Court Case Can't Improve India-Pakistan Relations

After hearing 14 months of testimony by 610 witnesses, covering a charge-sheet of 11,000 pages, and watching CCTV video of him coolly spraying AK-47 automatic rifle fire on terrified passengers in a crowded train terminal, a special Mumbai court today convicted Pakistani national Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, of murder and "waging war against India." They are capital crimes. The court will begin hearing sentencing arguments on Tuesday, and the prosecution is pressing for the penalty of death by hanging.

The verdict brings to a close one of the ugliest peacetime episodes between India and Pakistan, whose cooperation with the investigation was halting at first, and whose government still—to minds in Delhi—has not done nearly enough to prevent future attacks. Kasab's conviction may bring closure to friends and relatives of the 166 people who were killed and to the more than 250 others who were wounded in the commando-style, three-day orgy of killing nearly at Mumbai's main railway station, a restaurant, two luxury hotels, and a Jewish center two years ago. But it will not relieve any tension between nuclear-armed archrivals India and Pakistan.

Almost from the moment the 10 attackers came ashore on the Mumbai waterfront in rubber dinghies—after they hijacked a fishing boat that brought them from the Pakistani port of Karachi—it was clear that the rabidly anti-Indian Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has long had a close connection with Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence spy agency, was behind the attack. In the aftermath of the meticulously planned attack, India, which had initially considered a military response, decided to break off the normalization and peace process with Pakistan (against whom it has fought three major wars since the partition of British India in 1947).

Indian and Pakistani relations have been in the deepfreeze ever since. At first, Pakistan denied the obvious that Pakistanis spearheaded and planned the attack. Then Kasab, who had been captured alive by a courageous Indian policeman, began singing like a canary. He gave a detailed account of how Zakiur Rehman Lahkvi, a top LeT commander, had organized the gunmen's training on guerrilla bases in Pakistan and had devised their plan to hijack the fishing boat and navigate to Mumbai with a GPS device. Kasab also implicated LeT's founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed in the terror plan. Kasab further related how Lakhvi had talked to and maneuvered the men by satellite and cell-phone calls as they went about their bloody work which, he said, was "to kill as many people as possible and wreak as much destruction as possible."

Confronted with such overwhelming evidence, Pakistani security forces raided an LeT camp in Pakistani Kashmir soon after the attack and arrested Lahkvi, who is now in custody on charges of masterminding the attack along with six other LeT operatives. Saeed, who denied any responsibility for the operation, has been twice put under house arrest at his Lahore mosque complex and twice freed by the courts. Last October the Lahore High Court quashed all charges against him. The court also lifted the ban on activities by his Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the so-called charity organization that Saeed founded in 2002 after Islamabad proscribed the LeT under U.S. and Indian pressure. Jamaat, although an active and popular disaster relief organization, is widely seen as a front for the LeT's anti-Indian militant activities.

Pakistan maintains that it is doing all it they can to rein in the LeT and Jamaat, and that it is fully cooperating with India. As a result, Islamabad insists, the normalization process should get back on track. It points to the arrest Lahkvi and six of his lieutenants, and to the handing over to New Delhi of a number of dossiers detailing what Pakistani investigators have learned about the attack. Last month, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik also said Pakistan had frozen 16 Jamaat bank accounts, blocked six Websites, and closed down 143 of Jamaat's offices.

But for New Delhi that is not enough. Indians officials say that while Kasab's conviction is significant, the 22-year-old gunman from a poor rural village on the Punjab plains is nothing but a little fish, and that there are many more like him waiting in the wings to attack. During his interrogation, Kasab said that there are at least 300 to 500 other young men like himself who are trained and indoctrinated and waiting to embark on similar terror missions for the LeT. "The terror tap needs to be shut there in Pakistan," says Rakesh Maria, chief of Mumbai's anti-terror police squad.

Indians also want to see a conviction of Lakhvi and the six others—and they want real legal action to be taken against Saeed, the leader. New Delhi angrily points to the impunity and freedom with which the Jamaat-ud-Dawa supremo continues to operate in and around Lahore. Every Friday he delivers a sermon which is filled with anti-Indian rhetoric at his well-attended mosque. Late last month he told his listeners in a Lahore slum that they should declare a jihad on India. While many Jamaat facilities have been closed, Saeed's main stronghold, the 150-acre, gated complex that includes a mosque, hospital and a madrassa for 3,000 students, which is called Markaz-e-Taiba, or "Center of the Pious," is still operating normally, just west of Lahore.

Finally, the Indians are also worried by Pakistan's latest request—the extradition of Kasab so that he can testify at the trial of Lakhvi and the other six, a process that seems to be going nowhere. His presence at the trial, one Pakistani foreign office official said, is a "legal requirement." Not surprisingly India is reluctant to hand over Kasab, fearing that he could simply disappear once back in Pakistan. New Delhi is also concerned with Kasab's legal maneuverings and about-faces. While he confessed to the terrorism changes initially, and last July asked to be hanged, he suddenly reversed his stand last December, saying he was a simple tourist who had been picked up and framed. Indians are concerned that this retraction may allow jittery Pakistani judges to release the accused LeT men for lack of evidence.

To be sure, the two nations are still talking to each other. Last month, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani held a "very positive" one hour meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bhutan. Both sides agreed to rekindle their dialogue in the future. Gilani also promised that those responsible for the Mumbai massacre would be brought to justice.

But the trust deficit between India and Pakistan seems to be as wide as ever. Just last week India went on a state of high alert after Indian intelligence warned of possible terrorist attacks against markets and shopping malls. "Relations between India and Pakistan are accident prone," says strategic affairs expert C. Raja Mohan. "The two governments have much work to do before the Indo-Pak peace process finds a stable footing." Even that is an incredible understatement, and that work goes far above and beyond Kasab's conviction.