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Mumbai: A symbolic conviction

Soutik Biswas | 11:10 UK time, Monday, 3 May 2010

Ajmal Amir Qasab,What does the conviction of Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab really mean? Nobody had expected the only surviving gunman of the audacious 2008 Mumbai attacks to go scot free. Intense public pressure and media scrutiny had ensured that the trial would not grind on indefinitely. Justice usually plods along at a snail's pace in India - the trial for the July 1993 bomb attacks in Mumbai, to take one example, took 15 years to deliver a verdict.

At one level, the conviction is more symbolic than anything else. For most Indians who appear to have given up hope on its sluggish judicial system - this gives hope. For relatives of the victims, it may come as a closure of sorts to the Mumbai tragedy. One of the perpetrators of the most sensational attack on Indian soil has come before India's justice system - and has been convicted.

But I think the conviction means most to people like 11-year-old Devika Rotawan who was shot in the leg by Qasab at a railway station on that fateful night, but survived to tell the tale. Devika and her father, Natwarlal, and brother, Jayesh, were waiting to take a night train to Pune when the mayhem began.

Her spirit undiminished after 65 days in the hospital and half-a-dozen surgeries, the feeble, but sparky girl turned out to be a key witness and identified Qasab in the court.

"I told the judge," she had told me sitting in her one-room shanty home in a pale green frock, "I saw this man. He shot at me. I still have pain in my leg."

A carrom board, a few plastic chairs, a trunk, a cooking gas cylinder and a few utensils appeared to be the family's only obvious possessions. Some of the compensation money she had got from the government was being used to treat Jayesh, who was sick.

Devika told me how she was proud to be a main witness, how she had been wooed by news networks, and showed me a scrap book of press clippings about her. Her humour hadn't left her despite the pain. "You know what," she said, "Qasab has become very scrawny these days."Paramilitary soldier at Mumbai railway station

The conviction also means a lot to the policemen who intercepted and arrested Qasab at a checkpoint on the night of the attack. I met one of them, Inspector Sanjay Govilkar. He was hunched over his desk at a police station when I paid him a visit. The 42-year-old officer had written a book on lifestyle disorders with a picture of a weary looking Bollywood actor on the cover. The book "explained physical stress and tension suffered by people working in shift duties."

A bullet from Qasab's AK-47 had grazed Mr Govilkar as his colleague Tukaram Omble had fallen on the gunman and smothered him even as he was riddled with bullets. "I am not so intelligent," Mr Govilkar told me. "I thought if we catch him alive, we will get evidence. So we did not shoot."

Mr Govilkar attributed Qasab's arrest and his survival to the divine and to karma. "One of my astrologers told me after the incident that at the age of 40, there was a chance of my meeting a sudden death. But it didn't happen because of my good deeds," he said.

Not much has changed since Qasab was held by Mr Govilkar and a posse of brave Mumbai policemen. It is a humbling reminder of the times we live in that the conviction came after a weekend of alerts about an imminent terror attack on Delhi's crowded markets.

Relations between India and Pakistan - the gunmen were allegedly trained across the border, and the peace process ground to a halt after the attacks - remain frosty despite a couple of brief, formal recent meetings between the two sides. So the verdict, as security analyst Ajai Sahni says, is "of academic interest...It will have no impact on the trajectory of terrorism in the country. It will also not bring about great transformations in the security system."

So has India learnt the lessons of Mumbai and secured itself better? It is difficult to say.Mumbai attack file photo

The government has set up a National Investigation Agency to strengthen internal security. (14 cases have been assigned to the agency for investigation and prosecution, and charge sheets have been filed in two, says the interior ministry). Four federal commando hubs have been set up in different cities to "ensure quick and effective response to any possible terror attack." (Commandos had to be flown in from Delhi hours after the attacks in 2008.) The government says it is tightening coordination between different intelligence agencies hobbled by slow bureaucracy, and strengthening coastal security.

But the weakest link - the ill-equipped, ill-paid, ill-trained police force - remains as weak as ever. Securing a country of one billion people in crowded, poorly-planned cities is a daunting task anyway. So India remains vulnerable to terror attacks.

Unless you listen to Devika Rotawan, who told me, "I want to become a policewoman to protect my country and kill the terrorists. Why do they kill innocent people?"

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  • 1. At 4:35pm on 03 May 2010, Ananya78 wrote:

    Now that Qasab has been convicted Indians will be keen to find out whether the Pakistanis manage to convict the people they have caught in connection with the Mumbai attacks. We also have no ideas whether those caught are footsoldiers/pawns like Qasab, or people more influential and senior in the militants hierarchy. The onus is now on Pakistan also bring the guilty to book through their own justice system.

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  • 2. At 5:05pm on 03 May 2010, U14366952 wrote:

    Pakistan is the hotbed of terrorism in this world.

    Terror camps in Pakistan target India and the West.Safe havens in Pakistan's north west provinces target the US troops and Afghan forces.The Jihadi groups in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir train and send militants to fight India,lest we forget the Mumbai attacks.

    Unless the US and other countries fighting the war on terror realize that dealing with Pakistan harshly is the only way to solve the Afghan conflict and defeating Al Qaeda,the scourge of terror will perpetually prosper.

    What has Pakistan achieved after 61 years,since partition of India?Why separate land for subcontinent's muslims? What is the prognosis here..WHY IS US PLACATING Pakistan?Why should the international community put up with this country..for the fear of its nuclear weapons that it sold to north Korea?

    Is the US/international community braindead to squander 10 billion dollars to 'AID' Pakistan and gets channelized against India?

    US should have the spunk to tell Pakistan : ENOUGH is ENOUGH.I am not going overboard when I quote analysts telling about a swift operation by India and Israel to hijack Pakistan's nuclear weapons.This has obvious grave risks,but as if we are not threatened by this sickening state day after day by militant and ISI plots.Once successful,even if a war breaks out,this state can be subdued and divided like Balkan states:

    1.BALOCHISTAN
    2.PAKISTAN OCCUPIED KASSMIR - Merged with India
    3.Ethnic Punjabi Pakistani areas - into a small state administered by the UN for 100 years
    4.NWFT occupied by US to hound and flush the militants

    Riddance from a State which has become a nemesis for a peaceful democratic ,equalitarian world







    Satire can be vividly drawn from the fact that Pakistan has created a professional satanic intelligence service,army that hold the state to ransom and has a facade of democracy as veil .It has managed to be labeled as the 'international migraine'.It has succeeded in fermenting hate and laments against India and mastered the art of counterfeit Indian currency.Above all it seems to flaunt the identity of being a global hub of terror.It blackmails stakeholders in return for cooperation in terror fight against aid, has exacerbated the Afghan conflict by poking a noxious anti-India strategic angle to the problem. The Future: The Pakistani ambassador to Bangladesh said "Let Bygones be Bygones" wanting to bury the Bengali holocaust in 1971 war chronicles.

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  • 3. At 5:08pm on 03 May 2010, U14366952 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 7:21pm on 03 May 2010, a_ban22 wrote:

    Much has been said and continues to be said about Pakistan being a failed state and a terror hub and so on and so forth. At the people to people level, friendly interaction survives and survives well. There are umpteen tales of Indians and Pakistanis seeking out each other's company on foreign shores for an appreciable level of personal comfort.
    Is Ajmal Kasab an aberration against this backdrop ? If it is not the general public, who or what sponsor these individuals ? Are such actions taken up unilaterally by one country against the other without at least some from the victims' side colluding with the aggressors ?
    The trial and verdict of Ajmal Kasab and the entire chain of events of 26/11 raise these deeply disturbing questions time and again.

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  • 5. At 7:35pm on 03 May 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    With so many people it is difficult to stop every terrorist attack. It is all part of the world in which we live. The individuals who commit such acts are the ones to blame. If you decide to kill others than you must take responsbility for such actions. If nations send terrorist to other countries than those nations must be held responsible. Commiting an act here or there does nothing for their cause. The world rejects these acts and only the ignorant celebrate. What kind of martyr shoots a child? Sad, lost human beings who only see death as their life.

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  • 6. At 9:44pm on 03 May 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    What does the conviction of Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab really mean?
    I think it means we will never learn the complete truth about the Mumbai attacks. It means that the books have been quietly closed on the American David Coleman Headley.
    Some of us may not even remember David Headley, the American who scouted targets for the Mumbai attack. David Coleman Headley, formerly known as Daood Sayed Gilani, Chicago-based Pakistani American, who allegedly conspired with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Pakistani ex-military officers to launch the Mumbai attacks (among other attacks).
    David has been allowed to quietly pled to a dozen criminal charges, agreeing to help prosecutors & intelligence agents probe other potential targets. Headley’s plea hearing in a Chicago federal courtroom offered NEW details on the Mumbai plot. E.g. An earlier mission was aborted because of choppy waters. Headley acknowledged attending training camps sponsored by the Pakistani Lashkar-i-Taiba and changing his name from Daood Gilani to avoid attracting attention in India. He made five trips to Mumbai. He videotaped potential targets; he used global-positioning devices to help the terrorists locate The Oberoi hotels, a Jewish cultural center and a train station.
    Under the terms of the deal, Headley can secure a reduction in his prison sentence for ongoing cooperation with authorities and intelligence. He will not be extradited to India (even though this request has been made at the highest level of both Governments), Denmark or Pakistan. David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana were accused by US federal authorities in Chicago of plotting against the employees of a newspaper in Copenhagen. Headley is accused of traveling to Denmark to scout the building of the "Jyllands-Posten" newspaper, and a nearby Synagogue.
    While Indian Government Officials cite full cooperation by US authorities, the opposition parties and others in India have demanded explanations of why Headley was allowed to travel freely for years between India, Pakistan, and the US, and why was he working undercover for the DEA?
    Some Indian analysts have speculated that David Headley was a CIA Double agent within LeT, an accusation denied by the CIA. As soon as Headley was arrested in Chicago, the Indian media had a barrage of questions for Headley. Indian investigators placed a request for the FBI tapes of Headley's communications with his Pakistani handlers. Following intense coverage and speculation in the Indian press, US ambassador Timothy J. Roemer told reporters in New Delhi that the United States is working at the "highest level" to provide India access to Headley. Sure, I'll bet on that!
    Since Headley's guilty plea, Home Minister P. Chidambaram was repeatedly asked why the U.S. cannot extradite Headley to India. Analysts in some media outlets have speculated that the United States conspired to have Headley work undercover despite knowledge that he was involved in terrorism.
    So, I don’t know what Mohammad Ajmal Qasab’s conviction means exactly, but I suspect it means David Coleman Headley will get to live quietly while he provides "intelligence" to his US handlers.
    Plus, I get a rotten smell that something is not right in this investigation, as though the truth has been stashed away.

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  • 7. At 06:25am on 04 May 2010, roopesh wrote:

    the most priced possession in the subcontinent can never be sold or bought .
    its peace ..and if peace is negotiated that could save billions spent by pakistan and india over defense.and i feel defense is a term which we often use wrongly. because by saying defence we mean its opposite most of the time...

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  • 8. At 06:48am on 04 May 2010, roopesh wrote:

    ajmal kasab waged war on us ,Indians.ajmal you shouldn't have shot those poor innocent people in the platform.they were never policy makers. and it is obvious that he will be hanged to death. and i am very sure that when the verdict is out there will be a discussion over here about he should be hanged or not.
    it is not terrorism it can be better attributed to his religion. if his motive was to kill Indians. he could have easily gone to a mosque and could have opened fire but why dint that happen.and why it never happens.
    and his stone age religious ideology says .u blow up a jew u go to heaven.u blow up a Hindu u go to heaven. u blow up or screw anyone not circumcised u either go to heaven or your heaven entry point counting meter ticks a tick.and some fools says its about peace,it means peace.yes its a piece of atrocity if these are the ideologys those goat beared dudes teaches these kasabs and send them over to mamma through boat.

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  • 9. At 07:09am on 04 May 2010, roopesh wrote:

    oh bored of soutik biswas..plz let some one else also write a post..its bbc india ..but it seems like its sbc india..

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  • 10. At 8:13pm on 04 May 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    The Pakistan government arrested people within a day of the attempted terrorist attack in New York, but India has waited a very long time for a response about connections to those who attacked Mumbai.

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  • 11. At 12:29pm on 06 May 2010, snashraf wrote:

    India has successfully handled the trial. All those who were part of this cruel killing must be punished at any cost. However, there is a need of serious approach to the issue instead of blaming. I still feel that there is need of unbiased investigation in India and Pakistan.

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  • 12. At 12:35pm on 07 May 2010, stalbans17 wrote:

    (My last post on this issue was deleted, because it violated the House rules; am very surprised that this was the case given my acquaintance with the norms of debate. However, here's one more try - I am confident that it will be dealt with independently).

    My thesis: I hope that Mr. Kasab receives a presidential pardon, and state-sponsored counselling, and the right to live in freedom - and, if need be, anonymity - in India (as his home country apparently refuses to take him back) and, through this also, peace come to the families of the victims, to all of us.

    My arguments:

    Firstly, this sentence has little (absolutely none?) deterrent effect. This person walked around in a T-shirt killing indiscriminately - I don't think he was worried about being killed himself in the process (nine of a total ten of the group died). He probably was convinced that it was a hero's death, that he was doing the right thing by murdering Indians, Westerners and Jews, that heaven would provide him with attractive and inquisitive ladies etc. etc..

    The schools that taught this young person that it's really part of God's plan that he destroy infidels and sub-humans (or whatever the literature refers to us as) continue to exist, and probably laud him as someone exceedingly fortunate.

    If we continue to tolerate these schools, then I don't think we - as a society - have the right to satisfy our rage by destroying this one person's body.

    Secondly, I am aware of the concept of revenge; indeed, it is as old as the hills. However, notions of revenge and compensation (through torturing the aggressor, paying monetary rewards to the victim or the victim's tribe, even moving the "guilt" to another object, a goat, for instance, etc.) have evolved over time. Nietzsche speculates that one day we will have societies so secure in their own existence and confident of their right to exist, that all but the most serious crimes will go unpunished. This is a novel idea (which is, generally, the rule with Nietzsche, of course!) - one that we are far from attaining, but perhaps we can consider ourselves to be on this journey. And, in any case, those who lost family and friends, could hardly be blamed for wishing to visit even much more brutal redemption, for grief is an overpowering emotion. But this is true of every murder, of every maiming, of every deadly insult.

    Thirdly, how important are courts and the legal system? Should we have bothered we them? Shouldn't Mr. Kasab have been lynched? Or shall due process be followed? A pardon is part of this process. Why should it not be considered?

    Fourthly, the spectacle of people - including those who were not "directly" affected - actually rejoicing in his judicial killing is more than a little disturbing. Firecrackers and dancing in the streets ought to be reserved for happier occasions.

    Fifthly, the prosecutor compared Mr. Kasab to a snake, and then went further, suggesting that a snake would feel insulted at this comparison. This de-humanization of human beings is to be very closely watched. Once that's taken care of, the gates of Auschwitz are not far away.

    Sixthly, what message will the Republic of India send if Mr.Kasab is pardoned? That India is a soft state, vulnerable to attack? Not very likely, given that India has strong ties with the world's other power centres, and the world's second largest standing army. Perhaps that we know something of tolerance and humanity? That the "enemy" perhaps ought to reexamine itself and its purported values of peace? Surely, that can't be a bad thing.

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  • 13. At 8:55pm on 12 May 2010, Anil wrote:

    Justice usually plods along at a snail's pace in India

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