For those who watched the horror of 26/11 live on their television sets, Pakistani national Ajmal Amir Kasab was always a terrorist. He was legally pronounced one on Monday in a case that put India’s legal system to a rigorous test.
In fact, Kasab’s trial was also a trial of the Indian judiciary.
Many wondered why a terrorist, who brazenly killed innocents on Mumbai’s streets, should get a lawyer to defend him in the first place. Not giving him a lawyer could have led to his acquittal because courts follow certain basic principles of justice. In fact, a trial cannot take off without the accused getting proper legal assistance.
This basic requirement was emphasised by no less than Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan. Still, it took a few months to make people — angry over the way a few Pakistan-trained terrorists wrecked havoc in India’s financial hub — understand that Kasab cannot be punished without a proper trial.
Observers in India and abroad had been keenly watching this trial. The heightened interest was mainly due to the fact that the 26/11 terror attacks were televised across the globe. Many of us still remember the images of the commandos being air-dropped atop Nariman House.
Conviction of Kasab and acquittal of two Indian accused after a thorough trial underpins the integrity, objectivity and high legal standards of the judiciary.
Secondly, notorious for its snail’s pace, the Indian justice delivery system has for once proved the naysayers wrong by completing the trial in a record 17-month time. This was despite the fact that 658 witnesses had to be examined.
The 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case had taken 14 years and the verdict in Delhi’s 1996 Lajpat Nagar blast case was pronounced only last month.
This case is historic for another reason as well.
Perhaps for the first time, FBI officials deposed in an Indian court to give technical evidence to prove the case. India would expect similar co-operation from the US in case of Pakistani-American David Headley.
There is another unanswered question. The court has held that 20 of the absconding accused — including LeT founder Hafiz Saeed — are involved in 26/11 conspiracy. How will India bring them to justice?
Convicted of murder and waging war against India, Kasab is likely to get death penalty.
He could appeal against the verdict right up to the Supreme Court. But if he is indeed sent to the gallows, will the government jump queue to hang him ahead of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and others on death row, whose mercy petitions are pending before the President?