Kasab’s terror trial on its last lap

By Quaid Najmi, IANS,

Mumbai : India’s most keenly watched trial is finally coming to an end. Jailed Pakistani terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Amir alias Kasab will soon know what punishment awaits him for the terror he unleashed in Mumbai a year ago.

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Almost one year after the country’s worst terror attack that left around 170 people dead, all eyes are on a Mumbai court trying Kasab, the only one of 10 Pakistani terrorists caught alive.

The high-profile trial has invited its share of controversy, but now it is denouement time. The judgement may come in January — or later.

Kasab and nine other Pakistan terrorists sneaked into Mumbai by sea in November last year and went on a killing spree, the bloody saga ending only when security forces killed all but one of them. Pakistan initially denied he was their citizen, but it has since admitted the bitter truth.

The trial has lasted seven months but has moved at a relatively quick pace with over 250 witnesses examined by the prosecution.

These include survivors, witnesses, kins of victims, policemen, foreign nationals, Indian officials and detectives from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Verdicts are likely to be pronounced on two Indian co-accused, Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed, who were also allegedly part of the bigger conspiracy.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed. We are hoping to complete the examination of the remaining witnesses by Nov 26, exactly a year after the attacks,” Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told IANS.

“After that more time would be required for the prosecution and defence to prepare and submit their final arguments.”

The government has gone out of its way to put the case on the fast track, considering the enormity of the crime. Security concerns have forced the government to set up the air-conditioned special court presided over by Special Judge M.L. Tahilyani within the high-security Arthur Road Central Jail.

Kasab has for the last seven months been lodged in a separate oval shaped cell, reinforced with layers of cement and steel with round-the-clock security.

Lawyers initially refused to take up Kasab’s case, compelling the court to appoint one from the state legal aid committee. The mantle first fell on lawyer Anjali Waghmare, but she was disqualified as she was also appearing for some of the victims.

Finally, S.G. Abbas Kazmi was appointed Kasab’s lawyer. He went about his job meticulously, surprising many, including the prosecution. Kazmi says the 26/11 trial turned out to be more than what he had expected.

“It (trial) has regular hearings which I cannot afford to miss. So, all my other work and cases have been affected. I had to pass them on to my colleagues. Till this gets over, I have no time for new cases,” he said.

“And I am doing all this for just Rs.2,500 for every day of hearing,” said Kazmi, one of the country’s better-known criminal lawyers.

The trial has had its high — and low — points.

Kasab’s lawyer initially declared him to be a minor and insisted that he be tried in a juvenile court.

Kasab has laughed during court proceedings, complained of stomach ache, and demanded new clothes and perfumes. The public prosecutor called him an “actor par excellence”.

In July, Kasab dropped a bombshell by confessing his crime and making a passionate plea to be hanged.

“Hang me, please,” Kasab pleaded, after he made a dramatic confession and gave a chilling blow-by-blow account of his part in the choreographed attacks.

A month later he demanded that he be tried in an international court as he had no faith in the Indian justice system while co-accused Ansari demanded video-recording of the trial.

Judge Tahilyani, going by the book, dismissed the pleas saying they were mischievous and intended to delay the proceedings.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])