I took the title for this blog post from a Times of India article on the execution of Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab who was hanged this Wednesday for the killings he committed during the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008 which left 166 people dead. His life and death reveal much of what is wrong in Pakistan.
1)Pakistani’s are in a state of denial: In the days after the attack on Mumbai when it became clear that the attackers were all Pakistani and that the attack had been masterminded by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organization that was founded by the Pakistani Army to fight India, the government of Pakistan denied all responsibility and claimed that the lone surviving gunman, Ajmal Kasab, could not have been Pakistani. The government issued this denial right as Pakistani TV stations were interviewing Kasab’s parents in the village of Faridkot in the Pakistani Punjab.
Despite Kasab’s full confession and the surveillance footage capturing him coldly gunning down passersby in a train station, elements of the Pakistani media claimed that the whole 26/11 attacks were a conspiracy staged by India in order to give it a pretext to invade Pakistan. Others tried to justify the attacks by claiming they were retaliation for civilians killed by the Indian army in Kashmir, or by American drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas. and Pakistan’s Urdu language press even claimed that Kasab hadn’t been hanged; instead he died of dengue fever in 2008. And to top it all off people in Faridkot claimed that Kasab and his family had never lived there, that they were in fact from the Faridkot in the Indian Punjab!
Such lies and rhetorical tricks are easily dismissed as ridiculous when seen from Western eyes. For most Pakistani’s though these lies are taken as the gospel truth. Less than half of the population is literate and even those who can read are often only literate up to an elementary school level. Local preachers and private media peddle hate speech with impunity and school text-books are full of bigotry, distortions, and lies. The government rarely does anything to stop such propaganda and the peddlers of hate continue knowing that they have the covert support of the Army and the overt support of much of the populace.
2) There are plenty of men like Kasab within Pakistan: Ajmal Kasab could have been the poster-boy for the average Pakistani male. He was born in a poor rural village and received only a basic education. He would have witnessed violence on a regular basis: his father beating his mother, his parents beating Ajmal and his three siblings, his neighbours beating their farm animals when they wouldn’t obey, the local landowners thugs beating poor farmers who couldn’t make rent, the police beating shop-owners who wouldn’t give them bribes. Occasionally there would have been horror stories from other villages, a Christian Church burnt down, a Shi’ite Muslim being shot simply for being Shi’ite, a girl killed by her parents for the crime of speaking to a boy. Kasab and his fellow villagers might not have approved of these acts but they certainly didn’t condemn them. Every Friday they would attend their Mosque and hear their local Mullah, who probably couldn’t read in Urdu let alone the Arabic of the Koran, preach against infidels and apostates who wanted to destroy Islam.
This slow burning violence and indoctrination would have left it’s mark on Kasab, who as a young man left his village with his brother to find work. They went to Rawalpindi, a large city adjacent to the Capital city of Islamabad, that is home to the General headquarters of the Pakistan army. They soon realized they were not qualified for any good jobs, not that there were any to be had. So they decided to do what any country boys struggling in the big city would do; turn to crime. The brothers Kasab cased out some promising houses to rob but there was a small hitch, neither of them knew how to use a gun. They went to a major Rawalpindi market-place looking for someone to teach them how to shoot when they came across the stall of the ”banned” terrorist militia Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Imagine if the Bloods and the Crips set up booths at a farmers market down the street from LAPD headquarters; that’s how jarring seeing an LEJ stall right near the Army GHQ is. But this being Pakistan laws are considered more as guidelines than rules so no matter if the LEJ is banned, no ones going to shut them down. The LEJ offered food and money to the brothers Kasab and later sent them for weapons training at their open training camps scattered throughout Pakistan. Soon Ajmal would be thoroughly converted to an extremist strain of Islam and he and his nine fellow terrorists would be sent on to Mumbai.
Of course Ajmal Kasab expected to die a martyr not hang like a common criminal. Although I don’t personally support the death penalty, I find its use hard to condemn when men like Kasab can be found fanning the flames of the fires that are burning across Pakistan and will one day consume it completely. It’s true that terrorists like Kasab are prepared to die for their causes but they wish to go down in a blaze of glory; they don’t want to be captured, tried, kept in solitary confinement for four years, hanged in the night, and then buried in a unmarked prison yard grave far from home. A running theme throughout Pakistan’s 65 year history is that people are not made to pay for their crimes. If Pakistan had sent men like Kasab to the gallows in the past it might have kept the fires raging across the land from ever have being set.
3) Beware the Puppet Masters: In the end Ajmal Kasab was just a puppet. The Masters pulling the strings are the true danger. They are the men who send lads like Kasab to kill and to die for them. They recruit amongst the poor and downtrodden and give them all they could never dreamed of having: respect, money, land, and women. The Puppet Masters have many banners but it doesn’t matter if they command fundamentalist terrorists, sectarian killers, separatist insurgents, tribal militias, political storm-troopers, mafia thugs, or the State’s own soldiers; they are all after one thing, power. They are wolves who cloak themselves in wool and gather a flock around them before they bare their fangs. Violence begets violence and one of the many tragedies of Pakistan is that only violence can stop the Puppet Masters and halt Pakistan’s fall. An Indian newspaper , the Hindu, interviewed an old man in Faridkot after Kasab was hanged, this is what he said, ”He met his fate. As you sow so shall you reap”. As Kasab reaped a bloody harvest; so shall Pakistan.
I’ll leave you now with Ajmal Kasab’s final words, spoken as he faced the hangman’s noose; ”Tell my Mother”.