So This Is What We Gained From Afzal Guru's Hanging

Published: January 12, 2016 19:39 IST
The hangings of Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru within the space of a few weeks in 2012-13 were timed by the Manmohan Singh government to divert public attention from the political crises it was facing. The trick helped it barely for a week or so in each case - and exacted a huge price. Afzal Guru's hanging, in particular, was seen as a grave injustice in the Kashmir Valley. Many felt he was innocent. The unfortunate line in the Supreme Court judgement - "satisfying the collective conscience" - assured people that it wasn't justice that this was about.

Guru's hanging was pending for so many years (seven) that BJP veteran LK Advani contested the 2009 general elections on the issue, pitching it as an example of the Congress being soft on terrorism, allegedly for minority appeasement. Eventually, it seemed Afzal Guru's life ended not for his crimes - and I am not contesting his role in those - but to alleviate the daily tamasha of Indian politics.

Now that the terrorists in Pathankot and Mazari-i-Sharif in Afghanistan have made it clear that they wanted revenge in particular for the execution of Afzal Guru, would the Congress and the BJP like to reflect on the politics of capital punishment? Will they ask themselves whether hanging terrorists is the best thing to do in national interest?

It made matters worse that prison authorities didn't even inform Afzal Guru's lawyer or family before hanging him, didn't let him have a last meeting with his wife and son, and refused to give his family his mortal remains. Leave alone giving fodder to terrorists in Pakistan, we didn't even care about further alienating Kashmiris from India.

The terrorists in Pathankot told Rajesh Verma, the jeweler who was abducted from Superintendent of Police Salvinder Singh's car, that they had come to take revenge for Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru's hanging.

Indian intelligence agencies say the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, based in Pakistan, has created a squad named after Afzal Guru.

An audio clip posted online reportedly by the Jaish-e-Mohammed mocking how poorly India handled the Pathankot attack, eulogized Afzal Guru. Phone intercepts made by Indian intelligence revealed that the Jaish-e-Mohammad has vowed to carry out more terror attacks in India to take revenge for the 13 years Afzal Guru spent in jail.

In the attack on the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, also suspected by India to have been carried out by the JeM, the terrorists wrote in blood - "Revenge for Afzal Guru."

This has been given no consideration by the BJP and the Congress, but these news reports have also brooked no reflection in India on the politics of capital punishment. As someone opposed to death penalty in principle, with no exceptions, I had opposed the hanging of both Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru. From time to time, my online critics dig out my supposedly gory past in asking for "mercy" for these terrorists. In opposing the death penalty for them, I had argued that hanging terrorists creates easy martyrs for terror groups to incite more people to join their ranks, carry out more terror strikes.

When Kasab was hanged, former RAW chief B Raman had warned against revenge attacks. It is our unfortunate habit to not learn from history. The hanging of Kashmiri separatist Maqbool Bhat in 1984 became a major turning point in Kahsmir, catapulting his Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front to the forefront of militancy in 1989.

We think emotionally, and bloodthirsty calls for hanging terrorists take over the better part of our brains. With Afzal Guru's ghost haunting us, this is the time to rethink capital punishment. Violence begets violence. The emotional use of Afzal Guru by the Jaish-e-Mohammed is proof that it would be better to keep terrorists in jail for as long as the law wants, even till their natural death.

There is the hijacking argument. What if there's a hijack to secure the release of these terrorists, as was the case with the IC 814 hijack that led to the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, today the chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed? But this isn't a good enough reason to hang people. The answer to hostage situations is for India to enshrine in law that it won't negotiate with terrorists, as is the practice in the United States. When terrorists know that hijacking isn't going to help bring their friends forth from jail, they would likely be discouraged from using it as a strategy.

Instead, India is planning to enact a new anti-hijacking law that will increase the scope for giving death penalty. I am sure this will deter terrorists who are prepared to die anyway. We like to capture terrorists and feel great about giving them what they want, martyrdom, which creates more terrorists.

Of course, the Jaish-e-Mohammed is cynically using Afzal Guru as an excuse. The idea is to show how India treats Kashmiris. But even if it is just an excuse, why give them the excuse?

(Shivam Vij is a journalist in Delhi.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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