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Author: Rutu Shah

Newsroom diaries 2016: From Kashmir to Syria, a year in terror

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of newsroom diaries by various members of the Firstpost team. These diaries will provide you with the journalist’s recollections of a particular bit of news coverage in 2016 in which she/he was deeply involved.

In 2001 the world saw the devastating 9/11 attack, with awe and shock. That moment changed everything. We became a more scared group of people. Abandoned bags and clothing choices made us scared. This situation grew worse in 2016, for this year, we got normalised to terror attacks.

It was 2 January and a group of terrorists attacked an airbase in Pathankot, killing 8 people. This set the tone for the rest of the year and it was all downhill from there on.

The year saw some of the most incredulous attacks by Islamic State or IS-inspired terrorists. This included the Brussels airport attack where a coordinated attack by suicide bombers killed 32 people. Then was the Nice attack where a cargo truck was deliberately driven into a group of people on Bastille Day killing 86 and injuring 434. In December, the Syrian conflict had one of the worst repercussion beyond its borders with the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey in Ankara. A 22-year-old Turkish gunman Andrey Karlov shot dead the 62-year-old diplomat in what appeared to be revenge for Russia’s part in the violence in Syria.

Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in Ankara at an art exhibit by a lone Turkish gunman shouting “God is great!” and “don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!”. The assassination was photographed and it presented one of the most chilling moments in 2016.

An unnamed gunman shouts after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara. APAn unnamed gunman shouts after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara. AP

An unnamed gunman shouts after shooting the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, at a photo gallery in Ankara. AP

The frequency of terror attacks in 2016 was so great that changing the Facebook display pictures became a daily activity for people who sympathised with the victims of these attacks. There were regular fights on social media over the media coverage allotted to a particular attack. The logic was that when a western country was attacked, people noticed, as opposed to when the middle-eastern belt or Asian and African belt was hit. This is probably why 2016 remained etched in people’s memories, for the rise in hits on the European civilisation.

United States suffered the worst attack since 9/11

People take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York. ReutersPeople take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York. Reuters

People take part in a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter during a march in New York. Reuters

This year, the United States suffered under attacks of gun-violence, fundamentalism and racial tension. The ‘Orlando terror attack’ where a 29-year-old Islamic State-inspired radical entered a gay nightclub and killed 49 people, was perhaps the biggest attack on the LGBTQ community. A hate-crime like this one spoke volumes about the rise of intolerance in a Trumpian era. The Orlando attack was the second major terror attack on the US soil since 9/11 and this reign of terror was further fuelled when the major movement for equality — Black Lives Matter — turned violent after the death of police officers during the protest rallies in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Tentions escalate between India and Pakistan

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

In 2016, there was palpable tension between India and Pakistan and one of the possible reasons was how the year started for the two nations. In January, the Pathankot attack happened and it was the beginning of the signs of mistrust between the two nations. On 8 November, when news about PM Modi’s address to the nation came in, we all thought he was going to announce something in relation to taking strong action against Pakistan.

This notion was not unfounded. For 20 minutes between the announcement of address and the actual address, theories about war were floating on the desk. This was because a month ago, on 29 September, a military confrontation between India and Pakistan began. India claimed that it had conducted “surgical strikes” against militant launch pads across the Line of Control in Pakistani-administered Azad Kashmir, and inflicted “significant casualties”. This was touted as Modi’s surgical strike against Pakistan and was instigated by the 19 September Uri attack where 17 Indian soldiers were killed. The Uri attack was reported as “the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in two decades”

The number of ceasefire violations had increased manifold since then. Out of the total number of 151 ceasefire violations in 2016, 110 of them happened since September.

The palpable tension between the two nations put everyone on edge.

The normalcy of terror attacks hit a raw nerve

There wasn’t just one moment or one incident which affected me the most this year. The normalcy of the situation hit a raw note. “What terror attack are we covering today,” was a frequently heard adage on the desk. The clinical process on the desk when one of these strikes happened was: prep the live blog, write the death toll copies, write analysis copies, do reaction copy, etc. Everybody got the hang of this process after the first few attacks.

However, the efficiency of the desk meant that too many of these attacks had happened and too many people had lost their lives. 2016 had ushered in a new era of normalcy.

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 09:24 IST

Web of deceit woven by govt to save Modi and Shah: Cong leaders on Ishrat Jahan case

New Delhi: Hitting back, Congress on Sunday brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in the line of fire on the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter issue alleging that the “tsunami of misinformation” was being spread to “save their skin” in the case.

“Simple truth is that this web of deceit and deception is being woven by government and certain sections of media to save the skin of Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi and BJP President, Shri Amit Shah”, senior party leaders including Mallikarjun Kharge and Anand Sharma told reporters.

Addressing a joint press conference along with them, party leaders Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Singhvi and Shaktisinh Gohil released copy of a four-page statement of a Gujarat police officer D H Goswami before a Magistrate which speaks about “kali dadhi” (black beard) and “safed dadhi” (white beard).

Sibal claimed Goswami had quoted the then senior Gujarat IPS officer D G Vanzara as saying ahead of the encounter that he had already got the “green signal from Black Beard and White Beard”. While Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat that time, Shah was the Minister of state for Home.

A file photo of Narendra Modi. AFPA file photo of Narendra Modi. AFP

A file photo of Narendra Modi. AFP

They claimed that the “harsh reality” in the backdrop of Goswami’s statement is that the “fake encounter of Ishrat Jahan and three other accomplices was ordered by the then Chief Minister and present Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with the then MoS, Gujarat Amit Shah”

“In case, Ishrat Jahan trial was to proceed, it is inevitable that PM and BJP President would be summoned as an accused”, they said in a joint statement.

“Black hearted conspiracy behind lies, half truth and smoke screen being put up by BJP government to divert attention of Nation in ‘Ishrat Jahan case’ stands unearthed”, they alleged on the eve of the Parliament session.

Sibal said that this is why the last 3 months has seen a “tsunami of misinformation” and people were asking if Ishrat Jahan was a terrorist or not. He was apparently referring to the BJP’s concerted attacks on former Home Minister P Chidambaram.

The Congress leaders also warned BJP against attacking Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the matter, saying it would even force an apology.

While Kharge said that the Congress would work together with like minded parties, Sharma said that the government would be seen in the “dock” on a host of issues.

They also dismissed BJP’s assertion that the Uttarkhand issue should not be raised as it was sub-judice. Kharge indicated that the Congress could be bringing in an adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha tomorrow on the Uttarakhand issue.

Insisting that three investigations, Magisterial, SIT and CBI, have called this a ‘Fake Encounter’, Sibal said “We demand that in the the next 6 months the trial is completed. The accused put in the dock and appropriate punishments given”.

“We want to ask why is this case not proceeding?”, Sibal said adding that the the charge sheet was filled in 2013, for an encounter in 2004. “We are in 2016 and the case hasn’t moved forward at all”.

In the joint statement, the Congress leaders said the “plain and simple intrigue is to ensure that the most important persons of BJP/government are not brought to trial”.

Besides, they claimed that this is a “sinister attempt” to set at naught the judicial enquiry by Metropolitan Court, Ahmedabad; Gujarat High Court-monitored SIT and its judgment dated 12.08.2010 and Court-monitored CBI enquiry resulting
into filing of charge sheet as recorded in High Court judgment.

The Congress leaders claimed that “shocking and toxic conspiracy of influencing filing of affidavit by Government of India and allurement being given to counsel for Union of India is also borne out from a tape recorded conversation between P.P. Pandey (now acting DGP, Gujarat) and another police official G.L. Singhal.”

“To achieve its nefarious design and with a view to derail the trial, present government is taking help of two IPS officers of Gujarat cadre A.K. Sharma and Rakesh Asthana and have posted them as Joint Directors of CBI”, the party alleged.

Sharma dismissed as “preposterous” the BJP charge against the Gandhis in the case. He warned that the Congress would force an apology if such attacks continued.

The BJP attack is to “deflect and derail” the investigation, he said claiming that “their two top leaders should be in the dock”.

Singhvi alleged that BJP’s entire campaign of “misinformation” is based on the statement of terrorist David Headley who has become “paragon of virtue” as far as the ruling party is concerned.

Sibal said that a democracy is strengthened when the justice system is fair and the law treats everyone equally.

He said that what was worrying is that the officers who were “caught on tape trying to save the accused are now a part of the CBI.”

Besides, he said what is happening is that all the accused are out on bail while Pandey, who is one of the accused and out on bail, is now acting DG of Police:

He said that it is the duty of the Judiciary to decide if Ishrat was a terrorist or not.

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