Two events related to terror in India came to the fore last week, focussing attention on the scourge that afflicts us. One was the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist to have been nabbed in consequence of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008 and the other the upholding of the acquittals of seven alleged terrorists, with the Delhi High Court concurring with the trial court’s verdict that they were nabbed after a ‘fake encounter’ in 2005 and were falsely implicated in the terror case.
The police had said it had nabbed four of the seven accused after a shootout on the night intervening July 1 and 2, 2005 near Delhi-Gurgaon border and had recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition from them. The three others were arrested later, it had added. The lower court acquitted all the accused saying that ‘the encounter alleged to have taken place on the fateful night did not take place at all and an absolutely false encounter was projected’.
In any other country where the death penalty is on the statute book, the execution of a Kasab would have taken only a fraction of this time but in India it is being seen as a swift and decisive action because, by comparison, the killers of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi are yet to be hanged 23 years after they carried out the assassination, and a key perpetrator of the attack on Parliament in 2001, Afzal Guru, is yet to be executed 11 years after the attack on the symbol of India’s sovereign authority. Also in the queue for execution with the government dithering on it is Balwant Singh Rajaona, the man responsible for the assassination of Chief Minister Beant Singh who fought terror valiantly to bring Punjab out of terror and paid the price for it in 1995 when he was blown to bits by a bomb attack.
The masterminds of the 26/11 attacks in which 166 lives were snuffed out are still roaming the streets in Pakistan and 40 to 45 terror camps are still training youngsters to cause subversion and terror in India as we go out of the way to proffer our hand of friendship to Islamabad. The failure of the Manmohan Singh government to get action taken against the masterminds despite its seeming leverage with the Obama administration is a reflection of the abject misdirection of our foreign policy.
Comfortably sheltered in Pakistan are the Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed who supervised the training of 10 terrorists, including Ajmal Kasab, Sajid Mir, LeT’s key commander who was the main handler of the 26/11 terrorists and was present in the control room and the man who chose targets in Mumbai who remains at large, as also Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed and ISI’s Major Iqbal, who played a crucial part in training the attackers, both of whom are also at large. Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, operational commander of LeT who coordinated the 26/11 attacks and was present in the control room in Karachi to guide the attackers is in a Pakistan jail but more as an eyewash than anything else.
In the ‘soft state’ attitude towards terrorists, had the country followed the queue system for mercy petitions as the government had so shamelessly touted as the reason for Afzal Guru’s non-execution a few years ago, Kasab would have gone on for another few years.
Be that as it may, Kasab has met his end. Now, all eyes will be on Afzal Guru, who the government has for long been fearing enjoys some support among the Muslim minority in the country, which is the Congress’ vote-bank. That would be much tougher for the government than the execution of Ajmal Kasab, whose Pakistani nationality itself was not being accepted by Islamabad.
Terrorists are rarely brought to book in India even if they are nabbed. During the entire phase of terror in the 1980s and 1990s, there were no convictions in Punjab for terror since the state did not have the muscle to protect the witnesses and consequently, they did not come forward to depose. In Kashmir too, terrorists are invariably not brought to book.
In such circumstances, the police are often under pressure to nab some people, plant ‘evidence’ and show that they have ‘solved’ the case. Whether the Delhi blast accused who have been acquitted now were framed unfairly or the police was unable to adduce evidence is difficult to say. With most cases of terror remaining unsolved, convicts being released for lack of evidence and the enforcement of law so lax in meting out deterrent punishment, there is much that leaves to be desired in controlling or deterring terror.
What is it that changed for the Congress in suddenly deciding to execute Kasab? Was it a sudden surge of toughness or was it politics? The more plausible explanation is that with elections round the corner in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and later in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, which are all BJP-ruled states, the Congress reckoned that the BJP propaganda that the Congress was being soft towards minority terror was having an impact on the people. Intelligence agencies were giving the Congress such feedback. Increasingly, the Centre was being seen as weak, ineffective and incapable of taking the bull by the horns. It therefore decided to make a bang on the eve of elections. To some extent, this would blunt the edge of BJP’s propaganda but questions will continue to be asked unless the Congress decides to execute Afzal Guru as well. It would be a careful SWOT analysis that the party would have to do before it takes the plunge to deal with Afzal Guru.
The Congress reckons that by taking this step it would be seen to be tough and decisive against terror, but that optimism may well prove overdrawn. When there is so much evidence of the government’s ‘softness’ towards terror and its pandering to vote-banks the execution of Ajmal Kasab can hardly be expected to turn the tide so completely.
Unlike the four BJP-ruled states where Muslims are not in large numbers, in the Hindi heartland there is a sizable Muslim voter population. Already, there are reports that the Samajwadi Party is fast losing support among Muslims for having failed to honour the promises to the minority population before the state elections that its government would free the Muslim youth who have been languishing in jails under various laws.
The Congress would see this as an opportunity to wean the Muslim voter away from the Samajwadis and would think hard before it takes any step that supposedly hurts its chances.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a veteran journalist and author.