Kasab hanging a resolute and prudent decision

November 21, 2012

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

By C. Uday Bhaskar

Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani gunman among the perpetrators of the Nov. 26, 2008 attacks on Mumbai was executed by hanging at Pune’s Yerwada prison on Wednesday, bringing to judicial closure a high-profile case that had generated both anger and anguish in India.

It is significant that the final act was carried out just a week before the fourth anniversary of the Mumbai carnage. The manner in which it was done is indicative of a certain resoluteness and prudence — traits that have eluded the Congress-led UPA government in its second tenure.

The Supreme Court had upheld the death penalty for Kasab in August and the case was expected to drag on as the mercy petition option was exercised. In an earlier column, I had opined that “Kasab is unlikely to go to the gallows in a hurry for in all likelihood, the Aug. 29 decision will be sent for appeal and a review and if rejected, the case could finally be referred to the President of India for mercy.”

In the event, the swiftness with which the Kasab case was handled by New Delhi is distinctive. It is understood that on Nov. 5, the president rejected the clemency plea and two days later, the home ministry issued the necessary orders to carry out the death sentence. This was completed on Nov. 21 in a quiet and unobtrusive manner in Pune. The normally alert Indian media was caught unawares.

The need for keeping the matter under wraps is justifiable given the possibility that any kind of advance notification would have led to a wide range of retaliatory responses from the terror constituencies that supported the 26/11 Mumbai carnage. Even now, the possibility of some kind of revenge attack by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its support system cannot be ruled out.

Three elements are noteworthy in the Kasab case. The first is that India went by the law of the land and allowed the accused every legal option to defend himself despite the enormity of the pre-meditated acts of violence. Notwithstanding the communal dimension (Hindu-Muslim), emotive calls for swift retribution that veered towards revenge were kept at bay. Liberal democracies have to be seen to respect their own legal provisions in the grapple with such religion-stoked terrorism and to its credit, India stayed the course.

The second element is the Kasab-LeT-Pakistan linkage that takes this case from the judicial to the political domain. At the end of the day, Kasab was a foot soldier of his malignant handlers and is representative of thousands of young men — and now some women — who have been motivated to take the route of distorted martyrdom.

Pakistan is caught in its own despair over its Malala-Salman Taseer continuum and Karachi is the visage of what can engulf the whole country. Against this backdrop, the manner in which the powers in Pakistan react to the Kasab closure will be indicative of what lies ahead for the troubled India-Pakistan relationship.

And finally, the Kasab experience should encourage New Delhi to carry out an objective review of its existing capacities — political, legal and judicial — to prosecute this kind of terror that has the potential to strike again.

The LeT has hailed Kasab as a hero and warned of reprisal but appeasement of any kind is not an option. Faustian bargains when struck, extract a heavy price and the Kandahar hijacking experience of Dec. 1999 is illustrative.

In the run-up to the fourth anniversary of 26/11, the Kasab execution may offer modest succour to the families of the victims — in India and abroad. However, it would be appropriate if the Indian parliament embarks upon a candid and non-partisan review of the complex internal security challenges that confront the nation and not wait for the next jolt.

(C. Uday Bhaskar is Distinguished Fellow, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi)

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