On the morning of November 21, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government executed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman in the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. What is striking about the execution of Kasab, a Pakistani national, was that it was carried out in almost complete secrecy.
This is all the more remarkable when one considers that this is the first time in the history of independent India that a foreigner has been executed in the country. Politically speaking, Kasab’s hanging is a development fraught with deep foreign and domestic implications.
The government accorded budget-level secrecy to Kasab’s hanging and the news of his execution came as a complete surprise to all but a few top officials. In fact, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters that even UPA Chairwoman Sonia Gandhi was not informed of the execution beforehand.
To the public, the execution seemed unlikely even while the Indian government secretly began its “Operation Kasab” several weeks ago. Sources said President Pranab Mukherjee had rejected Kasab’s mercy plea on November 5 (though this was only made public recently) and signed the necessary orders. This was followed by Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and the government of the Indian state of Maharashtra, where Kasab was excuted, also signing the necessary orders on November 7 and 8, respectively. About a week later Union Home Secretary RK Singh formally told Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai in a letter that the decision on Kasab’s execution had been made while ordering that the convict’s family in Pakistan to be notified. Kasab himself was informed of the decision on November 12; 9 days before his hanging. On the night of November 19 he was moved from Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail to Pune’s Yerawada jail, which is authorized to host executions.
Kasab’s execution also had international consequences. For example, just days before the Indian government opposed a non-binding UN resolution against the death penalty that no less than 130 countries supporting the resoultion.
A more delicate matter was how to handle the situation with Pakistan, which Kasab was a citizen of. India informed Pakistan of the impeding execution on Tuesday, the day before the execution, but Pakistan has not acknowledged this communication at the time of this writing. Indeed, Pakistani officials stationed in India refused to accept a formal letter from Indian officials about the imminent hanging, forcing the latter to fax a copy of it to Pakistan.