The Mumbai attacks of Nov 26, 2008 (often referred to as India’s 26/11) reached partial closure on Wednesday with the decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the conviction and death sentence awarded to the lone surviving gunman, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, in May 2010 for his role in the carnage that took 166 lives. Apart from Indian citizens who bore the brunt of the attack, there were as many as 25 other nations whose citizens were either killed or injured. Jews were particularly targeted.
The enormity of 26/11 and the manner in which Kasab and his team killed scores of civilians was captured live on TV footage and the telephone communication with the ‘handlers’ in Pakistan gave the entire event a macabre quality where the real and reel telescoped into each other. At that time in late 2008, emotions ran high in India and angry, collective revenge had to be kept at bay so that justice could be rendered to the victims and their families who suffered grievous loss.
India sets considerable import to what is called the ‘due process of the law’ and despite the enormous trial court backlog, the Kasab case moved fairly swiftly by Indian standards and the case reached the Supreme Court. To that extent it may be inferred, that at a purely individual level, some degree of justice has been rendered with the decision of the Supreme Court, which has opined that the accused was accorded a fair trial and the gravity of the crime -- “participated in waging war against the country” -- warranted the death penalty.
However, Kasab is unlikely to go to the gallows in a hurry for in all likelihood, the August 29 decision will be sent for appeal and a review and if rejected, the case could finally be referred to the President of India for mercy. What is germane is that one of the surviving perpetrators of a major terror attack could be prosecuted through the law of the land and that ‘due process’ was respected. The degree of solace that this kind of justice will provide to the families of the victims is moot and some foreign nationals may still seek different forms of redress and compensation through their own legal provisions.
The larger and more complex issue of 26/11 is the linkage with the Pakistani security apex, for as an individual, Kasab was a mere foot soldier -- albeit lethal in killing unarmed innocents. The Supreme Court judgement noted inter alia: “The most clinching evidence regarding conspiracy comes from the recordings of intercepted telephone calls between the terrorists and their co-conspirators and collaborators sitting in a foreign land that, in light of the overall facts and circumstances of the case, can only be Pakistan”. The linkage between the perpetrators of 26/11 with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the support that this group has traditionally received from the Rawalpindi GHQ is part of a well-known narrative about the patterns of cross-border terror in the region. This has now been reiterated by the highest court in India.
It may be recalled that in the immediate aftermath of 26/11, the first reaction of the Pakistani security establishment was to deny Kasab’s nationality as a Pakistani and it took an intrepid Pakistani journalist to expose the truth. In the intervening years, there has been more innovative opacity than sincere intent on the part of the Pakistani security establishment to prosecute the high-level handlers of the Kasab team -- and this is predictable.
The 26/11 carnage and the reluctance of the Pakistan government to enable speedy prosecution on their side will come up for discussion in the Tehran meeting between Indian PM Manmohan Singh and the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, where they are expected to meet on the sidelines of the NAM Summit.
But the reality is that the Pakistani security establishment had deliberately invested in terror groups as part of the ‘strategic depth’ doctrine more than 20 years ago and this policy has neither been reviewed nor altered. Lest this assertion be seen as partisan, it may be recalled that soon after the terror attack (Aug 16) on the Kamra airbase near Islamabad, a noted Pakistani security analyst made an insightful and courageous observation.
Ayesha Siddiqa averred that despite General Kayani asserting that the war on terror is Pakistan’s own war -- there was no policy shift towards groups espousing the ideology of terror. She added: “Groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which have safe havens in the country (Pakistan), continue to thrive.”
In a non-linear manner, the Kasab-Kayani eco-system continues to be nurtured in Pakistan even as it is denied to Islamabad’s external interlocutors, which is why 26/11 will only have partial closure.
C. Uday Bhaskar is the former director of the New Delhi-based National Maritime Foundation. The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not represent those of Reuters