Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Death of Afzal Guru will not solve anything

Death of Afzal Guru will not solve anything
Dr Shabir Choduhry 06 October 2006

The government of India is in dilemma whether to hang Mohammed Azal Guru or not. The court has given its verdict that he should be hanged. Hanging or even illegally eliminating a person is not a big issue in most third world countries; but hanging of Afzal Guru will become a major issue even though the authorities have a ‘legal mandate’ for doing this.

Issue here is not whether Afzal Guru is completely ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty’; issue is what government will achieve out of this, especially now that it has become a public issue, and demand for clemency is coming from various parts of the world. In Kashmir this has provided an opportunity for people to demonstrate their anger against India; and Kashmiri organisations within the State and outside have with help of other human rights activists started a campaign.

Opinion even in India is sharply divided. Many believe that hanging of Afzal Guru will prove to be counter productive, and people have already started drawing parallels with the hanging of Maqbool Butt in February 1984 who became a legend after his death.

What has surprised many in India is the strong reaction of Kashmiris in the Valley soon after the announcement of this hanging decision. Both separatists and main stream politicians have criticised the decisions and have a joint struggle at hand; and that is a campaign for clemency for Afzal Guru.

It is very seldom that both camps of Kashmiri polity share a common platform for a cause. Both camps- separatists and pro India politicians strongly feel that ‘the sanctity of justice has been violated by the spirit of vengeance’. There is already deep rooted resentment and alienation in Kashmir, and at times people look for excuses to show their anger. If government goes ahead with its decision of hanging Afzal Guru it will further alienate the people of Kashmir who already have a long history of broken promises, neglect and oppression.

Indian judicial system might be better than in many countries, but no judicial system is perfect; and no judges or prosecution is infallible. There is always a chance that miscarriage of justice can take place. Miscarriage of justice can take place even in most advanced, liberal and democratic countries, and once a person is executed then no remorse or judicial review can bring him back.

No doubt terrorism is scourge and international trend is to take stringent measures against those who are responsible for this. Attack on country’s parliament is not an ordinary terrorism. It is an attack on country’s honour and pride and symbol of democracy. Sometimes security services under pressure of producing results fabricate evidence and make mistakes; and even judiciary might read too much in to events or evidence.

Many think Afzal Guru did not get a fair trial. He was not directly involved in this action. Those who were directly involved in this act were all killed on the spot, and those who masterminded this action are still free far away from Indian jurisdiction. Afzal Guru was aware of what was likely to happen, but he was not directly involved in hatching this conspiracy. There was no evidence of his direct involvement and he was not responsible for anyone's death or injury. He had no link with any militant group, and even the prosecution thinks he was merely a ‘facilitator’. Critics believe that the investigation had irregularities and he never had a legal support that could advise him on this very serious charge and represent him.

An Indian human rights activist while criticising the verdict said how ‘Can the collective conscience of our people be satisfied if a fellow citizen is hanged without having a chance to defend himself? We have not even had a chance to hear Afzal's story. Hanging Mohammad Afzal will only be a blot on our democracy.’

Kashmir Times in its editorial while discussing this case pointed out that, ‘Besides, there is no apparent evidence of how deeply he was involved. Given the degree of Guru's alleged involvement in the case, it certainly does not make a case for death penalty.’

The paper further writes that, ‘While the court seemed to have thrown out Guru's confession in sheer haste, there has been no attempt to investigate several people or things he mentioned in his confession, ignoring which would amount to diverting attention from the security of major institutions of democracy.’

At a time when a peace process is having a bumpy ride and confidence and trust is not at its highest, is it prudent for a government of India to hang Afzal Guru? This is the time when government of India should be considering ways and means of mending fences not only with the people of Jammu and Kashmir but with Pakistan as well. Hanging of Afzal Guru will not help the peace process; and it will surely not help to win hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people.

Government of India has taken a wise step by postponing his execution date. This time should be utilized to work out a strategy to show human face of India rather than a face which, despite claims of liberal democracy is keen to promote capital punishment in 21st century.

If Indian government commutes his death sentence with imprisonment that will earn good will of thousands, and it will also show a friendly and caring face of India to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. If on the other hand, despite all the campaign and logic he is hanged this will not in any way enhance Indian democracy, but it will surely provide another martyr to people of Jammu and Kashmir and another reason to continue their anti India campaign.

In view of this it is better for India and for the peace process that clemency is granted to Afzal Guru. It will work as an important confidence building measure; and we will all benefit from this friendly and human gesture.

Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at:

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