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Spectacular Terrorism And Secret Executions
Are India And America Now Mirror Images?
By Angshukanta Chakraborty
On November 20, a day before the "swift and secret execution" of Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab at Pune's Yerwada Jail at 7:30 am, India had voted against abolishing death penalty at a UN General Assembly. Others to oppose the motion included the United States of America, Japan, China, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe, who were amongst the 39 to vote against the resolution calling for the abolition of death penalty, while a record 110 countries voted in favour of the motion. It is of course fascinating to note that two of the largest democracies, India and USA, shared bed space in this matter with countries none other than Iran, North Korea and Syria, realms that are deemed a threat to world peace and against which several crippling sanctions have been in place for long.

The "swift and secret execution" of Ajmal Kasab and the congratulatory messages flooding the TV screens all over India present a case of acute déjà vu. Only a year and half ago, on May 2, 2011, US President Barack Obama announced on TV that Osama Bin Laden had been killed in a top-secret military operation. 'OBL' was hiding in a military cantonment town of Pakistan called Abbottabad and the CIA got the whiff of it when they conducted a fake vaccination drive to extract inside information. On May 2, 2011, six officers of the US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or SEAL Team Six, conducted the CIA-led 'Operation Neptune Spear' and carried out a clandestine raid on OBL's compound and killed the world's former terrorist-in-chief. Osama Bin Laden, a.k.a. Abu Hamza, died a disgraceful death at the age of 54, after being hunted down in his hideout.

So the scale and scope of the secret military operation was much bigger. In fact, this was timed excellently as it came in the wake of Team Obama's disastrous performance in the 2010 US assembly elections, and pretty much acted to salvage the dwindling prospects of the Democrats in the 2012 general elections. Of course, Team Obama used the death of OBL as their crowning achievement that helped them a lot to win back a second term in office.

Ajmal Kasab's death by hanging has the same ring of surprised inevitability, but it comes with minor adjustments. Unlike OBL's undisclosed whereabouts and America's general frustration about not being able to nail the man, Kasab's four-year long arduous trial and the resulting death sentence had been widely debated in four stages - trial court, Bombay High Court, Supreme Court and finally the mercy petition to the President of India. At every stage his death sentence was upheld and public opinion India, which is usually as cacophonous and dissonant as shards of a broken mirror, displayed a remarkable consensus on what needed to be done to the lone 26/11 terrorist to be caught alive.

As I write this piece, news channels in India are constantly harping on the fact that although 11 mercy petitions, including that of Afzal Guru, are still pending, the Kasab's case was fast-tracked so as to provide a sense of closure to the actual and collective trauma that was forced on India in the form of 26/11. In fact, mercy pleas of Afzal Guru and seven other have been sent back to the home ministry for a relook, but Kasab somehow was above and beyond any consideration of mercy or pardon. The fact that only seemingly unpardonable and heinous crimes are awarded the death sentence, and that the President's mercy petition becomes an option only once the death sentence is upheld by the highest court of law, needs to be ascertained in this context. The President of India has been bestowed with the power to pardon the unpardonable, as an act of grace and good faith, as also as a symbol to showcase the basic benevolence of humanity at large. It's a gesture and a gift, not much of a last resort to escape punishment. But that gift was not granted by President Pranab Mukherjee, who rejected Kasab's mercy petition on November 5.

India was unified in doling out death penalty to Kasab, who, along with his co-gunman of Pakistani origin, opened fire and killed several innocent people at Mumbai's CST train station. Kasab had been the face of 26/11, and despite Indian police now getting clues to bigger fishes such as Abu Jindal, Kasab's visage, which can easily be passed off as Indian by any means, became the salt on the open wound of the tragedy. Images of Taj Hotel burning and special forces bringing out charred bodies from the destroyed building, Café Leopold in shambles, corpses at the CST station have been haunting the Indian psyche for four years now. In a way, 26/11 did look like a smaller scale 9/11 from every angle, and the range of emotions they ignited also appear to be identical to each other.

As families of 26/11 victims jubilate over Kasab's death, a TV channels rush to interview anyone remotely connected to the tragedy, from the deceased officers to the survivors, the face of 25-year-old Ajmal Kasab keeps popping up. This is the hanged man, the condemned man. But he was no Osama Bin Laden. At best, Kasab was a deluded, brainwashed youth without much education to beef him up in globally accepted liberal values. That he picked up an automatic weapon after months of mental and physical indoctrination, that he pulled the trigger as if on an autopilot after being drugged with a fascist ideological virus, is of course a vicious truth. But it's also an unfortunate truth.

It is true that once OBL was killed, kin and kith of the 9/11 victims felt a sense of relief, perhaps that's what called a 'closure' in popular social psychological parlance. Most certainly, if TV channel testimonies are a proof, relatives of 26/11 victims are feeling the same way. But what gets unnoticed in this game of perfectly timed and unimaginatively named 'Operation X' (it is beyond a shingle of doubt that Americans score way better than their Indian counterparts in codenaming their stealth tasks) is that we might end up equating the two deaths as having the same magnitude and the same relevance, which would be a disastrous and thoroughly mistaken attitude to terrorism and terrorists.

Osama Bin Laden was the chief executive of global terrorism, until his death in 2011, who was initially fomented by CIA itself to ward off the Russians in Afghanistan. Ajmal Kasab was a Lashkar-e-Toiba foot soldier, an infinitesimally small cog in the grinding wheel of the ISI-backed terrorism machinery in Pakistan. A more enlightened and impartial view would hold Kasab to be as much a victim as those killed by his gunfire. How much of a choice did a vulnerable, poor, unemployed and undereducated youth living in Faridkot, Pakistan, really have, when the alternative to the machismo of holding an AK-47 and being rewarded with a compensation of Rs. 100,000 was working as a day labourer on abysmal wage in Karachi or Lahore, or selling dahi puri to the locals like his own father?

Could India have done the unimaginable and pardoned Kasab, letting him live with the shame and guilt of having been branded a terrorist? Could India have given Kasab a second chance at life, especially when he was responsible for taking those of several others, especially because he was a killer and didn't deserve it? At times, isn't it necessary to rise above popular sentiments and do the right thing, even if it faced bitter opposition, even at the cost of coming across as 'soft on terror'?

(IPA Service)
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News Updated at : Friday, November 23, 2012
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