My rather laughable rendering of Mumbai news photographer Sebastian D’Souza’s iconic picture of Ajmal Kasab. I don’t have the original picture’s publishing rights. You can see it here
Five days shy of the fourth anniversary of the November 26, 2008, Mumbai terror attack, Ajmal Kasab, the last of its 10 dramatis personae has been hanged by India in a craftily timed decision.
I say craftily because of 1) The approaching anniversary of the Mumbai attack, 2) The start of Indian parliament’s winter session on November 22, 3) The approaching state legislative elections in Gujarat next month 4) The easy obviousness of the decision.
Of course, no one from the Indian government can be rationally expected to concede any or all of the above points. That is just my way of looking at a development that could have taken place any time after the 25-year-old lone surviving Pakistani gunman was sentenced to death.
The decision to carry out Kasab’s hanging and burial in the Yerawada Jail in Pune was kept a very tightly held secret. So much so that the hangman was not told around whose neck he was tasked to tighten the noose. Kasab was told of his impending hanging on November 12 in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Central Jail and was flown to Pune on November 19.
It is amazing how a society that is one gigantic sieve otherwise is also so good at keeping secrets.
Since the Mumbai killings in which 166 people died I have written several posts about Kasab. I would like to reproduce some of the more compelling ones here.
April 29, 2009
Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of last year’s Mumbai terror strikes, wants toothpaste, “perfumes” and an Urdu newspaper as he awaits his trial. I understand the toothpaste and newspaper part but “perfumes” mystifies me. Body odor is the least of Kasab’s problems, I think.
Kasab is lodged in the Arthur Road Central Jail in Mumbai, a place I am familiar with from my younger days while reporting on the city’s underworld. One needs more than perfumes to get by in a jail cell there cooked by the city’s oppressively humid climate. Someone might have forgotten to inform the young man that he is in there to answer charges running into thousands of pages and not on a business trip to Mumbai from Karachi in a hotel where the room service staff forgot to stock up his toiletries.
There is something amusing about Kasab’s request for perfumes because he obviously thinks it will be taken seriously. I think his request should be seen in the context of another request to be allowed a walk in the prison’s courtyard. When he does so, he is likely to sweat causing an unpleasant body odor for the fellow prisoners. It is out of this humanitarian concern that he wants what he wants. Or perhaps he is motivated by the likelihood that he may end spending the rest of his life there. So he might as well make it comfortable.
May 6, 2010
Hours after he was captured Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, the sole surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai terror strikes, was asked by a police officer what else had been planned after the attacks. Laying in his hospital bed, Kasab responded, “Marne wale the. (Were going to die).”
An unexpressed sentiment behind his tone would have been: “Yeh bhi koi poochhne ki bat hai? (Should you even ask that question?)” All the ten gunmen were obviously primed to die by their trainers but were also instructed to cause maximum death and chaos before that.
As Special Judge M K Tahilyani inevitably sentenced Kasab to death in Mumbai, it was ironic that the young Pakistani got what he had come prepared for. The sentence has set off a debate in India whether the death penalty is effective deterrence against such terrorists. It is tempting to say that those who are so desperate to die to prove a point can be best punished by keeping them alive but incarcerated for life. Life in a South Asian prison is so shorn of dignity that it destroys the inmates from their core. For someone like Kasab, who was sold a fantastic afterlife, there could not be anything more unsettling than staying alive and experiencing the hard labor of an Indian prison.
When and if Kasab is hanged it will be at a time and place chosen by the state. For a fidayeen, or an Islamist guerilla ready to sacrifice their lives, this is an important distinction. It is not the death that they fear as long as it is under the circumstances controlled by them. It is the death that is handed down by the entity they see as their ultimate enemy which they cannot come to terms with. The realization that he are no longer in control of his life or death is traumatic to reconcile with for someone with Kasab’s mindset.
There is another significant aspect to this debate. When a fidayeen is in the throes of his act, propelled by a powerful mixture of adrenalin and the certitude and righteousness of his cause, death seems inviting. They see glory in it which to a rational mind is totally fake. However, when the effects of that deadly cocktail of adrenalin, certitude and righteousness wears off—and it invariably does within hours—then death seems way more disturbing and debilitating. When they hear the judge say "To be hanged by the neck till death", the sheer oppressive banality of the impending doom strikes them. Many of them then feel paralyzed.
That is when Kasab would find his own words “Marne wale the” profoundly troubling.
December 20, 2009
By Mayank Chhaya
Chicago, Dec 19 (IANS) Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab’s claim that he was interrogated by accused Mumbai terror plot planner David Coleman Headley has been dismissed with mild incredulity here.
While there was no official response from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US Attorney’s office or Headley’s lawyer John Theis, background conversations with authorities prompted nothing more than amused disbelief.
Although it is obvious that US prosecutors and investigators are following the media frenzy in India over Kasab recanting his confession and claiming that Headley was among the FBI team that questioned him, they are unlikely to make any official comment on the subject.
It is baffling for the authorities here how Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the Mumbai terror attacks who is incarcerated in maximum security prison, would have known about Headley by name. Equally intriguing is what persuaded him to surmise that introducing Headley’s name at this stage of the case would create a great deal of confusion. But this development has no immediate bearing on Headley’s impending trial in Chicago, or that of his fellow accused, Tahawwur Hussain Rana’s.
Sources familiar with such matters say that as a matter of policy the FBI or any similar US government agency does not officially offer comment such subjects. Some non-US sources speaking to IANS on background, said although it is not as absurd as it may sound that someone like Headley could have been included in an official team under a plausible guise, in this particular case it is almost certain that it did not happen.
"Apart from the grave violation of another country’s immigration laws, such an act has the real potential of causing profound damage to bilateral diplomatic ties. So unless it happened with Washington and New Delhi’s covert consent, there is no way the FBI on its own would have taken Headley with them," these sources said.
An official at the Chicago FBI office’s public affairs department declined to comment and instead asked that a formal email be sent to seek information. IANS did send that request but received no response.
Headley is under detention pending his trial on 12 counts, including six counts for aiding and abetting the murder of US citizens in India and another six counts of "conspiracy to bomb public places in India, to murder and main persons in India and Denmark."
By the time the Mumbai attacks happened Headley was already in the FBI’s crosshairs and it is highly unlikely that the subject of a sensitive global investigation would have been co-opted into the questioning of another accused, namely Kasab.
Considering that the FBI team visited Mumbai only in recent weeks and also that Headley has been in detention since Oct 3, there is next to nothing prospect of him having been taken to Mumbai even as part of a larger investigation to determine whether he had any personal contact with Kasab.
In the absence of a smoking gun to bear out Kasab’s sensational claim, there is almost no possibility of verifying it. On the face of it Kasab’s claim seems like nothing more than an attempt to throw a monkey wrench at the Indian justice system. If any of what he is claiming is even partly true, then it does bring into question the credibility of the whole case. That may well be his intention since he has nothing to lose if he had indeed set out of Pakistan with the knowledge that his action could result in his own death.