By Swati Parashar
When the tragedy of 26/11 unfolded in 2008, the trauma was felt far and wide. I was a PhD student in the UK and, far away from home, I shared the grief with millions of Indians as we wondered why Mumbai deserved the gory blood bath. The Chabad house hostages were tortured before being killed by the ten men from Pakistan, to avenge what was happening to the Palestinians. Travellers at Shivaji terminus, those enjoying dinner or an innocent cup of coffee at café Leopold and those at the Taj hotel had their lives extinguished in a matter of hours because in the bloodthirsty play written and directed by the Lashkar-e-Toiba based in Pakistan, these people had to ‘perform’ the enemy. A young engineering graduate from my hometown Ranchi, who was to get married in a few days, was killed in the shooting at café Leopold. He was the only child of his parents who were left grieving. The commando operation to save Mumbai from the attackers lasted three traumatising days (telecast live on Indian and world media) in which police officers and a commando officer were also killed and the intelligence failure laid bare for public scrutiny. A lone terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, was captured and nine others were killed in the operation.
Yesterday (21st November 2012) that lone captured terrorist, the face of the Mumbai attacks was sent to the gallows in Pune’s Yerwada jail, in a secretly planned mission. This was the outcome of investigations and trails that have lasted four years and even though frenzied reactions and emotional responses have been reported in the media and social networking websites, we must surely all know that there is nothing to celebrate. Not only because of the moral foundations of this argument that celebrating the death of any person cannot have a place in a civilised society. While that maybe a good argument to consider, war and political violence have become a way of life and we have all developed a voyeuristic taste for the dead and gore. Remember the long queues with men, women and children wanting to have a last view of the dead Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi and how the videos of his killing went viral? Remember the demands that the US show the bloodied body of Osama bin Laden, in the absence of which spam videos circulated extensively? We seem to have normalised violence and brutality to such an extent that we are unable to find meanings and contexts. In this case Kasab’s hanging raises more questions than it answers. It certainly has not brought about that closure that we so desperately seek, especially for the families of those who lost their lives.
I had written earlier that the commando operations during the attack left us speechless as we tried to come to terms with the fact that two or three terrorists at any given time can keep 100 or more elite NSG commandos engaged in a fierce gun battle for three days. The intelligence failure on India’s part was of mammoth proportions and though the government claims to have provided a number of dossiers to Pakistan, it has not been able to adequately convince us about how this planned brutality went undetected despite the huge intelligence network and security apparatus. The unease is paramount because we know this attack would not have been possible without the involvement of local people and yet, barring the usual rhetoric of blaming Pakistan entirely, we heard nothing from our government about its own failures or about how it intended to establish Pakistan’s culpability. Moreover, Pakistan continues to publicly declare that India has not been able to provide credible evidence against Hafiz Saeed, the LeT founder who masterminded and motivated these young men to wage the war on India.
Indian Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid, brags in the media that his government has upheld the ‘rule of law’ while Maharashtra Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan propounds the virtues of Indian democracy and judicial system where Kasab was given a fair trial unlike what the US did to Osama bin Laden. The enthusiasm that justice has been served is absolutely misplaced because in 4 years since the dastardly attacks, what the government has to show is the hanging of one lone foot-soldier while the masterminds still remain protected and free in Pakistan. Atleast the US got the mastermind in bin Laden. Failure to build an international consensus and use public diplomacy to put pressure on Pakistan to respond to the dossiers is regrettable. That, the Congress party facing a no confidence motion in parliament in the winter session beginning today is going to gain political mileage out of this execution is not a surprise. Congress has traditionally always followed the path of appeasement, even if it is appeasing the opposition to stay in power. There are many other cases over which Kasab’s execution was given precedence. The timing of Kasab’s hanging definitely raises questions about its political nature and advantage to the government.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, then Foreign Minister of Pakistan (whose fortunes have changed dramatically since) in a press conference, after the Mumbai attacks brazenly denied Pakistan’s role. He said, ‘Pakistan is a responsible neighbour and a responsible nation’. That ‘responsible nation’ not only denied that Kasab was its citizen initially till media investigations left no doubt, but also steadfastly refused to deliver on the evidence provided. This is despite the fact that Pakistani officials at every opportunity repeat like a mantra, “We are also victims of terrorism”. Ajmal Kasab and thousand others like him are doomed in the choices they are forced to make as a heady concoction of poverty and jihadi ideology provides them with a sense of only ‘purpose’ in a rapidly deteriorating state. Not a single day seems to pass without news about militant attacks in Pakistan. While the government seems helpless the opposition is too busy blaming the American drones for every problem faced by the country. According to Pakistani media reports, police in Peshawar defused a suicide bomb vest on a 13 year old boy on November 20th, 2012. The boy said that he was forced to carry out the attack on a fuel station. On November 21st, 2012 two Shia Imambarahs in Karachi and Rawalpindi were attacked by suicide bombers and a number of people have been killed and injured.
The control of the madrasas and education that fans fundamentalism has only increased in a state that never tires of projecting itself as a victim of terrorism. There seems to be a never ending supply of the young who value death over life. The hanging of one Kasab will produce many others and there is no doubt that a new plan is being hatched somewhere for another war in which the Kasabs and those they kill are mere sacrificial lambs. These young men deserve a life of dignity and not violent death and gallows. Not taking action against masterminds and supporting the jihadi mindset in the name of freedom struggle in Kashmir or elsewhere makes Pakistan absolutely culpable in the murder of these men. Kasab apparently begged for mercy according to Indian media reports. That mercy has to come from Pakistan for thousands of Kasabs recruited by the JUD/LeT and other militant groups whose only ideology is to kill. It is justified to feel enraged at those who sent him, trained him and who continue to enjoy freedom and political protection in Pakistan. Kasab was only a foot-soldier who died because Hafiz Saeed wanted it. Justice has not been served.
Ajmal Amir Kasab’s execution also comes at a time when India voted against the UN General Assembly resolution banning death penalty earlier this week. India was among the 39 countries that voted against the draft resolution arguing that every nation had the “sovereign right” to determine its own legal system. India’s capital punishment is reserved for the ‘rarest of the rare’ cases and the Mumbai attacks certainly fit the category. Many peaceniks and left activists have argued that the President of India failed to show mercy, for mercy is reserved for the unpardonable of crimes. I have not resolved that conflict about capital punishment and would not condemn either side. It is reflective of these times when not only has death become a daily occurrence and a matter of celebration but that life has become invaluable, and life is privileged like never before. We avail of every moral, ethical, cultural, political framework and technological/scientific tool to prolong life and bask in its experiences. When you brutally terminate not one but 166 lives who have not directly harmed you in any way, justice according to many, may seem possible only when you forfeit your right to life. K. Unnikrishnan, father of NSG commando Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan who was slain in the Mumbai attack, has said that Kasab‘s execution is not a matter to “rejoice over,” but a “legal necessity.”
In his confessions, the videos of which are available on youtube, Kasab talked about his poverty and the promises of a life of fame, dignity and money that drew him to jihad. He appeared neither well versed with his religion nor was able to use religious vocabulary to justify his actions. Yes, he made the choices he did and it is true that not everyone who is poor takes to terrorism. In that Ajmal Amir Kasab was prepared for the end he met, even if it came 4 years later than he expected. For those rejoicing, actor Ashish Chowdhry’s words, whose sister and brother-in-law were killed in the Mumbai attack, might offer a moment of introspection. “Why should I rejoice Kasab’s death? I will rejoice when little innocent children will stop being taught to kill in the name of god and religion; In these four years of awaiting and looking upon Kasab’s sentence, I can bet lakhs of new Kasab’s were born. Problem lies there. Rejoice when that stops.” Kasab’s story will soon be forgotten in bigger rejoicing over the India-Pakistan cricket match series to be played in December this year.
With the rest of India I grieved much over the Mumbai attacks as over other acts of violence. Justice cannot be selective and if there are questions being raised about riots, killings in India that have gone unpunished, despite evidence available, they are important questions. With Kasab being hanged we have satisfied revenge, but not justice. Rejoicing will look humane and legitimate only when all masterminds and perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks are brought to justice but also those who have killed elsewhere in India, in the name of religion and ideology.
Dr. Swati Parashar is a lecturer in International Studies at the Faculty of Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia. Her research, publications and teaching focus on terrorism and security studies; feminist international relations; and women, gender and political violence. She can be contacted at [email protected]