A fair verdict, and a message to Pak

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The verdict in the Ajmal Kasab trial, which Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani delivered in Mumbai on May 3, has two key features. It underlines the sturdy independence of our judiciary in an uncommonly sensitive and complex criminal case and testifies to the scrupulousness of judicial conduct of the trial judge.

Two, coming only four days after the Thimphu meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, held at India’s initiative in a non-reciprocal spirit in order to generate “mutual trust,” the verdict places an inordinate burden on Indian diplomacy to push Pakistan to speed up the trial of those, who plotted and executed 26/11 and rescue the judicial process in Pakistan from becoming a complete farce.

The trial judge has exonerated Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Sheikh, regarded widely as the Indian subordinates of the Pakistanis, who planned and executed 26/11, saying the evidence presented by the prosecution was “unconvincing.” This points to below-par investigation by the police as the overall circumstances do seem to suggest that the duo were not disinterested bystanders. Given the nature of the case, a less finicky judge might have been psychologically pressured into accepting the merits of even shoddy evidence, but  Tahaliyani quite rightly chose to abide by the strictest judicial norms. The way the Mumbai police fought the terrorists on 26/11 with inferior weapons speaks of the valor of the force. But quality investigation is another matter, and must at all times be painstaking.

So pristine was the evidence — including CCTV footage, ballistics, forensics and witness accounts — that the judge probably had less difficulty dealing with the case of prime accused Kasab, the lone Pakistani gunman apprehended on 26/11. The young killer has been found guilty on all 86 charges against him — with the chargesheet running into nearly 13,000 pages — which included waging war against India, murder, attempt to murder, under the Arms Act, Explosives Act and many others of an extremely serious nature, it seems hard to believe the mass murderer will not be sentenced to  death. The quantum of the sentence is expected to be announced soon. If Kasab does not swing, he will be sentenced for life. That would appear light to most, the case having no extenuating circumstances whatever. It appears the cold-blooded assassin personally killed seven people on that horrible day, among them several police officers, including the highly-regarded Hemant Karkare. There is nothing in these dark circumstances to help reduce the severity of the sentence, not even the 21-year-old terrorist’s age. The young man had, after all, undergone prolonged training in warfare and destruction directed against civilians, and been a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba/ISI groupie. Like his other terrorist colleagues, who set out in a meticulously planned fashion for Mumbai from Karachi with the object of killing or dying, Kasab appears to deserve little consideration. It needs to be stressed that he received an open and fair trial in full glare of the media. Judicial evenhandedness is not in question here, and the sentence cannot but be consistent with the gravity of the crimes that he was tried for.

In going through all the material on record in the Kasab case, the special judge had no hesitation in pronouncing that the Mumbai attacks were carefully plotted under a conspiracy that involved Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed as well as Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. Indeed, the Pakistani signature is all over the place in the 26/11 attacks. This places the onus firmly on Islamabad to clean up its act on terrorism against India. It can be said without exaggeration that after the Kasab trial, and the Headley trial in the United States, Pakistan has no leeway whatever.
Courtesy: The Asian Age

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