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Home > Opinion
An incomplete closure

Rahul Singh (REFLECTIONS) / 23 November 2012

For the past four years, he has been the most notorious and written-about criminal in Indian prisons.

 Only one other criminal since Indian independence who can perhaps match him in infamy was Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated Mohandas Karamchand (“Mahatrma”) Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation.

The person I am referring to is, of course, the 25-year-old Pakistani, Ajmal Amin Kasab, who was executed by hanging early morning  last Wednesday in Pune’s Yerawada jail. The execution was done in absolute secrecy. Apparently, even Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is on a tour abroad, did not know about the hanging, until it was over.

In a clandestine operation, Kasab was moved from Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail, where he had been held since November 2008 and which did not have any arrangements for hanging, to Pune, 150km away. When he was asked what his last wish was, he replied that he wanted to speak to his family which, needless to say, was not possible.  

The stage for his execution had been set when he was convicted in May 2010 by a special judge for murdering seven people directly with his AK-47 assault rifle and 65 others with fellow terrorist Ismail. Kasab’s mercy plea was rejected on November 5 by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, thereby sealing his fate. But the secrecy and the swiftness of the execution took most Indians by surprise.

Kasab was the first foreigner to be executed in independent India. Executions are rare in India — the last one took place six years ago — since capital punishment is given only in the “rarest of rare cases.” This was clearly one of them, though there are many human rights activists who would want India to follow the lead of other countries and abolish death penalty. The argument for it centres mainly on terrorists. What guarantee is there that a terrorist serving a life sentence won’t be released in some kind of rescue operation conducted by the country, or the outfit, he belongs to?

Kasab was one of a group of ten highly trained and brain-washed terrorists, who set out from Karachi by sea on their deadly mission. They hijacked an Indian fishing vessel, Kuber and, after killing its crew, landed in a small fishing village in south Mumabi, ten minutes walk from where I reside. They did so at 8 pm on November 16, 2008.

They split up into four teams. One went to the nearby Oberoi hotel, another to the Taj Hotel, a little further away (via the Leopold Cafe, popular with foreigners), a third to a Jewish Centre, Chhabad House (which happens to be around the corner from my flat).

Kasab and Ismail were the fourth group and, since their target was not within easy walking distance, they took a taxi to Mumbai’s busiest railway station, still popularly called “VT” (Victoria Terminus), renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. There, they went on a shooting spree, randomly killing as many commuters as they could (The Times of India, which is across the road, sent a photographer when it heard about the shooting, and he took the photos of Kasab that nailed him in the trial).

From the station, they moved to a hospital and then got into a police van, after killing its occupants. They were eventually stopped at a police barrier and Ismail died in the subsequent shootout. Although Kasab was wounded, he managed to survive and was subsequently taken into custody. The other terrorists, after causing mayhem and bloodshed in the two iconic five-star hotels, Leopold Cafe, and the Jewish centre during the next two days, were eventually killed by Indian commandos flown in from Delhi — but not before 165 innocent people had died at their hands, several of them foreigners. It was the worst terrorist strike since the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, and appalled people around the world.

Kasab was not meant to live, as the instructions of his handlers were to take hostages and use them to get away and if that failed, to die a “martyr”. He did neither. But his survival was fortunate for the Indian authorities. During  his trial, his Pakistani links were fully exposed. Pakistani daily Dawn tracked down his family in the village of Faridkot. They provided details of his life and how he had dropped out of school and been recruited by a Pakistan-based terrorist outfit.

Kasab and his nine fellow terrorists were only the “foot soldiers”. Who were their commanders? Part closure of the attack has certainly come with the execution of Kasab. Full closure will only come when the commanders are brought to justice.

Rahul Singh is the former Editor of “Reader’s Digest”, “Indian Express”, and “Khaleej Times”

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