Uneasy questions

The Supreme Court noted that there is no direct evidence (only circum-stantial evidence) of his involvement. 

Prasenjit Chowdhury
With the execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru, one hopes that the ‘collective conscience’ of the nation has been mollified. Nationalists like the BJP should be happy because Afzal’s hanging was their imprimatur of patriotism. The Congress, jittery over the showcasing of Narendra Modi as counterfoil to Rahul Gandhi, should be happy because this hanging helped them score brownie points over them. The voluble common people should be happy because a traitor has been ultimately punished. Our foreign policy mandarins are happy that with this hanging they could drive home the point that when it comes to the battle against terror, they mean business – hoping secretly that this hanging would make Pakistan cower in fear.
But why are some people carping over his death? Afzal was sentenced to death way back in December 2002 after being convicted of the conspiracy to attack Parliament of India, waging war against India and murder in December 2001 – an act that led India and Pakistan almost at the brink of another war. One hoped Afzal was a larger-than-life terrorist on whom the entire edifice of sub-continental peace depended. Afzal, for one, pointed out by Amnesty International, was tried by a special court designated under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), a law which fell short of international fair trial standards and has since been repealed, in 2004, after serious allegations of its widespread abuse. All three courts including the Supreme Court have acquitted him of the charges of belonging to either a terrorist organisation or a terrorist gang, under POTA. The Supreme Court also noted that there is no direct evidence (only circumstantial evidence was available) of his involvement.
Colin Gonsalves, who once defended Afzal, noted that his case rested on two “gross infirmities”, the first of which was “trial by media”, which rendered the doing of justice to Afzal impossible, and the second was that the trial court denied him a lawyer. It bears recall that in the trial which took place, the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had not been respected. When Ram Jethmalani offered to be his lawyer, the Hindutva goons attacked his office. With all respect to the verdict of the apex court, it is also noted that the foundations of the judgment has been built on some questionable police methods.
Amnesty International also pointed out to the opacity of his execution as it is not known whether Afzal Guru was given the opportunity to seek a judicial review of the rejection of his mercy petition. Worse, Afzal Guru’s family in Kashmir was not informed of his imminent execution, in violation of international standards on the use of the death penalty. The body was also not returned to the family to perform the last rites and burial, again, in violation of international standards. Afzal’s wife Tabassum had filed a clemency petition, in which she, besides demanding justice for her husband, also pointed out how Afzal was continuously harassed by the notorious the State Task Force (STF) of Jammu and Kashmir.
Time to cross-check
Now that Afzal has been hanged, it is time to examine and cross-check his narrative of the putative high-handedness of the Indian Army and the STF – spells of detention, intimidation and torture. What was worse was his implication of the involvement of some STF officers in the chain of events that led to the orchestration of Parliament attack because it is a question of our national security. When it comes to Kashmir, many versions of truth operate, and it is exceedingly difficult to separate the grain from the chaff. In one estimate, since 1990, when the struggle for self-determination became militant, 68,000 people have died, 10,000 have disappeared, and at least 1,00,000 have been tortured.
 Pankaj Mishra in his book Temptations of the west: How to be modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and beyond wrote in a thoughtful essay titled ‘Kashmir: The cost of nationalism’ about the controversy surrounding the Indian Army’s ‘killing’ of five men in Pathribal in Kashmir. The army claimed that these men were the terrorists who had carried out, a few days earlier, the massacre of 38 Sikh villagers in Chittisinghpora during Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000. This account was challenged following accusations of torture and forensic subterfuge, and exhumations, investigations and controversy followed.
 Mishra holds the national press and the majoritarian voices responsible for turning a blind eye to the atrocities in Kashmir where tens of thousands have been killed, tens of thousands more have been tortured, raped or gone missing, where countless Indian soldiers have laid down their lives. It is just but natural that Mishra has been denounced by senior Indian columnists for pandering to “pro-Muslim audiences in the west” in his reporting on Kashmir, and riled for his “pro-Pakistan proclivities”. And when somebody mentions Kashmir as ‘disputed’, jingoists among us resent the status, never questioning why India cannot lay a rightful claim to Pak-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK) that is home to many terror training camps?
 In his column in The Statesman, Rajinder Puri relevantly questions why there is as yet no explanation by the government on how security agencies cleared a function to be attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Mumbai’s Trident Hotel after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had specifically warned the government that terrorist attacks from the sea had been planned against three hotels, including the Trident. Why, Puri asks, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) probing Hindu terror continues to accumulate evidence on the Samjhauta Express bomb blasts is not addressing in its probe the detailed UN Resolution that named five Pakistanis for that terror act and even imposed sanctions against Hafiz Saeed for his responsibility for the blasts. Could it be because of the Chinese veto in the UN to block the sanctions, he asks.  
Afzal might not be innocent. But he was just a pawn in the bigger, darker game of sub-continental politics mired in a volatile mix of nationalism and religion. As the terror machine remains intact and the sense of alienation in the valley refuses to go away, it is time to ask: is India as a state innocent as driven snow? It is time the Indian state redrew its Kashmir policy.

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