaida terrorist in its ‘War on Terror’ in partnership with Pakistan. Military dictator Musharraf was under attack from his own people as the non-state actors were planning to assassinate him for allying with the US to wipe out terror outfits from Afghanistan and Pakistan. India, meanwhile, called back its High Commissioner Vijay Nambiar from Islamabad and, at the international border, the Cold Start Doctrine was initiated. Atal Behari Vajpayee wanted a surgical strike on the training centres of JeM at Binori and Bahawalpur but the idea was dropped after some deliberations.
Dy SP Davinder Singh of the Special Operations Group of J&K Police is said to have introduced Afzal Guru to the militants before they attacked the Parliament.
Guru had a chequered life as he worked for different militant outfits before surrendering and deciding to settle down in life. He married Afshan and moved to Delhi but the ghost of militancy kept chasing him.
Dy SP Singh was known as a man of questionable credentials. Nineteen years after the Parliament attack, Singh was arrested by police, while on his way to Delhi, ferrying two militants in a car. In 2021, Singh, while lodged in Jammu’s Hira Nagar jail, was terminated from his services.
Delhi Police seized INR 10 lakh and two SIM cards from Guru and Hussain. All the evidence went against them after the two were questioned in police custody and cross-questioned at the POTA Court by Justice S N Dhingra. Forensic results and police interrogation were taken as evidence and, as result, Hussain was given a life term while Guru was sentenced to death. Guru became an overnight hero as the people in Kashmir saw him as another Maqbool Bhat who was sent to the gallows by an Indian court.
Shome Basu is a New Delhi-based senior journalist.