May 07, 2010

The aim

What is the aim, after all? Revenge? Or an end to terrorism?

Of course I refer to Kasab. Who believes he is anything other than a pawn in the hands of much more powerful and sinister men, who have no shortage of pawns? Who believes that Kasab came to this city expecting anything other than to die after doing his killing, just as his comrades all died? Who believes that for future pawns with that expectation, handing Kasab a death sentence -- giving him exactly what he expected, in other words -- is going to actually be a deterrent?

I cannot imagine that too many folks reading this would believe those things.

So therefore I wonder what we truly want. Some feeling of revenge exacted by executing a nonentity? Or to identify, capture and punish the real powers behind the terror that happened on 26/11, so it never happens again?

I want the second.

I believe it will be the highest form of justice for those who were killed during 26/11. I believe it, and not revenge, is the best way to fight terrorism. I believe it's far more likely we will get there with Kasab alive than Kasab dead.


Jai_C said...

This one is easy. I want both.

I have long been surprised by the way other people can see exclusive binaries where I dont.

If a comment thread develops, I will read it with interest to try and understand how such binaries are formed.


Ketan said...


Are you hinting more information could be extracted out of Kasab, which will enable reaching his masters (in Pakistan)? If that's what you're suggesting, then I'm skeptical because after having conducted narco-analysis, and questioning him so much, plus, adding to it, what could be known through questioning David Headley, I'm not sure how much more would an alive Kasab be able to add to all that's already known.

But, you've raised an important issue, that I had raised in the past about what we call 'justice'.

Justice has at least 3 components:

1. Prevention of future crime by same person(s). A professional pickpocket if caught many times & released is very likely to continue to indulge in the same crime. A surgeon committing an inadvertent mistake is, for practical purposes, not any more likely than average surgeon to repeat the same mistake.

2. Deterrence for prospective criminals. This is a bit contentious - as whatever we say in matter of Kasab would be conjectural. On one hand, all the other 9 team members that died could be hailed as martyrs, but if on the other hand, a tired, dejected, crying Kasab is shown to the world who says he regrets what he did, could it act as deterrence for those planning to execute such future attacks themselves? Possibly, yes. Of course, it's unlikely such unmotivating video clips would be allowed to reach those currently under training.

But, if Kasab's got nothing to lose, what a prospective terrorist could think would be, "hey, as it is, here I'm working as a laborer, not sure if I get my next meal, if I get caught, I'd be put in jail & will be quite safe & more assured of food & place to live than over here."

Also, if some TV reports are to be believed, 26/11 terrorists had planned to merge into the general population after the attack. They had grossly underestimated the risk they were taking.

3. Social revenge for committing a crime. Yes, every instance where a crime is committed, and punishment meted out without serving above two purposes, it's basically a case of collective revenge. It can be as structured as Kasab's trial & hanging (if & when it happens), or as spontaneous as public lynching....

Ketan said...

...But is this revenge necessarily wrong? It is difficult to answer. If one says revenge is essentially wrong, then next question would be, what severity of revenge is wrong? Should we set Kasab free despite such strong evidence available against him as any punishment (including imprisonment) would fundamentally be an exercise in revenge?

There's another perspective to look crimes & punishments through.

In our social lives, we all have liberties. But the mutually agreed upon limit of that liberty is a point till someone else's liberty is curtailed. Every person is told, "each time you deliberately infringe upon someone else's liberty (to live happily, e.g.) you are consenting to be punished according to provisions of the law of the land." So, that the one committing crime would be punished was decided the moment crime is committed. It is up to you to call such predetermined punishment as revenge or not.

I had discussed related ideas in this blog post: How Morality is Indispensable to a Social Life (click).

Lastly, I'm curious why do you assign greater culpability for 26/11 to the orchestrators in Pakistan (if you do)? Is it for:

1. Their instigating (largely, grown up people) into committing obvious crimes?

2. For providing monetary incentive (paying the family)?

3. Planning & providing means to commit the crime?

If it is only the first, I wouldn't consider them directly a party to the crime. Because one getting provoked had the option of not getting provoked or not acting upon that provocation. If it's second & third, then yes, they're very much a party to the crime.

R. said...

Dilip, While I personally do not believe in the death penalty, finding Kasab guilty and sentencing him to die, brings some closure to the people who have lost a loved one and seek the death penalty. But mainly it is the law of the land and the law does come from a social or political perspective

What I am amazed is the anger at Kasab's trial, however it was handled, no one can deny that he got a fair hearing and his rights were respected. This casts India in a much different light than the western nations and gain us a huge amount of respect.

About punishing the powers that are behind the attacks, I think we're sitting down for bilateral talks with them. Strange.

Anonymous said...

Dilip Saheb,

I am sure your talks with Beena will help solve these problems. Out of curiousty.. please enlighten us poor souls of Beena ji's reaction to Kasab's verdict.. I am guessing it will be on the lines that we in pakistan have everyday a new 26/11 and giving death penalty to Kasab will not solve anything.. so you guys should let him free to come back to pakistan.

Am I correct or what?

Chandru K said...

In addition to what Ketan wrote, there's the danger to the public, if the guy remains alive- because of his contacts. There's also the possibility of a hijacking being staged to release him, and we know that's been done before. FTR, I am against capital punishment in all but the most extraordinary circumstances, and this is pretty extraordinary.

Chandru K said...

I would like to add to my comment above, and underline that Kasab's crimes against India are unprecedentedly heinous. Nothing compares to it, and certainly not the trifles that D'Souza brings up, like 1984 that was a response to a massive provocation.

That is why Kasab deserves the death sentence, preferably in public so we can watch him suffer for his crimes.

Anonymous said...


Our "collective conscience" (as the SC would say) seems to be terribly blood thirsty. All my "politically apathetic" friends had a shrill "Hang him!" on their facebook profiles.

One friend had the following:
"Hang him at VT, suffocate half, Hang him again at Taj, burn him, then put him on to a pully and fire him over gate way, in the direction he came from, so no one ever dares to do what he did to my people!"

I am reminded of Chomsky who said, "You want to end terrorism, okay, stop participating in it"

Dilip, a few serious questions:

1) even your alternative is only slightly helpful in this matter. It might be fairer and not as suspect as quickly eliminating a 21 year old for "war of aggression against the government" but do you think that will end terrorism?

2) Do you think now the same article will be applied to "Operation Greenhunt"

3) Have we always historically been so bloodthirsty as a society or something different and dangerous is happening now? Even our women, whose rational and conscientious strength have informed our have become violent.
First of all, are we all in fact this blood thirsty or this is just the maddened powerful upper crust of society that we have as our friends?

4) Are you planning to write anything on Operation Greenhunt?

Baby V

Chandru K said...

What's so bloodthirsty about wanting Kasab to be executed? He never expressed the slightest remorse, and even ridiculed witnesses during the trial. As several people in India have remarked, keeping the (killing machine) Kasab alive leaves India constantly open to the risk of a hijack or a storming to free him, as we know definitely happened during the Indian Airlines hijack for Masud Azar.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Baby V:

* Frankly, I don't think there's much that will end terrorism. What will lessen the chance of its success, I believe, is taking away the chance of local ("aam janta") support for it. That, I believe, we will achieve if we find the will to be swift and fair in dispensing justice for any number of other acts of terror, instead of letting their perpetrators stay unpunished.

* I would love to write about Green Hunt, but not off the top of my head. Someday I need to visit those areas and get a sense of what's happening for myself, then I will feel like I can write about it. I have written recently about some of the conditions in Chhattisgarh, see here.

Anonymous said...

Like a wall-lizard's tail, Kasab falls off, wriggles around and the foolish hunter thinks the game is his. He hangs the tail.

Note the grin.

Suresh said...

I think Ajat in a comment on Venkatesan's posting at Law and Other Things says it best:

The problem with your (Venkatesan's) argument and the Vinod George's argument is that it makes death penalty sound like a policy decision the Court must take. It is clearly not such a question of policy but rather a legal question of whether this crime falls in the category of "the rarest of the rare." And if killing 160 innocent people wantonly is not the rarest of the rare, then I'm frankly willing to be educated on what such a term might mean.

That's the first thing. This is a legal and not a policy issue. Whether we should have the death penalty on the statutes at all is a separate issue.

However, even conceding that the issue is one of choosing the right policy, things still aren't clear. Keeping Kasab in prison is surely going to lead to efforts to win back his release by holding innocent Indians hostage as happened in the infamous Kandahar episode? Should other Indians be exposed to this danger -- does anyone even remember a lady named Rachna, on her honeymoon, whose husband was murdered in that episode -- just so that we can make a "moral" point?

One can be morally opposed to the death penalty. But being opposed on principle is different from an argument which seeks to justify not imposing this penalty on grounds that it is the "right" policy. I find that unacceptable.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Suresh, let me say that as much as I am opposed to the death penalty (or ambivalent at best), I think Ajat is right: it's our laws we are seeking to apply here, and therefore it is a legal question above all.

But apart from the moral/ethical issue I have with death penalties, the unique thing about this particular punishment is that it can be eventually appealed to a civil authority -- the Prez, who can commute it. I think that is a reflection of the difficulty societies have with it in general.

Yes, there are potential Kandahar type dangers. That and other considerations have to go into the calculation of whether to commute or not. I would still argue that his sentence (already given) should be commuted.

His name was Rupin Katyal. I wonder what poor Rachna is doing now.

Anonymous said...

1. Nobody really addressed the binary OR gate Dilip set up btwn the "execution of Kasab" and the process of "identify, capture and punish the real powers" in the sense of probing how the execution of Kasab would hinder such a process.

2. It must be obvious that I support the death penalty in exceptional cases and definitely so for Kasab.


As deeply as I sympathize with Mrs.Katyal, and Mrs.Karkare and others, I have some misgivings with the establishment or empaneling of something like a 9/11 widow(ers) group that can punch heavier than the rest of us on this matter.

This means that if such a panel:

a)- wants more aggressive action to address their deep and genuine hurt

b)- turn out to be more forgiving and urge reconciliation instead

I would try to unbias and de-emphasize both recommendations.

Does this make me "cold and unfeeling". Well I'm already boodthirsty and vengeful by some lights so that's just more adjectives to get used to.


Ketan said...


Well, I just tried to guess what Dilip could've meant when he implied Kasab's execution would make it far more unlikely "to [be able to] identify, capture and punish the real powers behind the terror that happened on 26/11".

Do I get any prizes for pointing out the possible 'binary'? :)

Anonymous said...

Oh hi Ketan. You did.

This ground was covered long ago on this blog at the Afzal Guru thread, where Dilip hinted that useful info could be obtained from Afzal.

Here Kasab has been dismissed as a mere pawn, nonentity etc.

That's a weird catch-22 situation developing: either one is important enough to spare or insignificant enough to not kill.

The logic works if what you want is to not have a death penalty and all arguments are to be tuned to that end.

I support the death penalty. Its interesting to wonder if I didnt, would I have swung this around like this? I hope not but cannot be certain.

1. On Afzal: No weird "demand of collective conscience" justifies a death sentence. If the guy has done the deed, he deserves it. A retrial is absolutely okay if due process has not been given.

2. On death penalty: more ambivalent than comes through in any single comment thread. for a counter example, Todd Cameron Willingham.

Harshad said...

Was listening to Kiran Bedi on a talk show/ debate; She said lets not mix law with politics (She also had reasons for it). Kasab killed people so he must get the punishment.

I agree to what she said.