New Delhi: India’s secret execution of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab early on Wednesday may have helped those directly affected by the heinous terror attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 four years ago achieve partial closure, but it could cause fresh political damage to the Congress party and introduce some element of uncertainty in its relations with Pakistan, which the United Progressive Alliance government under Manmohan Singh has been trying to mend.
To be sure, the Congress can stake some claim for doing the right thing even as it enjoys the adventitious, if temporary, benefit of turning the nation’s focus away from contentious issues such as corruption, the economic slowdown and controversial policy measures such as allowing foreign investment in supermarkets.
On Thursday, the opening day of Parliament’s winter session, the Trinamool Congress, which has 19 members in the Lok Sabha, will likely give notice of a no-confidence motion in the Lower House. The leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Sushma Swaraj, has said the government must agree to a debate and a vote on foreign investment in retail if it wants Parliament to function normally.
In this background, Kasab’s hanging may actually provide more ammunition to a belligerent opposition that can, like the BJP already has done, question why the government is dragging its feet over the death sentence of Afzal Guru, one of the perpetrators of the terrorist strike on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. Guru’s plea for clemency has been pending before the President of India for over a year. Kasab’s was denied in three months.
Accusing the Congress of indulging in “vote bank” politics, BJP president Nitin Gadkari said, “For few votes, Congress is not hanging Afzal Guru despite an order from the Supreme Court.” Party spokesman Prakash Javadekar said the party would raise the issue in Parliament on Thursday.
Still, political analysts seem convinced that the timing of the execution had nothing to do with political expediency. “If it was a political move, it could have been when the government was in deeper trouble with Anna Hazare’s anti-graft campaign,” said Kumar Ketkar, chief editor of Dainik Divya Marathi. And T.V.R. Shenoy, a journalist and analyst, added that political parties may not try to draw mileage out of such things because “votes do not swing on such moves”.
Still, there is no denying that the government will find it tough to answer questions on Guru.
Meanwhile, the move, which explains why India—over the weekend—deferred a visit by Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik scheduled for 21-22 November, could send confusing signals about the country’s intent.
It has, over the past few years, eschewed the hardball route for a more conciliatory approach with its neighbour, and the two countries were scheduled to operationalize a historic visa pact signed in September facilitating easier movement of people.
To be sure, New Delhi has repeatedly asked Islamabad to bring to justice the men behind the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, but the Indian government has simultaneously sought to engage with Pakistan. Both countries have recently agreed to liberalize trade, with Pakistan moving towards assigning Most Favoured Nation status for India, and New Delhi allowing foreign investment from its neighbour. The two countries have also agreed to resume cricketing ties.
That engagement will continue, said analysts on both sides of the border, irrespective of Kasab’s execution.
C. Uday Bhaskar, an analyst with South Asia Monitor, a Delhi-based think tank, said Islamabad should not “take umbrage at the execution, because Kasab has been brought to book in conformity with the law... Nobody can deny that Mumbai happened. India hopes and expects Pakistan will take this in the right manner. There could be a very temporary slowing down (in ties), till Pakistan gets over this”.
Kuldip Nayyar, a political analyst and long-time advocate of peace between the two countries, also echoed the same. “There may be some repercussions in Pakistan with some elements trying to create issues. But I do not think it will sustain,” he said.
Ayesha Siddiqa, a political analyst in Pakistan, said on the phone from Islamabad that there are two lines of perception about Kasab’s execution in Pakistan. “One is the general public, they are not likely to go overboard. The other line of perception is that of the government, the establishment... here could be some relief within certain sections of the establishment that the evidence on Mumbai is gone. The constant reminder of the Mumbai attacks is gone,” Siddiqa said.
Amin Hashwani, director of Regent Textile Industries Ltd, said on the phone from Pakistan that he also does not see Kasab’s hanging cast any lasting adverse impact on the relationship between the two countries. “There are discussions taking place on various tracks. We have had a very positive momentum so far with all the stakeholders engaged,” Hashwani said.
Interestingly, the blow-hot, blow-cold nature of the relations between the two countries is evident in New Delhi’s recent clarification that Prime Minister Singh might not visit Pakistan as he had been expected to.
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid told NDTV 24X7 news channel, “No call had been taken on that as yet. In making a decision about a visit, many of these factors will play a part.” Khurshid was referring to India’s persistent demand that Pakistan bring to justice the plotters of the 26/11 attacks.
The collateral damage could be Sarabjit Singh, according to Siddiqa.
She said that right-wing elements within the establishment in Pakistan could put pressure on the government, making it difficult for Islamabad to be lenient towards Sarabjit Singh, who had been sentenced to death for spying. The Indian government has been seeking his release and says he crossed the border by mistake.
Sahil Makkar and PTI contributed to this story.
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