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Looking Beyond Kasab's Conviction

May 04, 2010 11:14 IST
At a time when the US finds it extremely difficult to deal with the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, within its judicial system, the way India has dealt with Kasab is reflective of the maturity of Indian democracy and its judicial system, notes Harsh V Pant.

Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the 10-member Lashkar-e-Tayiba squad that wreaked havoc on Mumbai in November 2008, has been found guilty of murder, conspiracy and waging war against India. Judge M L Tahaliyani rightly observed that 'the offenses committed by them was a brazen act of war against India,' and 'not a simple crime of murder or intent to murder.'

The debate will now move on to whether Kasab deserves a death penalty for his actions or whether he should be kept alive to ponder his actions and their consequences. Whatever ultimately happens to Kasab, his conviction after seventeen months of his macabre actions is a testament to the vitality of the Indian judicial system.

At a time when the US finds it extremely difficult to deal with the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, within its judicial system, the way India has dealt with Kasab is reflective of the maturity of Indian democracy and its judicial system.

It was to the credit of the Indian government that it did not get carried away by emotion and anger. It allowed the due process of law to take its place and granted Kasab all the rights available to an accused under the Indian law.

India has sent a message to Pakistan that it does have levers that it can use against Pakistan, the most important one being the openness of the Indian polity and society.

Kasab's trial helped India to expose Pakistan's machinations to the world at large, making it difficult for Islamabad and Rawalpindi to deny their role in the attacks on Mumbai. The intercepted telephone conversations between the Mumbai attackers and their handlers in Pakistan produced a detailed account of the role of the Pakistan-based conspirators that Islamabad found difficult to deny though it did try its best.

It was an open trial, with the media having complete access. The US was forced to accept the Lashkar's dangerous nature and the danger that if not dismantled and defeated its tentacles will soon envelope America itself.

Pakistani officials were forced to concede that the 26/11 conspiracy was hatched on Pakistani soil and Indian concerns were taken with relative seriousness. It is here that India needs American help in gaining access to David Headley so that it can provide information about Kasab's handlers to Pakistan.

India continues to accuse Pakistan that it is not pursuing the masterminds behind the 26/11 attacks. Pakistan continues to demand more evidence before it can take any action. The trial of seven suspects arrested by Pakistani authorities for alleged involvement in the Mumbai attacks has not moved much further. Only First Information Reports against these persons have been filed on the basis of Kasab's statement.

Now, however, it seems that the Indian government has decided to give the Pakistani government the benefit of doubt with the Indian prime minister suggesting that he 'trusts' his Pakistani counterpart.

There are indications that the India-Pakistan dialogue is about to be resumed. But unless the Pakistani authorities take Indian demands seriously, the peace process will not be able to generate public support. And in the absence of mass support, India and Pakistan will be stuck in the past.

Kasab's conviction does little in dismantling the terror infrastructure that is sustained by the Pakistani security establishment. Those who planned the attacks on Mumbai still enjoy the patronage of the Pakistani State. It remains unclear what options India has in bringing them to justice.

Kasab, in many ways, was the easiest piece of the puzzle. Moreover, whatever information he has provided will have only limited utility as he was merely following orders from his masters who remain still at large and continue to plot against India.

More importantly, it needs to be asked: Why have the internal security reforms that the government talked about in the aftermath of 26/11 not been taken to their logical conclusion? Why is there a reluctance to completely overhaul the domestic security set-up in the country?

If 26/11 should have taught us anything, it is that piecemeal initiates will not deter attacks on India. India's adversaries are smart enough to exploit the vulnerabilities of the country and therefore those loopholes need to be tackled.

As the recent failed attempt to blow up Times Square in New York underlines, no government can prevent all terrorist attacks on its citizens. But the record of recent Indian governments has been particularly disturbing for their inability to actively mobilise the nation's resources and will in tackling the menace of terrorism.

Contrary to what many might think, Kasab's conviction does not close the chapter on the Mumbai attacks. It refocuses the attention of the nation on a question that has not been convincingly answered: Why is it that a nation that thinks of itself as a rising power remains so vulnerable to terrorist attacks sponsored by an adversary that is largely considered a basket case in most parts of the world?

Dr Harsh V Pant teaches at King's College, London.

Harsh V Pant