One thing is apparent from the recent execution of the mastermind of 1993 Mumbai serial blast that India intends to adopt zero tolerance towards terrorism. The long drawn judicial process leading to the hanging of Yakub Memon was transparent and the accused had recourse to the best lawyers in the country to defend himself till the last. But the victims of terrorism had to wait for long 22 years to get justice which is evident in a democratic society with an independent judiciary where justice may be delayed but not ultimately denied. The government of the day acted with firmness to execute the court order showing a political will of zero tolerance towards terrorism.
But the matter does not end here. Yakub Memon has sympathizers. His funeral could draw a large crowd. The law enforcing agency was careful that the procession should be a silent one without any slogan mongering. Some say that hanging one culprit will not render justice to the victims of the 12 systematically coordinated serial blasts that rocked India's commercial capital on March 12, 1993 leaving 257 dead and over 700 injured. Other culprits like Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim have become fugitives and have taken refuge in Pakistan. The government claims to have arrested Yakub in Kathmandu while others say that he surrendered and turned 'approver' and, therefore, should have been dealt with more leniency.
Terrorism is terrorism. It is an act of war against the state. A terrorist should be dealt with as such irrespective of caste, creed or religion. It is the duty of the government to apprehend and book terrorists and bring them to justice by any means possible, including diplomatic manoeuvres in getting fugitives extradited. Yes, Yakub has sympathizers and they need to be dealt with a sense of understanding and with a human behaviour in such a way that it does not lead to eulogizing the act of terrorism. Politicization or communalization of terrorism is not in the interest of the nation. The talk of giving a Rajya Sabha ticket to Yakub's widow by a responsible political party does not augur well as it would lead to politicization of terror and giving a communal colour and gain support from a particular community.
There is another fallout that the government needs to calibrate and be cautious. It is the threat of cross-border infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan. Terrorism in India is largely aided externally. Few days before the final verdict on Yakub's hanging, terrorists infiltrated Gurudaspur district in Indian Punjab and attacked a police station. The state police and the security forces took 11 hours to gun them down. It is particular to note that the terrorist took new route to infiltrate - through Punjab border and not through the usual Jammu and Kashmir border. Rightly the government has sounded alert in all the border states.
As expected Pakistan has denied any links with the terrorist infiltration in Gurudaspur district. But the GPS instruments carried by terrorists prove that they had infiltrated from across the border. However, if Pakistan is sincere to the Ufa accord it should be ready for a meeting of national security advisers of the two countries to trash out the issue terrorist infiltration.
After Yakub's hanging a debate has been initiated in the country whether to retain death penalty or not. The advocates for abolishing death penalty argue that it is inhumane and its continuance is nor permissible in a civilized society. They say hanging a terrorist will not end terrorism. True, according to the United Nations report, about 160 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice and 98 of those have abolished it altogether. But India remains one of the 58 countries which still hands out the death penalty. It is here to be noted that in many of these 58 countries threat perception of terrorism and insurgency still remains like in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, US, Sudan, Taiwan to name a few.
But it is pertinent to note that how many death penalty has been executed in a democratic country. India has used it in 'rarest of the rare cases'. As per country's National Crime Records Bureau, for every execution carried out 1,250 death sentences were commuted in India between 2004 and 2013.In this 10-year period, a total of 1,303 capital punishment verdicts were pronounced, 3,751 previous death penalties were commuted to life imprisonment and only three were executed. These executions were those of Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004, who was convicted for the rape and murder of a teenage girl in Kolkata, Ajmal Kasab for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and Afzal Guru for the 2001 Parliament attack. Comparatively, China had sent 1,718 persons to the gallows in 2008, US accorded death penalty to 52 and Saudi Arabia accorded death to 143 in 2007.
India has therefore, used with extreme caution the clause on death penalty and has followed an independent judicial process and a transparent system of commuting death sentences.
Some try to further politicize Yakub's hanging and 1993 Mumbai terrorist attack by attempting to discover its basis by linking it to the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992 and the riots that followed. This, however, does not stand the test of logic and cannot be an excuse for 1993 terrorist attack. The course of law is already dealing with these events. But a deliberate act of terrorism aided and abated by external powers cannot be pardoned in national interests.
India has much to learn from neighbouring Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after assuming power set up an independent International Crimes Tribunal to try those criminals who sided with the Pakistani forces and massacred civilians during the 1971 War of Liberation. She has been particular in booking terrorists in her country and sent to death some terrorists elements including those of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. Unheeding to the appeal of sympathy for the culprits of 1971 Liberation War from US, EU and international human rights organisations, she sent prominent leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami like Abdul Quader Mollah, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, and other to gallows. Recently the Bangladesh's apex court has upheld BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhary's death penalty. If Bangladesh and India continue to take a firm and coordinated stand on terrorism, peace in South Asia can dawn soon.
Ashok B Sharma is a senior Columnist writing in several Indian and foreign newspapers and magazines. Email: [email protected]