It is somewhat easy to consider the incremental roll call of verdicts that has started in Mumbai as yet another case of justice delayed being justice denied. Coming as it does more than 13 years after Mumbai reeled under attack and more than a decade after the trial started, such an anguished response is understandable. It is, however, not the real source of collective frustration. The delay, no matter how frustrating it may have been, can be explained. Too many times, sloppy evidence given to the courts have resulted in the ‘guilty’ walking free because of some legal technicality. With some 13,000 pages of testimonies and 686 witnesses, care had to be taken to seal, as far as possible, legal loopholes as well as to ensure that innocents are not punished. So there is an explanation, convincing or otherwise, to the delay. The same, however, cannot be said of the absence in the whole trial process of the four alleged kingpins of the 1993 serial blasts — Dawood Ibrahim, Anees Ibrahim, Tiger Memon and Mohammad Dossa. It is not our case here to suggest that the 123 accused whose verdicts are being delivered are mere scapegoats. It is, however, a fact that the four prime accused, by virtue of their absence, will not be included in Justice Khode’s litany of judgments. One need not be a victim of the Mumbai blasts to realise that this is a scandal.
We are regularly told that Ibrahim and his associates are lodged in the safety of Pakistan or in some other country sympathetic towards ‘enemies of the Indian State’. Pakistan, on its part, regularly lets it be known that this is just one of the many canards propagated by the Indian authorities. Someone has to be fibbing.
As the extradition of Abu Salem from Portugal proved in November 2005, 13 years is a long enough time for Indian authorities to work out the modalities with other countries of how to bring accused terrorists to trial in India. Where there is no extradition treaty, special routes must be pursued, which require special effort and time. If one lesson has been driven home after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, it is that anti-terrorism strategies cannot remain localised and international help is required and is to be sought on a proactive basis. Difficult as it was for the CBI to bring Salem to India, Pakistan is a long way off from being Portugal. It would be naive to expect Islamabad to hand over Ibrahim and the others or even help in tracing them. But if the rooting out of terrorist camps on Pakistani soil can be a demand for New Delhi each time the occasion arises for some cross-border sabre-rattling issue, why can’t the issue of bringing absconding mass-killers to the dock? This is, after all, a case of justice denied being just that: justice denied.