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Looking at Kasab through the overseas lens

May 10, 2010 18:46 IST

As expected, coverage of the verdict and death sentence of lone surviving 26/11 terrorist Mohammad Ajmal Kasab dominated last week: Through interviews with the victims' families, analysis and debate of the death penalty in India and detail-rich accounts of the court-room drama, the Indian media explored almost every possible angle of the Kasab trial story.

But how was the sentence reported and interpreted by foreign media?


In the Pakistani media, the verdict and death sentence given to Kasab earned front-page newspaper coverage, but was overshadowed by two other stories: Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's ongoing battle with graft accusations, which shook the Pakistani government last week; and the attempted Times Square bombing on May 1, for which Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad has been arrested and the Pakistani Taliban is believed responsible.

On May 7, the day after Kasab received his death sentence, most Pakistani English dailies covered the story using a few hundred words of agency copy, while The Dawn's New Delhi reporter Jawed Naqvi wrote a column titled, 'Maoists give Pakistan a breather'.

Naqvi wrote: 'As an Indian judge closed a sordid chapter in Delhi's ties with Islamabad on Thursday by handing the death sentence to the sole surviving Pakistani gunman involved in the November 2008 carnage in Mumbai, the Indian government signalled that a more serious threat to the country's internal security came from a Maoist rebellion raging in central and eastern India, not from across the border.'

The Dawn also featured a column by Kuldip Nayar in which he urged the common man in both Pakistan and India to help their governments resume talks. 'I know that most people in India and Pakistan are prisoners of the past. They have a deep, entrenched mistrust against each other. They tend to see even positive steps in a negative manner…The prime ministers of India and Pakistan have taken the lead by deciding to sit across the table. This demands eschewing mistrust and overcoming past grievances. It may be tough. But let's begin again.'

In discussing right-wing Hindu groups in India, Nayar also asked questions about the death of Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare. 'Authoritative sources at New Delhi suspect that Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP government is in power, has become a safe sanctuary for the Hindu outfits. Top police official Hemant Karkare is alleged to have been eliminated by Hindu extremists when he collected certain leads on the involvement of Hindu organisations in attacks across the country. Even the attack on the Samjotha Express (2007) is considered the handiwork of Hindu terrorists,' he wrote.

Meanwhile, in The News, a report said Islamabad's response to the verdict and death sentence had been "cautious", after a Pakistani Foreign Office spokesperson dodged commenting on the case, aside from a general condemnation of terror.

Over the weekend, Washington DC's pressure on Islamabad to dismantle terror groups operating in Pakistan continued to dominate headlines, with Kasab's verdict and sentence being referenced as part of the larger terrorism story.

United States

In a week that saw an attempted terror attack in New York City, also spawned from Pakistan, the Kasab trial and verdict received major play in America, as many US agencies made the effort to connect Kasab's trial with other Pakistan-based terror.

On most major news networks, reports of Kasab's death sentence scrolled along news tickers. 'Mumbai gunman sentenced to death,' reported CNN.

The Washington Post, through its reporter in India, said the case had caused 'heated debates' in India about whether Kasab should be given the death sentence – 'a rare penalty in India'.

A widely syndicated New York Times article reported from the court-room: 'For most of the nearly two-hour hearing on Thursday, Mr Kasab did not look at the judge or anybody else in the courtroom. He did not address the court, though he appeared to ask his guards to let him out of the room… Mr Kasab, 22, who looked ill and spent most of the hearing with his head lowered and his right hand covering his face, cried a little but did not say anything after the sentence was read. When asked if he would like to say anything before the sentence was read, Mr. Kasab shook his head and flicked his hand downward.'

It added that that Kasab was unlikely to be put to death quickly, and explained India's appeal process.

 Most US papers also explored the stalled composite peace dialogue between Pakistan and India, blaming the deterioration in relations on Pakistan's perceived slow response in convicting those responsible for 26/11 attacks.

'The terrorist attack heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, which have fought several wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. Pakistan was slow to agree with Indian findings that the attacks were planned in Pakistan,' wrote The Wall Street Journal, after Kasab's conviction.

UK, Australia, Europe

The BBC's Prachi Pinglay, reporting from the court-room in Mumbai, said: 'Qasab shook his head when asked if he wanted to make a statement. He was later seen wiping his face and talking to a policeman.' 

BBC World's 'Have Your Say' programme devoted a segment to Kasab, asking viewers if it was ok to hand out death penalties for crimes as reprehensible as terrorism.

Priyamvada Gopal wrote an op-ed in The Guardian, titled, 'Executing Mumbai gunman is not the answer', in which she asserted:

'…Unanswered questions hang over the investigation, particularly around the assassination during the shootings, of Hemant Karkare, a counter-terrorism officer who had been investigating Hindu terrorist networks. A death sentence for Kasab, seen to represent Pakistan, will be widely supported in a frenzy of righteous retribution. Presidential clemency is politically improbable… But will the ritual execution of this 21-year-old bring an end to the cycle of violence across the subcontinent? While India's supreme court famously decreed that capital punishment is to be used only in "the rarest of rare cases", the recent expansion and abuse of anti-terror legislation is only likely to mean an increase in capital sentences for crimes such as "waging war" on the government and "conspiracy" to commit terrorist acts. The case of another alleged terrorist, Afzal Guru, has raised worrying questions about standards of proof in capital cases.'

The Times in London ran a lengthy article, bylined 'Rhys Blakely in Mumbai', with an evocative title, 'Death penalty for grinning Mumbai terrorist Mohammad Ajmal Kasab'.

'News of the sentence was greeted outside the courtroom by a crowd that chanted: "Victory to India." Ujjwal Nikam, the public prosecutor, flashed victory signs and brandished a dossier showing Kasab behind an image of a giant noose,' it said.

In Australia, where capital punishment was recently comprehensively and permanently banned, the case was used by talk radio to debate the wisdom of the death penalty ban.

Dispatches from the Associated Press about Kasab's case appeared throughout last week in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail. Most continental European papers used Associated Press and AFP reports.

In a dispatch from India on May 7, the AFP reported on the Indian media, and said, 'Indian newspapers welcomed the death sentence passed on the lone surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, praising the trial as a victory for the rule of law.'

AFP's correspondent in Mumbai, Phil Hazlewood, also posted a more impressionistic account of and reaction to the verdict, on his AFP blog.

Muslim world

Most papers in the Arab and larger Muslim world reported the story with agency copy.

The National newspaper, based in Abu Dhabi, had a correspondent in Mumbai who wrote: 'Kasab, the Pakistani who was convicted on Monday of 82 charges, including that of waging war against India, sobbed on hearing the judgment, but was wordless. After it was over, he was hauled back to his prison cell, looking ashen.'

Israel National News, a web site, ran a story on the death sentence, viewed through the lens of the attack on the Mumbai Chabad House, which left six dead, including the head of the centre, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, his pregnant wife, Rivka. 

The Tehran Times ran an op-ed from the Arab News, largely positive about India's handling of the case and quite condemnatory of Kasab.

But it ended on an ominous note.

'One lesson has, however, not been learned. As a result of the security failures around the Mumbai attacks, the government has created the National Investigation Agency to consolidate security countrywide and it has established four federal commando hubs, from which crack anti-terrorist units can be dispatched to confront any terrorist attack. Unfortunately the major change that everyone admits is necessary has not yet taken place. India's police remain poorly trained, poorly paid and poorly motivated. Until the quality and pay of this force is increased, India's frontline against terrorism will remain dangerously thin.'

Rediff News Desk