Ajmal Amir Kasab, the butcher of Mumbai, is finally dead. His hanging has brought a measure of closure for families of victims of the attack on 26/11/2008 in which 166 people were killed. It has also brought to foreground questions of politics.
The politics operates at two levels. The first is internal to India, between the right wing, represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its friends, and the Congress and others. The second is between India and Pakistan.
Kasab was Pakistani, and came from the village of Faridkot in Punjab. Pakistani journalists went to his village and found his family, upon which the family mysteriously disappeared. Other journalists who went looking for the Kasab story later hit a wall.
The Dawn, a respected Pakistani newspaper, reported that, “Some of the earliest arriving media men — and at least one woman — were harassed by plainclothesmen and even detained by police, and a local journalist Mian Rabnawaz Joiya, was hounded and arrested for helping visiting journalists establish the fact that Ajmal Kasab indeed belonged to Faridkot.”
The extremist elements in Pakistan who sent the Mumbai attackers haven’t gone out of business yet. They remain active, and continue to wield influence. Hafiz Saeed, the head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the overground wing of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, is still freely canvassing support for jihad against India.
Kasab was a foot soldier of this organisation. He stated in his confession that he had joined the JuD in Rawalpindi where it had an office in a locality called Raja Bazar. He was sent to the JuD campus in Muridke, a short distance from Lahore, where his training for jihad started.
The details of the case have exposed the involvement of Saeed beyond reasonable doubt. The reluctance on the part of the Pakistani government to deal firmly with him speaks of its unwillingness or inability to deal with those who foment terrorism in its territory. This is bad news for all Indians and Pakistanis who want to live in peace.
With Kasab’s hanging, the focus now shifts to Saeed and his cohorts, and the elements in the Pakistani state who support and arm them. This is clear from statements emerging from the BJP, whose leaders are also questioning the delay in hanging Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
The BJP’s position, while perfectly logical, also demonstrates the internal politics within India that is at play. With Parliament resuming today, the UPA government at the Centre can take credit for ensuring speedy justice in the 26/11 attack case. The BJP is obviously trying to take away some of this credit by bringing up the thorny questions of Guru and Saeed.
Questions over Saeed could be a roadblock on the path to better relations between India and Pakistan. This would be unfortunate, because better relations would weaken the constituency in Pakistan of Saeed and those who support him. They know this, which is why they keep launching attacks against India. Right-wing Indians who think enmity with Pakistan is in India’s national interest end up inadvertently helping them.
While Saeed’s case highlights the politics of relations between India and Pakistan, Guru’s highlights the internal politics in India. His mercy petition is before President Pranab Mukherjee, but hanging him will probably provoke a backlash in the Kashmir Valley, from where he hails. This is because Guru is believed innocent by many or perhaps most Kashmiris. He has claimed that he was framed in the case.
Guru was not accused of being directly involved in the attack itself, and the evidence against him is largely circumstantial.
The Kashmir issue is the common thread that links Kasab, Guru and Saeed. It was the JuD’s fundraising for Kashmiri militants that initially drew Kasab to that organisation, according to his own testimony reproduced in the Supreme Court of India’s judgment in the case.
Guru was a militant Kashmiri nationalist associated with the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. He has admitted to crossing over to Pakistan-administered Kashmir for arms training, but he returned disillusioned, surrendered, and started a small business. He claims that his surrender did not end his woes. He used to get picked up by security forces every time there was a militant attack in Kashmir.
The government will find itself in a bind on his case. If he is hanged, many will believe it is injustice, and it may provide a spur to militant attacks by Kashmiri groups. If he is not hanged, the BJP will make a racket and allege appeasement of minorities.
Through it all, the elements in Pakistan who play these games will find a wedge they can drive into India. They will be aided in this by Hindu and Muslim extremists, whose heated rhetoric and mutual animosity is the stuff Partition was made of.
The country’s enemies will be helped by the ill-repute earned by its security forces for excesses. The excesses may be as minor as arresting a girl for a Facebook post, or as major as killing a man in a fake encounter.
Thankfully, India’s higher judiciary remains a trusted establishment. That Kasab’s case went through the judicial process up to the SC and the President is a tribute to our democracy. The same is being done for Guru, and the country must accept the outcome, whatever it may be.