June 25, 2021
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An Unfortunate Yardstick

In their competitive pre-poll mode, the government and the BJP seem to have overlooked the mitigating factors about Afzal Guru to establish their strong counter-terrorism credentials

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An Unfortunate Yardstick

It will be incorrect to compare the execution of Ajmal Kasab, Pakistani member of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), for his involvement in the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, with that of Afzal Guru, an Indian citizen from Jammu and Kashmir for his involvement in the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, believed to have been mounted by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), a Pakistani jihadi organization.

Kasab was a Pakistani citizen who was a member of the LET .He had voluntarily got himself trained by the LET for participating in the execution of the terrorist strike. He was one of the perpetrators who was seen carrying out the killings. The evidence against him was direct and documentary in the form of video recordings. There were no grounds for doubt and no mitigating factors.

In the case of Afzal Guru, the evidence produced by the prosecution before the court clearly showed he was a conspirator and an accomplice, who had facilitated the attack on the Parliament by voluntarily providing logistics assistance to the JEM perpetrators who carried out the attack. However, whereas Kasab was a perpetrator, Afzal Guru was an accomplice and facilitator, who did not actively participate in the attack on the ground.

The gravity of the JEM attack on the Parliament was as serious as that of the LET attack in Mumbai. Nobody can question the appropriateness of the death penalty awarded to him.

However, there were many mitigating factors in the case of Guru. He was an Indian citizen from an alienated province of India. He was not known to have been an active member of any jihadi terrorist organization of India . He had reportedly undergone training in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir as a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in the early 1990s, but the JKLF has since dissociated itself from acts of terrorism. He had no previous record of involvement in any act of mass casualty terrorism in Indian territory. He was an accomplice and not a perpetrator.

Political wisdom and foresight demanded that these mitigating factors should have been taken into consideration while deciding whether it was a fit case for carrying out the death penalty or whether ends of justice would be served by commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment.

In the competitive pre-poll attempt to show who is stronger in dealing with terrorism, the government  and the BJP seem to have overlooked these mitigating factors and used Afzal Guru’s execution as an unfortunate yardstick to establish their strong counter-terrorism credentials.

This is likely to prove counter-productive and aggravate the threat of terrorism instead of helping to bring it under control

B. Raman is Additional Secretary ( retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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