Kasab’s conviction

May 6, 2010

There are many lessons to be drawn from the conviction Monday of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only survivor among the 10 gunmen who, in November 2008, massacred 166 people and maimed hundreds of others in Mumbai. One lesson is that the notoriously sluggish wheels of the Indian court system can be made to move notably faster.

This trial was handled fairly and efficiently. Though some Pakistanis still choose to believe, against all the evidence, that Kasab was in some way innocent, there can be little doubt that from graphic individual testimonies of over 600 witnesses, coupled with the chilling images which depicted him in Mumbai’s main railway station, Kasab was one of the terrorists. He even confessed in court though later withdrew the confession, claiming he had been tortured. India has therefore delivered a dispassionate legal process which incidentally acquitted two Indian Muslims accused of aiding in the attack. We hope this will be matched when Pakistan tries the seven alleged members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group for involvement in the Mumbai outrage. The Indian government is already doubtful about the effectiveness of this prosecution, not least despite New Delhi’s protests, the group’s leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has not been charged.
In the coming days the Indian court will announce Kasab’s sentence. The majority of Indians expect him to be condemned to death for his heinous crimes. Yet the Indian government might think carefully about commuting that sentence. The argument would be that Kasab was fully prepared to be shot and killed as he committed mass murder. No doubt the Lashkar leaders who chose him for this evil task promised that he would be considered a martyr.
Kasab is now 22 years old. His behavior in court has demonstrated considerable immaturity, with him on occasions crying, on others joking. If the enormity of what he and his fellow terrorists did was dawning on him, he generally tried to cover it up with an unconvincing insouciance. For his merciless crimes, Kasab undoubtedly deserves to die. However, if he is imprisoned for the rest of his life, he may come to admit to himself the unspeakable wickedness of what he did. If then he were prepared to admit this publicly and warn other young people against the lure of terrorist recruiters, he might have done one good thing in his life. His execution, however, will just feed the odious myth of martyrdom and maybe attract other youths to follow in his blood-soaked footsteps.
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