Qasab execution does not erase unanswered questions

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving suspected gunman in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, is seen under police custody at an undisclosed location, in this undated still file image taken from video footage shown on the CNN-IBN television channel since February 3, 2009 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption India has voted against abolishing death penalty

The execution of Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, came on a day when the newspapers interestingly are full of stories about the death penalty.

The Indian Express, quoting the Press Trust of India, reports that India is among the 39 countries that have voted against a UN General Assembly draft resolution which called for abolishing the death penalty. A total of 110 nations voted in favour of the resolution, and 36 abstained.

Though it rarely carries out executions - Qasab's hanging was the second since 2004 - India joined countries such as Bangladesh, China, Korea, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan and the US in supporting the death penalty.

A second and more interesting story in The Times Of India says the Supreme Court feels the need to have a fresh look into the "rarest of rare" crimes, a condition for handing out the death penalty in India. These have to be "exceptionally heinous and cold-blooded murder cases", the paper notes.

More than 30 years after the court came up with this condition to send convicts to the gallows, two judges say there was "little or no uniformity in [its] application". The newspaper said: "In short, the court suggested that the present system was not working."

Qasab's appalling crime of gunning down innocents at Mumbai's main railway station surely qualifies as a "rarest of rare" crime. The execution may also provide closure for some of the grieving families of the victims of the tragedy.

Although there has been an outpouring of tasteless retributive glee over Wednesday's execution, there is also a rising tide of moderate opinion which advocates that India should rethink its attitudes towards the death penalty.

"How does legal sanction for retaliatory murder redeem the savagery of what is in essence an 'eye for an eye' act of revenge?" tweeted senior journalist Malini Parthasarathy.

It's a good question.

On the other hand, many believe, the government, beset by allegations of scandal and inaction, timed the execution perfectly.

It came a day before the beginning of the winter session of the parliament, where it's primed to face a noisy and tough opposition. It also came five days before the fourth anniversary of the attacks when the main opposition BJP would have almost certainly reminded the government of its "failure" to execute Qasab.

India, believe many, should continue to put pressure on Pakistan to ensure that no attacks should be mounted from its soil. But India also needs to protect its citizens much better.

The Mumbai attack exposed the incompetencies of the country's fragile security system - mainly the under-equipped, politicised police. How else could 10 armed men virtually take over a thriving city and wreak bloody havoc for 60 hours?

It is not clear whether things have improved radically despite the government spending thousands of dollars to beef up Mumbai's ragged police forces. The less said about the state of police in other parts of the country the better.

The best tribute to the victims of Mumbai would have been a move towards reforming India's weakest security link. Nothing of that sort has happened. The victims of Mumbai continue to be humiliated.