Interpreting the verdict of the Ajmal Kasab case

Posted on May 24, 2010

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By Mehroz Siraj Sadruddin

The Burning Issue Exclusive!!

A few weeks ago, an Indian court headed by judge ML Thaliyani had found Mumbai attacks terrorist Ajmal Kasab guilty on 86 different charges, which included  those of killing innocent civilians and waging war on India.  On Thursday, May 5, Mr Kasab was also awarded the death sentence.

The verdict of the case, which was somewhat pre-meditated considering the length at which damning evidence was made available,  clearly demonstrates much about the cold relations that have stalled the India-Pakistan peace process and dialogue in the last few years.

India’s argument that the Pakistani government should prosecute the alleged master-minds of the attacks before the stalled peace process resumed, gives a very fair indication as to how much the Indian government has started to hate dissent coming out of Pakistan, whether through the media or diplomatic channels.

Dissent is also something that has been nearly absent from the mainstream Indian media.  In the case of Ajmal Kasab, the Indian media was widely seen as toeing the lines of the government and the courts. For example, just like the government, the media was widely trying to pressurize Pakistan to do more to curb terrorism.

What however was completely forgotten was the fact that the Pakistani Army itself has been engaged in wide ranging and costly military operations against the terrorists of the Tehrik-E-Taliban Pakistan in the country’s tribal areas. The Indian media in its coverage of the Kasab case largely ignored the fact that Pakistan has been a primary victim of heinous terrorism and has itself suffered thousands of casualties at the hands of terrorists over the last few years.

As Pakistan has been a bigger victim of terrorism than India in recent years, many Indians now believe that instead of constantly pressurizing Pakistan to do more to curb cross-border terrorism, the Indian government should extend its hand to support the Pakistani state and the people in their fight against this menace which has the capacity to dramatically create a war-like situation in the region.

Many Indians believe that as terrorism has been jointly affecting both countries, the government and people on either sides of the Wagah border should join hands and confront the challenge together. Such opinions are however squeezed out of the Indian media as they clearly go against the established policy of the Indian government.

In Pakistan, the verdict of the Ajmal Kasab case has been met with applause. Many Pakistanis now believe that if the government of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani seriously hunts and prosecutes alleged masterminds of the attacks, only then it can show to the world that it is serious about curbing cross-border terrorism emanating from within Pakistan.

Although the fight against terrorism was initially being viewed by Pakistanis as a war on Islam, the huge increase in the number of suicide bombings across Pakistani cities, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore last year has convinced many millions that this is now Pakistan’s own war.

This massive change in public opinions across Pakistan has been missed out totally by the Indian media and the government.

While the government in Islamabad is still dilly-dallying on the issue of investigating the Mumbai attacks, which were allegedly planned partly in Pakistan, India’s constant denial to share relevant information with Pakistani authorities has been widely seen as a factor that has hampered local judicial inquiries into the case.

During the course of  Mr Kasab’s trial, one thing that was clearly evident was that most of the big questions being asked by the Pakistani people about the court proceedings and the Indian government’s established position on the issue, went totally unanswered till the end.

Most research done on the issue of terrorism widely affirms the fact that terrorist attacks at this scale cannot be carried out in the absence of any credible local support. Given this fact, why was the issue of involvement of local Indian citizens in the Mumbai attacks not properly investigated at a very public level? Was it so that the Indian government was hesitant to let go off the veil over the increasing levels of Hindu religious extremism or radicalization amongst Indian Muslims?

What we now know is that Mr Kasab, along with nine other people entered Mumbai via sea and they managed to do this very easily. The question is that at that time, what were India’s coastal guards and authorities concerned with maritime security doing? Why did they fail to act there and then, considering that these terrorists,  had detailed maps of Mumbai and their weapons in their backpacks?  Such questions have been raised time and again by Pakistani commentators and the people at large.

On their part, the Indian judiciary has failed to deliver any credible answers to such tough questions. The verdict on the Kasab case, coupled with  the government statement that followed it was in-itself reflective of the hypocritical nature and duplicitous  attitude of India’s political institutions when it comes to dealing with Pakistan.

In 2007, a train coming from Panipat (in India) to Lahore (Pakistan) was bombed by Hindu terrorists widely believed to be from the Bharat Abhinav terrorist group. A serving Lieutenant Colonel of the Indian Army, Colonel Purohit who belonged to this organization later told police investigators that he had himself arranged for the required bomb making substances,  which he had bought from Indian Occupied Kashmir .

His statements were widely reported in Indian newspapers. However, despite a public record against Mr Purohit and in contradiction to the Indian government’s false assurances to President Musharraf in 2007, any proper judicial inquiry into the Samjhouta Express incident was never initiated.

In another case of a previous terrorist  activity, the Bharat Abhinav group was also directly implicated in the Malegaon bomb blasts that took place in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The police officer who was investigating this case was Mr Hemant Karkare who was also the then head of the Maharashtra police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad. He had publicly said that since he set out to investigate this heinous crime, political parties who identified themselves closely with the Hindu religious extremists, tried to create massive hurdles for him and the subsequent investigations.

In fact, the influence of Hindu extremist groups, who increasingly want to transform India into a fundamentalist Hindu-majority state, has been such that those who have tried to publicly oppose and expose them, have met a terrible fate. These include modern India’s founding father Mohandas K. Gandhi, who was assassinated by a Hindu extremist named Nathuram Godse and Mr Hemant Karkare whose murder at the time of the Mumbai attacks, still remains a mystery that has never been investigated.

In India, the perpetrators of the Hindu-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 and the destroyers of the legendary Babri Mosque, which was martyred in the early 1990s are still at large. India itself is facing serious internal security threats from the Maoist insurgency in its eastern and north-eastern states.

Given these facts,  it should now be very clear that in practical terms, the court judgment on the Ajmal Kasab case would rather be ineffectual in reality. The court’s death sentence has done virtually nothing to further expose growing trends of Hindu religious extremism across India.

The entire debate on counter-terrorism in India  focuses largely on maintaining a large and well-armed conventional military force primarily aimed at striking Pakistan. Unlike the Pakistani military, the Indian armed forces are not prepared and trained to fight un-conventional national security threats such as home grown insurgencies and terrorism.

It is extremely unfortunate to see that even after the Mumbai attacks, the blasts at the German bakery in Pune, the rise of Hindu religious extremism across the country and a threatening Maoist insurgency haven’t rung the alarm bells in New Delhi, which continues to maintain its established policy of blaming Pakistan for most things.

Quite clearly, till the time the Indian establishment is not serious about tackling the issue of home grown terrorism and improving its relations with the people of Pakistan, the verdict on Ajmal Kasab and flawed debate about counter-terrorism taking place in India would remain virtually meaningless and futile.

The writer is an International Studies student at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. He can be reached at mehroz.siraj@gmail.com

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Posted in: South Asia