With Kasab execution, Indian gears of justice unusually swift

India executed the sole surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Ajmal Kasab, in a move prompting surprise, cheers - and charges of politics.

Ajit Solanki/AP
Indians celebrate upon hearing the news of India executing Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 terror attacks, in Ahmadabad, India, Wednesday. Kasab, a Pakistani citizen, was one of 10 gunmen who rampaged through the streets of India's financial capital for three days in 2008, killing 166 people.

India executed the sole surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The execution of Ajmal Kasab was carried out in secret and surprised a nation accustomed to a much slower criminal justice system. 

Mr. Kasab was sentenced to death in 2010 after a highly-watched trial. His plea for clemency was denied earlier this month. Kasab and nine other gunmen killed 166 people in a three-day bullet-spraying, grenade-throwing rampage that targeted some of the most iconic places in the city. The attack, which left carnage throughout the heart of India’s commercial capital, is often compared here to the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

The first person to be executed in India since 2004 and the third since 1995, Kasab’s death was met with mixed reactions. Some victims and analysts see the relatively efficient trial and execution as a sign that India is growing more serious about serving justice in a system infamously mired in delays and inconclusive investigations. Others point out how the case's swift closure was an anomaly, propelled forward by politics at home and in the region. 

“India has proven itself incapable of resolving some of the most heinous crimes within its own country,” says journalist Adrian Levy, who is currently writing a book on the Mumbai attacks. "Killing Kasab does not restore a sense of justice to a country whose legal system is failing it. Killing Kasab is an act of vengeance that further destabilizes the notion of justice in India."

He notes the country has failed to resolve the murder of Jalil Andrabi, a prominent Kashmir human rights lawyer, even after the guilty party was exposed in court. Many are also questioning why other people on death row like Afzal Guru, who was convicted of attacking the parliament in 2001 and sentenced to death in 2004, have yet to be executed.

It's not just the high-profile cases that get stuck. "A common murder or rape in India, are as likely to go unresolved as solved," Mr. Levy says.

With the Congress government mired in corruption charges and often considered weak on fighting terror by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Levy says the timeliness of Kasab’s execution is a political maneuver.

“Congress is accused by BJP of being the party of the economy and not Jai Hind [Hail India]. Congress has failed economically, corruption is rife, stagnation has come, and now Kasab's death seems like an awful ploy,” says Levy.

Indian authorities kept their plans to carry out the court's sentence this morning carefully under wraps. He was hung in a jail in the western city of Pune.  

Vikram Sood, the former head of India's intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, says Kasab’s execution just four days before the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks had a specific purpose.

“It’s sending a message that India still remembers the Mumbai attacks and is going to get more tough with Pakistan in the future.”

While Mr. Sood believes executing Kasab was a necessary step he doesn’t believe Pakistan is willing to listen and says the country will continue to support terrorism.

“We have achieved very little since the Mumbai attacks because nothing will work until Pakistan feels isolated and Pakistan will not feel isolated until the United States stops giving them support,” says Sood, the vice president of the Observer Research Foundation. “It’s going to be difficult for any government to deal with Pakistan with the present administration in Islamabad and Army in Rawalpindi.”

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