Nothing much makes an old news-warrior like me sit up and say “Holy Smokes, are you effing serious?” nowadays—-except perhaps “little people” break-dancing in front of Rajanikant.
Which is when I heard that Kashmiris had taken to the streets in support of a terrorist, I was like “Tell me something I don’t know already”. Also expected was Mehbooba Mufti asking that Mohammed Afzal, Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist mastermind, not be put to death—-after all she is one of the biggest supporter of Kashmiri extremists…sorry misguided youth. The “spare the terrorist” crowd is also blessed by the august presence of Ghulam Nabi Azad—again no surprise there.
Also according to script is the coverage of the whole issue—Mohammed Afzal’s tear-choked wife moaning the fact that her husband has lost all faith in the Indian justice system and the focus on his seven year old child — after all if the bleeding-heated liberal press doesn’t give us these compelling images, who will? Obviously, they will not show the tears of the widow of the Parliament guards killed and how their children are coping — because they were guards whose job it was to die. Tough luck. This is different — this is a soft-hearted Jaish-e-Mohammed killer mastermind we are talking about. Which is why he deserves our full attention and sympathy.
But then I read this. And I have this “Whoa dude” moment.
The main opposition party, the National Conference, has backed this argument.[to release Afzal]
“The court had given a verdict in the case of Azhar Masood. He was let go and the government of India saved that situation and may be rightly so.
“They can do the same thing – defer and postpone this punishment so that it sends a positive signal,” said Mehboob Baig, Provincial President, National Conference.
Azhar Masood ! If I am not wrong, Mr. Baig is referring to this guy—Maulana Azhar Masood. Founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, who was “let go” as part of the hostage deal for the hijacking of IC814. This Baig chap thinks that the “government of India saved that situation and may be rightly so” and also “sent a positive signal” by handing him over to the Taliban in Kandahar. Which is what he, in a barely concealed fashion, proposes the Indian government do with Mohammed Afzal: defer and postpone his punishment so that he can be let go when the next flight is hijacked or the next VIP kidnapped.
Let me clarify—it’s not Mr Mehboob’s Baig’s love for Azhar Masood that surprises me but the fact that he would choose to articulate his true loyalties thusly.
I have always maintained that the death penalty is too easy for terrorists, far better to make them stay in solitary for the rest of their lives. Also dying makes them martyrs—which is what these Fidayeen types want in the first place. So putting them to death plays into their hands or more precisely into the hands of their handlers—-the merry men in Islamabad.
However it is also undeniable Mohammed Afzal alive will act as a lightning rod for incidents like the IC814 hijack, a fact that people like Mehboob Baig are counting on. Which means as long as he is alive in an Indian jail, many innocent lives are at risk.
This is also around this time that the issue of capital punishment is brought up–mostly as a smokescreen for those with an agenda. Whether retributive justice is as barbaric as the crime is indeed a morally ambiguous topic with strong bodies of reasoning on both sides. I do not intend to go into itÂ here but just point out that the people who are campaigning for clemency for Mohammed Afzal are not the ones who have a general issue with capital punishment—they just do not want a fine man who attacked the Indian parliament to die. After all he is not Salman Rushdie or the Danish cartoonist.
Let me conclude with an anecdote. Dhananjay Chatterjee was a security guard who was put to death for the rape and murder of a 14 year old in August 2004. When some nuns (if I remember correctly from the murdered girl’s school) were asked whether as women of the cloth they supported the death sentence on Dhananjay, their reply was: “We pray for his soul”—nunspeak for “Yes we want him dead”.
Likewise I also pray for the soul of Mohammed Afzal.