Once a terrorist, always a terrorist? Surely not because then there can be no redemption for the individual who feels remorse for embracing destruction, who realises the futility of avenging perceived injustice by injustice. That governments faced with the challenge of terrorism also have programmes for the surrender and rehabilitation of those wishing to give up the path of violence attests to the strong human impulse to reform. Yet for countless reasons, former militants rarely manage to fully shrug off their past and continue to battle questions and suspicions long after their presumed return to legitimacy. When a militant surrenders, his acknowledged association with one or another form of terrorism makes him at once an invaluable source of information for investigators and an automatic suspect in anticipated or accomplished acts of terror. In the case of Liaquat Ali Shah, a Pakistan-occupied Kashmir-based former militant who was arrested by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police, the truth has become harder to establish because there are two official versions of why and how he came to be found crossing the Nepal border into India. The Special Cell’s case is that far from reforming, Liaquat Ali continued to be active as a member of the Hizbul Mujahideen and had actually planned to stage a fidayeen attack on the Capital to avenge the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru when he was arrested.
On the other hand, the Jammu and Kashmir police are emphatic that Liaquat Ali, an Indian Kashmiri who had taken up residence in PoK, was on his way back to the Indian side of the valley as part of the State government’s surrender and rehabilitation policy for former militants. The J&K Police have cited previous instances of militants crossing over from Nepal into Kashmir to avail amnesty. There is also some curiosity over why Liaquat Ali chose to travel with his family when he was clearly on a suicide mission. The two police forces have clashed before, and significantly, the disagreements have been over the deployment of former militants in terror investigations. The Delhi Police have also previously come under judicial scrutiny for acts of commission and omission relating to the prosecution of former J&K militants. While this by itself cannot become grounds for negating their claims, the National Investigation Agency will now have to get to the bottom of the story and establish the truth. The outcome is crucial not just for the life and liberty of Liaquat Ali but for hundreds of Kashmiri militants who have applied for permission to return home and surrender. Their takeaway from this unfortunate episode ought not to be that it does not pay to renounce your past.