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Special: 10 things you must read about Kasab verdict

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: May 04, 2010 11:55 IST
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The verdict in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks case was extraordinary in many ways. Sheela Bhatt lists the 10 most important things to understand about the judgment.

First, as Home Minister P Chidambaram said after the judgment that this is a message to Pakistan: Don't export terror.

After the Mumbai attacks, many liberal Indians wanted Pakistan to act against the terror aimed at India. By completing the trial in more or less a fair manner, India has shown its resolve to fight back -- legally and ethically -- Pakistan-based terrorists and their supporters' evil designs.

Second, the 26/11 attacks have not divided India. And that is an achievement. As Rehana Bastiwala, a Mumbai-based journalist, said, "Pakistan should get the message clear unlike the 1993 serial Mumbai blasts that divided Indian society; the 2008 terror attacks united India."

Hopefully, the times are changing. Hindus and Muslims --- urban and rural India, rich and poor and the middle class -- all felt strongly for those 166 families whose relatives were killed by 10 Pakistani terrorists.

Irrespective of the legal weaknesses or strengths of Judge Madan Tahilyani's verdict, generally, Indians would be happy that the trial took place with a speed not common in India and that the judge delivered a sound judgment.

Despite the police having inherent limitations of investigation because the conspiracy was hatched in Pakistan and there was no access to some 35 accused who masterminded/planned/executed the dreaded plot, the city police connected the dots on the basis of Ajmal Kasab's interrogation.

Third, the international community, particularly the Islamic world, will see the contrast between India and Pakistan. In their journey to realise their dreams after 1947 both these countries have drifted apart and how!

Ajmal Kasab is the symbol of the frustrations of elements in Pakistan that have captured and monopolised political, religious and social power structures in that country. The powerless class of Pakistan deserves justice as much as the Indian victims of Pakistani terrorists.

Kasab, a foot soldier, was sent by religious fundamentalists who have been misusing a potent weapon of ultra nationalist and fanatic religious emotions.

India's endeavour, although not yet fulfilled, is to remain pluralist and centrist. That has, thankfully, not yet created a Kasab. It is dreadful to think of any Indian's trial on similar charges in Islamabad. (Espionage is altogether a different story and category.)

There can't be a bigger humiliation than this for any country whose history of culture and religion is all about fusion of various cultures.

Fourth, Judge Tahilyani has for some reason not taken into account American terror suspect David Headley's emergence in the Mumbai attacks case. His 1,500-page verdict has missed out the entire Headley saga.

Ujjwal Nikam, the public prosecutor, told reporters that no instruction to include Headley in the case came from the central government. This makes the entire case incomplete because the investigation into Headley was not produced in court by the Mumbai police which had fresh material on hand.

Fifth, after the 26/11 attacks, a small, but vocal, section of Indian society, particularly in Mumbai, dominated television news debates, seeking reprehensible and extremely violent views on Kasab. Even Chidambaram in his statement on the judgment said that, 'Despite criticism from certain quarters (swayed by emotion and anger), we maintained that Kasab and the other accused ought to be tried in accordance with law and that they should have all the rights that are available to an accused under Indian law.'

The victims' relatives' feelings are understandable, but Hemant Karkare's wife Kavita also said that Kasab should be hanged in public. How can you condemn the savagery of Kasab and his nine associates by recommending the medieval practice of hanging Kasab in public?

By giving Kasab a fair trial India is arguing that it is not a banana republic. Slain police officer Tukaram Omble's relative said on television that Kasab's limbs should be cut into pieces in public and then salt should be applied on it. This view is just not Indian.

Sixth, the biggest point in favour of Kasab's trial is that it was open. The media had access to the proceedings throughout its duration. However, Kasab was not represented by a high-profile or senior counsel. Also, some reporters noticed that inside the court room, when the trial was on, a kind of haste was shown. This led to the sacking of Kasab's lawyer Abbas Kazmi, who was accused of non-cooperation.

As Supreme Court lawyer Fali S Nariman wrote in the Mumbai Mirror on Monday: 'Mere non-cooperation is no ground for removing the lawyer when the accused has his confidence in him, and this may perhaps vitiate the final verdict in the case. However, whether it will vitiate the entire trial, there is no answer except to say that "it all depends" -- on the facts of the case, one would have to see why it was done, when it was done, and what the problem was. Under the Criminal Procedure Code, the dismissal of such an advocate would be an "irregularity" and not an "illegality". But somehow with my limited knowledge of the case, the advocate's dismissal does not appeal to my sense of justice.'

Seventh, it's shocking that Judge Tahilyani rejected the Mumbai police's investigation against Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed. The judge demolished all the arguments so bluntly that Public Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam was seen fuming before the media.

The acquittal is a scary reminder that the Mumbai police could still produce 'quick-fix' results, even in a case of national and international importance. It is not known yet if it was done with malafide intentions or not.

The judge simply refused to believe that the map found in the slain terrorist Abu Ismail's pocket was a genuine. In other words, it meant the police manufactured the map and lied that they found it in Ismail's pocket to fix Ansari and Ahmed in the case.

Instead of finding local involvement, if any, in a professional manner without coming under political pressure, the acquittal of two key accused is a slap on the Mumbai police's face.

Eighth, India has limited reasons to rejoice that Judge Tahilyani declared Kasab guilty. His mentors and the devious minds in Pakistan's establishment, who probably worked behind the scenes in facilitating the Mumbai attacks, are not going to be affected by the trial. They care a damn for it.

The judge has relied heavily on Kasab's statement -- which he later retracted. Beyond his statement, not much has been found by the investigation agencies to fix Kasab's mentors in Pakistan.

The verdict pronounced many Pakistan-based accused guilty on the basis of circumstantial evidence in form of Kasab's statement.

The evidence against Kasab are many and beyond doubt, but his handlers are convicted on the basis of the terrorist's retracted statement.

As Nariman wrote in the Mumbai Mirror: 'However, I would not like to see the death penalty administered solely on the basis of a retracted confession howsoever flimsy the retraction.' He quoted former President Ramaswamy Venkataraman that, 'confessions' -- whether before the police or before a magistrate -- drained the Indian criminal law of its force and vitality.'

India was lucky to get Kasab alive. But, beyond getting his confession and fixing his culpability convincingly, the Mumbai police has not been lucky to get any fresh insights.

Their argument was that the conspiracy was hatched in Pakistan so they had limitations. But then how does one understand the 'fixing' of Ansari and Ahmed in India's most important terror case?

Ninth, it is ironic that when the judgment arrived, the headlines were shared by the news of the arrests of Devendra Gupta and Chandrashekhar, who are indirectly connected to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the Ajmer, Malegaon and Hyderabad blasts cases. Though the RSS strongly denied any links, the police in three states and the Central Bureau of Investigation are probing Hindutva outfits in small towns. This is no small news.

Lastly, the verdict shows how important interrogating David Headley is for India; the Pakistani-American is directly linked to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Mumbai attacks. The judgment in Mumbai lacks better evidence against Kasab's mentors because India does not have the desired access to Headley.

India is at a deadend in getting more than circumstantial evidence against anti-India forces who planned the Mumbai attacks.

America needs to play a fair game with India and be sincere in supporting global war on terrorism.

Also Read:

  • Why the judge concluded that Ajmal Kasab is guilty
  • At Cama hospital, Kasab is a bad word
  • 26/11 investigation was a lazy one
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    Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai