The meticulous planners of Ajmal Kasab’s execution took care of every detail and kept the operation secret even from the prime minister and the Congress president, but did not know that India had voted, with 38 other countries, against a UN resolution seeking a ban on capital punishment just a day before. That was a routine resolution, a hardy annual, on which the Indian Mission in New York would not have sought instructions even from the Ministry of External Affairs. This little coincidence, however, raised some eyebrows, particularly when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appeared to admonish India when he made an appeal, as ordained by the resolution, to those who had not done so, to abolish the death penalty even as just punishment was being meted out to a Pakistani terrorist on Indian soil.
Except for this minor faux pas, there was not an iota of doubt that the execution came not a moment too soon and that no opportunity was denied to Kasab either to prove his innocence or to plead for mercy. Four years of patience and an expenditure of `31 crore were spent on a terrorist, whose role in the 26/11 attack was visible and recorded. In most other countries, justice would have been swifter. India did all in its legal system to ensure that not only justice was done, but also it was seen to be done. Most commentators in India and abroad have acknowledged this fact. The closure to the Kasab story was a foregone conclusion and the overwhelming sense was one of relief.
The media debate in India threw up a number of questions, mixing facts with fiction to challenge the timing of the hanging. One astonishing allegation was that the UPA government had chosen to do it to distract attention from the gathering clouds on the parliamentary firmament over FDI, the coalgate and other scams. This was indeed far-fetched by any standard and it turned out that the government got no reprieve on account of Kasab. If anything, the Opposition was more intense than expected.
The impact of the execution on India-Pakistan relations was the concern of the champions of peace and friendship with the neighbour. The hanging of Kasab should be a stern warning to Pakistan and terrorist outfits that India will act with courage and justice when it comes to dealing with terrorists. If such a message hurts Pakistan and reverses the peace process, it shows clearly that the peace process is not worth pursuing in the present atmosphere. Pakistan had distanced itself from Kasab right from the beginning, even after his nationality was established. India was more than reasonable in keeping Pakistan informed of the developments at every stage, including the date of the execution. Pakistan may have heaved a sigh of relief at the news, because there would be no more revelations from Kasab to nail down Pakistani complicity in the 26/11 attacks.
Pakistan has not responded either to the sticks that we have wielded, nor the carrots we have offered to Pakistan in recent months. We have come a long way from our original position that the peace process would be suspended unless there was action against the criminals behind the Mumbai attack. We have even rewarded them by treating them as victims of terrorism. We have invited the home minister of Pakistan to visit India, permitted cricket matches and generally signalled that we are ready to forget and forgive for the sake of mutually beneficial relations. We have also been tantalising them with a possible visit to Pakistan by the Indian prime minister. However, There is no sign of even a measured response to warrant a concern that Kasab’s hanging will be an unnecessary provocation. The message is firm and reasonable and it can only help India-Pakistan relations in the future.
Whether a dead Kasab or a live one would have been a deterrent to Pakistan is a question that must have been considered at some stage. Some do believe that we could have produced him in court to corroborate the charges against Pakistan if the cases relating to the plotters of 26/11 ever came up. Kasab, however, may not have anything more to reveal than what he has already done in the last four years. He had far outlived his utility as a ‘witness’ in the unlikely event of a trial of Hafiz Saeed and his cohorts.
The fear that Pakistan might use the hanging to death of Kasab to execute Sarabjit Singh, is unfounded. The differences in the two cases are obvious; Kasab’s case is related to terrorism, while Sarabjit’s is one of mistaken identity. Even Pakistan will not be able to justify a retaliatory action in the case of Sarabjit.
As for the rest of the world, the reaction could not have been negative. The United States and Israel are parties to the case of Kasab because their nationals were also targeted for murder. These countries have, therefore, welcomed the execution as a ‘closure’ to this particular terrorist. The US has been taking a tough line on Pakistan after the discovery of Osama bin Laden in royal comfort in a military compound in Pakistan. Having killed Osama, the US gave no hint of disapproval to the Indian action. There was an element of admiration for India and its judicial system in the American pronouncements.
The Chinese media merely reported Kasab’s hanging without a comment, but identified him as ‘a terrorist from Pakistan’. A victim of terrorism in certain parts of the country, China had acquiesced in listing Lashkar as a terrorist outfit by the UNSC after 26/11.
India has gained credibility domestically and internationally by acting decisively in the case of Kasab. A chapter in India’s quest for justice in the 26/11 Mumbai attack has ended, but it has paved the way to demand more action by Pakistan. Kasab may have been a mere puppet, but his shooting spree and callous attitude till the very end of his life earned him the gallows. Ending of any life is tragic but in this rarest of rare case, there was no room for mercy.
T P Sreenivasan is a former ambassador of India and governor for India of the IAEA.