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Saturday, October 22, 2016
- Wednesday, Nov. 21, dawned like any other in the sleepy town of Faridkot, located some 150 kilometres from the Punjab capital of Lahore in Pakistan. But as the town’s 3000 residents went about their daily routines the air grew thick with apprehension, for a reason none wanted to mention.
At seventy-thirty that morning, one of the town’s former residents, a man named Ajmal Kasab, was executed in Pune’s Yerawada Central Jail, in western India’s Maharashtra state.
Kasab was the sole survivor of a group of ten men who carried out the three-day terror rampage in November 2008 that left 166 people dead in Mumbai.
Kasab was charged with 86 offences, including murder and waging war against the Indian state. After a long trial and the denial of his clemency appeal on Nov. 5, he was hanged just a few days before the fourth anniversary of the senseless but well-orchestrated attack that brought the nuclear neighbours to the brink of war.
Shafique Butt, a correspondent for the English daily newspaper ‘Dawn’, who visited the village on the morning of the execution, told IPS over the phone from Punjab, “While everyone knew he had been hanged, people were just not willing to talk about it; let alone express their feelings – either in favour or against (the execution).”
Kasab’s immediate family had long since left the village. “No one is sure if they have been relocated by the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), or Pakistan’s intelligence agencies,” said Butt. The LeT is also blamed for an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001.
“I was told there are five or six Lashkar men in the village,” Butt added, including, possibly, Kasab’s younger brother who was just a teenager in 2008.
On the streets, ordinary Pakistanis have shown little or no interest in Kasab’s hanging. They are far too concerned about their own safety: bomb blasts have become a daily occurrence in all the big cities, despite high security since the holy month of Muharram began a week ago.
“The government of Pakistan will not take a critical position on this issue; it will stay quiet,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political analyst.
Islamic parties and hard-line anti-India groups have expressed some resentment or spoken about the denial of justice, Askari told IPS, but sustained protest was not expected.
Only a handful of people, like Saba Khan, a housemaid in Faridkot, lamented the act. “Couldn’t they have given him life imprisonment? They didn’t even grant him his last wish of meeting his mother,” she told IPS.
Re-examining ‘terrorism’ in PakistanOn the other side of the border, the hanging has been hailed as “a victory for India” and a “tribute to all the innocent people and police officers who lost their lives” in the tragedy of November 2008.
Megha Prasad, deputy bureau chief for the Indian news channel ‘Times Now’, who reported live from outside the Oberoi and Trident hotels where 33 people were killed, expressed surprise at the clandestine execution of “foot soldier Kasab”, but told IPS that the execution may bring “temporary closure to the victims of 26/11”.
Still, she echoed the sentiments of many when she added that justice will only be delivered when the “perpetrators and those who masterminded 26/11 are brought to book.”
Other experts have been even less taken aback by the incident, which came just one day after India, along with 39 other U.N. member states, voted against a General Assembly draft resolution calling for a non-binding moratorium on executions.
“Kasab’s hanging was a foregone conclusion and surprised no one,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a peace activist and academic, told IPS. “It had to be done, else mass murder would have gone unpunished.”
“That the Mumbai attacks were carried out by a Pakistan-based militant group can surprise no one because, literally for decades, groups such as LeT and Jaish-e-Muhammad, have publically declared that they exist only to attack India, anywhere and at any time,” he added.
Indeed, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the banned LeT, is a prominent public figure in Pakistan, often seen at political rallies delivering vitriolic sermons, directed primarily at the United States government.
Hoodbhoy’s analysis, shared by many others, highlights the sticky situation the government is now in.
For years, according to Askari, the most popular narrative within official political circles has been that Pakistan is a victim of terrorism. “(Most) officials attribute terrorist activities and violence in Pakistan to Pakistan’s foreign adversaries. That means that they do not give much credence to domestic sources of Pakistan’s problems.”
Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IPS that this makes a strong case “for Pakistan to adopt a credible, meaningful policy. Pakistan has to go after terrorists – and not back off only because India is asking it to act. Almost all terrorist attacks anywhere in the world seem to have some Pakistani ‘connection’, from the U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya” to the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. twin towers, she said.
“The world understands how difficult it is to tackle militants,” added Ashaar Rehman, resident editor for ‘Dawn’ in Lahore, “but is in no mood to play the understanding elder when its own existence is on line.”
But for now, he said, Pakistan seems either unable or unwilling to tackle rising militancy.
Hoodbhoy pointed out that most militant groups had, at some point in their existence, received the support of Pakistani intelligence agencies. “While some still do (accept the support), others have pointed their guns against their former benefactors,” he said.
Many experts believe Pakistan should make public some of the answers they must already have gathered through their investigations such as: who masterminded the the 2008 attacks and why, where and how the gunmen were trained, and most importantly, how these activities went ‘unnoticed’ in Pakistan.
But the government has proven it will be slow to act. It took a long time for Pakistan to even admit that the Mumbai attacks were planned on its soil, and it continues to deny any official involvement.
While seven of the alleged masterminds were charged in 2009, more evidence is needed to convict them, the government insists.