Saturday, May 8, 2010

Only One Word - Fear !
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Seventeen months after Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab marched through Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus train station, delivering death to those unfortunate enough to be there on that night of unprecedented terror, justice has been delivered to his victims. 

Judge M.L. Tahilayani deserves credit for completing proceedings in a complex and high profile case in this short time-span — no small achievement in a system where procedural delays and obstructive legal tactics often derail criminal proceedings. 
Prosecutors had produced an enormous mass of evidence, ranging from intercepted communications to DNA samples and eyewitness accounts: no fewer than 1,015 objects and 1,691 documents are reported to have been filed in support of their case. For their part, lawyers for the accused had fiercely contested this body of evidence. Kasab, who will be sentenced for his crime in a separate hearing, had come up with three irreconcilable accounts in his defence. Monday's judgment will not, of course, grant closure to the surviving victims, nor to the families of those who lost their lives. This is because the key conspirators, helped by a half-hearted investigation in Pakistan, are yet to face a court of law. Investigators and diplomats must now work together to ensure that those who guided Kasab's gun are also brought to justice.
Judge Tahilayani also deserves credit for the courage he has shown in acquitting two men who were charged with crimes they had not committed. 
Long before news of Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley's role in helping plan the outrage emerged, this newspaper had repeatedly pointed out that the evidence against Fahim Arshad Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmad was, at best, thin. Held months before the Mumbai carnage on charges that included preparations for an attack on the Bombay Stock Exchange, Mr. Ansari was alleged to have produced maps and sketches of the city for the Lashkar-e-Taiba's assault team. However, no material evidence was produced to support this claim, except for a hand-drawn map. Nor was the case against Mr. Ahmad persuasive. Held in Uttar Pradesh two years ago for his alleged role in a murderous attack on a Central Reserve Police Force camp in Rampur as well as in the December 2005 attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, Mr. Ahmad was alleged to have passed on Mr. Ansari's intelligence output to the Lashkar's leadership in Pakistan. No corroborative evidence was ever produced. 
Monday's verdict thus is a tribute to the independence of the Indian judicial system and its ability to deliver justice dispassionately. It also offers a lesson for India in these troubled times: even the most horrific of crimes can be addressed within the four walls of our criminal justice system, without recourse to special counter-terrorism laws or emergency measures.
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