Closure? Not really

Going by the benchmarks for speed set by the Indian administrative, judicial and political systems, not to mention our civilisational notoriety for taking tortoise steps, four years is a breeze. Yet, in the cycle of news and events, many sections of the country seem to have detached themselves from the seriousness of the tragedy and the sombreness of Mumbai, November 26, 2008.

Otherwise, how does one explain the gloating and jubilation in some sections over the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorist caught alive during the Mumbai carnage that killed 165 people over three days and shook the world?

By all accounts, Kasab was an illiterate LeT footsoldier, radicalised like thousands others of his ilk in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and sent to his death as part of a delusional strategy of conflict pursued by the jihad factory across the border. As we now know, none of the 10 attackers who entered Mumbai by boat was expected by their masters to survive beyond that night, let alone wreak havoc for three days. Getting caught alive was definitely not part of the plan. In that sense, nabbing Kasab alive was a stroke of some badly-needed luck for Mumbai's hapless police force.

Kasab in custody served the diplomatic purpose of nailing Pakistan's role as an exporter of terror like never before. It also helped India rediscover its faith in constitutional and legal processes, and for once, oil them to truly make haste. The death penalty remains in the statute books and so the debate over the validity of the "eye-for-an-eye" principle should be left for another day. Questions are being raised about the timing of Kasab's hanging and the veil of secrecy that surrounded it, and the government needs to answer them.

But any way you see it, the execution of Kasab on Wednesday provides absolutely no reason to gloat. It is not a "victory" for India, as some have made it out to be, or a "tribute" to the innocent victims, as some leaders have claimed. And closure it certainly is not. It just ends one significant chapter in the sorry saga, while several others that are equally, if not more, significant remain to be addressed. It is also a reminder of the distance India and Pakistan (if it wants to and can) have to travel to ensure that terrorism is taken out of the bilateral equation.

The most critical, unfinished business on the post-26/11 agenda is the prosecution of the seven men held in Pakistan for planning and organising the bloodshed. But the speed at which the trial, held in an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, has progressed, the frequent change in the judges presiding over the case, and the judicial obstructionism over considering evidence from India, have only raised more questions about Pakistan's proclaimed commitment to see the process through.

Besides, reports of LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of the seven held, operating out of jail, being allowed to have a mobile phone and even fathering a child while still incarcerated, do not inspire hope. Neither does Islamabad's inability to conclusively establish that state actors were not involved.

India still awaits the sentencing of David Headley in the US for his role in scouting out the targets for 26/11. Meanwhile, the deportation and arrest this year of Zabiuddin Ansari, aka Abu Jundal accused of guiding Kasab and his fellow killers from a "control room" in Karachi means Indian security agencies now face the challenge of proving his alleged crime and ensuring justice. Then there are the ongoing projects to plug the holes in India's coastal and internal security and the battle against homegrown terrorists, who seem to have retained the ability to strike, if the bomb blasts in Mumbai and Pune in the last four years are any indication.

The hanging of Kasab, therefore, should be used to reaffirm the country's resolve to fight terror and fulfil the promises made after 26/11. But closure still remains far away.

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