ISLAMABAD: Following the November 21, 2012 execution of the Lashkar-e-Tayyabah (LeT) operative Ajmal Kasab in Pune for carrying out the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, Afzal Guru of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) became only the second person to be sent to the gallows in India in a decade.
But Maulana Masood Azhar, the alleged Pakistani mentor of Guru, who was named as the mastermind of the parliament attack, remains at large almost 12 years later.
Hanged on February 9, in New Delhi for his role in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack, Guru’s execution was also carried out in secrecy similar to the hanging of Ajmal Kasab. Guru, who had been handed down death sentence by Indian Supreme Court in 2004 for his involvement in the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in Delhi, was hanged at Tihar Jail on February 9, 2013 after the Indian President rejected his mercy appeal.
While seeking clemency, Guru had described his conviction as a gross miscarriage of justice, although he had confessed to his role in the parliament attack during his trial, as well as in several TV interviews.
The Parliament attack, which had brought India and Pakistan on the brink of war, was conducted jointly by five fidayeen attackers of the Lashkar and the Jaish. In a failed attempt to invade the Parliament building in Delhi and to eliminate India’s top political leadership, the raiders killed 12 people including seven security forces personnel before being shot dead. Arrested a few days after the attack, he was charged with conspiring and facilitating the attackers and subsequently convicted on August 4, 2004 on the basis of his confessional account.
Two others convicted along with him were Shaukat Hussain, a former student of the New Delhi University and Professor SAR Geelani, a college teacher in New Delhi. Both of them were handed down death sentence, which is reserved for the rarest of rare cases in India.
The trial court described their crime as horrendous, revolting and dastardly. Guru’s wife, Afshan Tabassum, who was found guilty of not disclosing information to the police, was also sentenced to five years in prison by the same trial court. But her conviction was overturned on an appeal.
Professor SAR Geelani’s sentence was also reversed on an appeal and he was released after two-years of imprisonment. This added to the doubts about the credibility of trial. Guru was lucky enough to have dodged the gallows for over six years mainly because various human rights groups and political parties in Jammu and Kashmir had been campaigning for him. They sought presidential clemency for Guru, saying his trial had major problems, including fabricated evidence presented by the police and the lack of proper legal representation. Indian human rights activist Arundhati Roy also castigated Guru’s trial, saying he was denied natural justice.
His mercy petition kept shuttling between Indian Home Ministry and the President’s Secretariat. But calls for speedy hanging of Guru had grown louder after the execution of Kasab.
The BJP had been demanding that Guru’s mercy plea be disposed of quickly and he be executed as early as possible. But his fate was finally sealed when the widows of the police officers killed in the Indian parliament attack returned their posthumous gallantry medals to the government, saying they would only take them back once Guru was sent to the gallows.
Unlike Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani national, Afzal Guru hailed from the Baramula district of Jammu Kashmir. He was a member of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) before travelling to Pakistan to join Jaish-e-Mohammad led by Masood Azhar who was released in exchange for hostages during the Kandahar hijack of India Airlines IC 814.
Having allegedly received terrorist training at a Muzaffarabad camp, Guru returned to India and became involved in the JeM-sponsored terrorist activities. But his lawyers pleaded before the trial court that after returning from Pakistan, Guru had surrendered to the Border Security Force, which subsequently set him free. Yet in his confessional statement recorded earlier, Guru had voluntarily confessed to his role in the parliament attack.
Interestingly, while Kasab and Guru have already been sent to the gallows, the death sentences of three assassins of the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi [Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan] continue to be pending over the last 11 years, even though it has been 21 years since he was killed by a Tamil suicide bomber on May 21, 1991.
Following a humanitarian gesture by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who is Rajiv’s widow, the death sentence of the fourth assassin, Nalini Murugan, has already been commuted to life imprisonment.
Further, the execution of Balwant Singh Rajaona, convicted and sentenced to death for the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, has already been put off following political protests and repeated pleas for clemency by not only the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, but also the BJP-partnered Punjab government.