There have been claims that late Afzal Guru in 2008 had written a letter to a lesser known editor of an Urdu weekly in Kashmir, which has only resurfaced now. The letter reportedly claims that late Afzal Guru did not want to label the Parliament attack as a conspiracy, asking “not to feel ashamed of December 13th Parliament attack”. Indian media has been quick to seize this ‘claimed letter’ and portray it as if Afzal Guru ‘purportedly justified the attack’.


The dead cannot speak and least of all cannot write letters, moreover in their defence, hence making claims on hitherto unknown correspondence of the dead is easy. But the living can and should exercise logic and reasoning to such claims. Not only because such ‘claimed letters’ concern a dead man who has been popularly viewed as having been sacrificed by the state for its politics, but also because these ‘claims’ are connected to the Kashmir conflict in a larger way.
The ‘letter’ has been produced a good 5 years after claimed to have been written  by Afzal, and just days after Afzal Guru had been executed, hanging that was followed by huge protests in Kashmir. The handling of Kashmir, post the hanging, by the state by enforcing barricades, censorship and curfews was subject to criticism from many sides. While the timing of the claimed ‘letter’ is in itself questionable, the veracity of same in doubt, there are other unanswered questions too which point to missing links in these claims.
Afzal was lodged in extremely high security cell of Tihar Jail, guarded round the clock by almost 50 armed policemen drawn from Tamil Nadu Special Police (TSP), ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police), and CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force). Most of the time he was alone in the death row cell and all his communications (given that there were very few of them in any case) were strictly monitored by the jail authorities. How did then this ‘letter’ pass Tihar Jail scrutiny? And given the fact that all stationary (books, paper, and postages) Afzal used in the jail would be provided, recorded and monitored by the Jail staff in this high security ward, how could Afzal have written such a letter without being scrutinized?
For a moment accepting that Afzal might have written this letter from his cell (with the stationary and postage provided by the Jail authorities) how did the Jail authorities not leak the contents of the letter if the ‘acceptance of guilt’ or ‘justification of the Parliament attack’ was in this correspondence? Clearly all correspondence of Afzal had to be passed, vetted and forwarded by Jail authorities. And had the jail authorities come across such a correspondence, the case of Government of India against Afzal would have become stronger. Had there really been such a correspondence from Afzal, would New Delhi ever miss the chance to make it public before the hanging, only to strengthen its own case for his execution? Remember there have been many voices criticizing the weak defence and flawed trial (and investigations) provided to Afzal. Had Afzal really made such an admission in the ‘claimed letter’ would New Delhi had let go that opportunity to justify its actions?
Even if we take the bleak possibility of Afzal writing this letter and the jail authorities ignoring the contents and the destination of the ‘letter’, why would Afzal of all journalists have chosen a lesser known journalist in Kashmir as its recipient? Afzal surely understood that any letter or correspondence he would share with any journalist would make it available in the public domain. And if Afzal really wanted the letter to be in public domain, he would have sent it to a known journalist or a media house of repute. There could only be two intentions for Afzal behind the correspondence of this ‘letter’, either to have it passed to the UJC chief (United Jehad Council), who has been addressed in the letter, or make it available in the public domain and both of these objectives desired that this letter be send to a well known journalist or media house, where Afzal could get a better focus on his message. What is the footprint of the weekly that claims to have received the letter and how many in Kashmir (leave alone Tihar) have ever heard of it before?
According to the claimed ‘recipient’ of this ‘correspondence’, Afzal had written this letter “in utter frustration” and “he was innocent and was simply claiming something that he had not committed”. Even if we may accept that the letter was written in frustration, would logically Afzal not write it to his wife first rather than a lesser known media person? After all it was Afzal’s wife who not only followed the defence case personally in detail but was the only person who met Afzal in jail and with whom Afzal would confide into. Understanding that such a ‘letter’ would sooner or later make it to the public domain, Afzal would have ensured that his wife was in the know of things if such a letter ever existed. Afzal is perceived to have died for truth and ‘dying for truth’ is different from accepting guilt for killing people. Truth also means ‘I am innocent’.
There have now been reports that Afzals cousin has recognized the handwriting of Afzal in this ‘letter’. But handwriting analysis was never such an easy ‘one glance’ job.  Handwriting analysis is a science for ‘Questioned Document Examiners’ (QDEs). Handwriting recognition is a methodical and tedious process where analysts must accurately distinguish between style and individual characteristics. Handwriting analysis does not start with checking for similarities, but with checking for differences between the original and the claimed. Any attempt of handwriting simulation (copying handwriting) will not be understood or recognized by a normal eye. May note that this claimed ‘letter’ of Afzal resurfaced only days after his last letter, written to his family minutes before his execution, had been disclosed publicly, thereby making available a specimen of his handwriting.  I am not discounting the ability of Azfal’s cousin or questioning his intent but any efficient copy of the handwriting would surely pass his eye as an original. And let us not for a moment even discount the remote possibility of him writing such a ‘letter’; solitary confinement, unending torture and pressures with a looming death penalty for crimes you did not commit could make one write anything. Keep an ordinary man in his place under such extreme situations and chances are that he will even claim to have started 9/11.
But at times even a detailed handwriting test can pass a fake for real. The infamous case of the ‘lost Hitler Diaries’ is a must read in this case. On April 22, 1983 German news magazine ‘Stern’ announced discovery of 60 handwritten journals (diaries) supposedly written by Adolf Hitler. The magazine had paid nearly 9 million German Marks (2.3 million dollars) for the ‘diaries’ to a ‘supposed collector of Nazi memorabilia’ Konrad Kujau, who claimed to have recovered them in an April 1945 air crash wreckage near Dresden. The dairies and the text seemed quite genuine and the diaries were gradually published by the German media while its rights were sold to several international publications.  The London Times (who also purchased the rights) requested 3 international forensic and writing experts to conduct a test for authenticity. After the tests all experts agreed that the diaries were for real and had been written by the same person (Hitler). Later it however took an ink and paper analysis of the diaries to reveal that they were fakes. The paper was found to be in use only after 1954 (while Hitler died in 1945) and the ink test proved that the ‘diaries’ had been written only in last 12 months (prior to the test).
The envisaged repercussions of Afzal’s ‘claimed letter’ are far too many for Kashmir. One it will provide enough material for New Delhi and Indian media to hit back at claims of Afzal’s innocence in the Parliament attack and of a weak trial provided to him. This letter could also be used by forces in Kashmir to quell the discontent that emerged after the hanging and push for an alternative thought for the perceived ‘miscarriage of justice’. In conflicts where the state is often pushing against the popular sentiment on ground, even a purported letter could be used as a psychological tool to subdue minds.
Psychological operations or Psyops is an integral part of any conflict state and such operations are often aimed at ‘deceive, confuse, disrupt and demoralize’. Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu detailed this psychological manipulation as a tool of combat in his ‘The Art of War’. And with decades of experience with Psyops, the possibility of such ‘letters’ being used as another stealth strategy has not been discounted by Kashmiris.
While the journalist who claims to have this ‘letter’ has his right to seek attention and publicity, Kashmiris also have a right to seek answers to their questions. The dead don’t write letters, but the living do demand answers.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s