When will Mumbai get its Osamas?

Published: May 03, 2011, 06:11 IST | Team MiD DAY

New York may have gotten closure with the death of Osama bin Laden, but a city scarred by the events of Nov 26, 2008, is still waiting

New York may have gotten closure with the death of Osama bin Laden, but a city scarred by the events of Nov 26, 2008, is still waiting

They poured out into the darkness clutching American flags, chanting as the word spread through their quiet, suburban streets. In New York, a city once damned by Osama bin Laden, police cars cruised past the ghost of the World Trade Center to the sound of bagpipes. Presidents present and past broadcast messages of triumph across the country. In Mumbai on the other side of the world, two years, five months and six days after she lost her husband to an act of terrorism with links to al-Qaeda, the widow of Senior Police Inspector Vijay Salaskar had a question: "Why has Ajmal Amir Qasab not been punished?"


One hundred and sixty-four people lost their lives on November 26, 2008;
308 were wounded. Families were destroyed, livelihoods eradicated.


Minutes before Smita Salaskar's query, President Obama had referred to the man who brought America to its knees close to a decade ago as 'a terrorist responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.' The description could well apply to Qasab or any of the 35 accused wanted by the Government of India for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai -- our very own 9/11. Pakistan, where the US found and destroyed an old enemy, has been home to many of the terrorists India has wanted to bring to justice for years. And while America acted decisively after 9/11, the government of India has, since 26/11, spent much of its time writing to the United Nations, spending precious time talking to Islamabad and even getting the US to intervene.

It has spent time sending non-bailable warrants and dossiers to Pakistan, trying to convince the latter that 35 of its citizens are wanted terrorists who played an active role in attacks on our soil. Naturally, Pakistan has ignored all of that. In fact, Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the mastermind behind the 26/11 attack, roams free in Pakistan and regularly gives incendiary anti-India speeches. One hundred and sixty-four people lost their lives on November 26, 2008; 308 were wounded. Families were destroyed, livelihoods eradicated. In response, a commission of inquiry was appointed. Reports were tabled and marches held. On February 25, 2009, an 11,000-page charge-sheet formally accused Qasab, the only attacker arrested alive, of waging war against India. His trial began a few months later and, on May 3, 2010, he was convicted of all 86 charges. Condemned to death, he continues to be in jail.

The killing of bin Laden is being described, by some American newspapers, as an act of closure � an emotional conclusion to a difficult life event. Many of the people our reporters spoke to, in Mumbai and across India, felt no such thing. Smita Salaskar spoke of the government's need "to give us justice, instead of taking part in peace talks and having dinners with those shielding the perpetrators." She also spoke of the vacuum left by her husband's death. Madhavi More, widow of slain Police Sub Inspector Prakash More, asked us to abandon our 'chalta hai' attitude.

Those who weren't directly affected by the attacks were equally harsh in their assessment of India's response. Shridhar Bhirwadkar, who works at Nariman House -- one of the places where the killings took place � pointed to America's decade-long search for justice. "Here," he added, "in spite of having these people in custody, we have failed to act." A student, Yash Thakkar, referred to Qasab's 'royal life' in custody. "Crores have been spent on his security. To expect the government to act in any other way, apart from the one it has adopted, would be foolish."

Is the anger, coupled with a palpable sense of hopelessness, justified? It would seem to be. Six of the men on India's wanted list are currently on trial in Pakistan, but our government has not been allowed to question them. According to Qasab's confession, the attackers were members of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, commander of Jama'at-ud-Da'wah (considered by the UN to be an alias of LeT) is one of the prime accused. On October 12, 2009, all cases against him were quashed by the Lahore High Court. Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, another founding member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, was named one of four possible major planners of the Mumbai attacks. He was formally charged by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court in 2009 and is still in jail. His future, and that of his co-accused, continues to be debatable.

We asked G K Pillai, union home secretary, if India has the option of using American tactics to nab those on our wanted list. His reply: "It is not in our policy. Just last month, we sent reminders to Pakistan asking them to nab those named by India. Also, post home secretary-level talks, a Pakistan judiciary high commission was to come to India. We await their arrival." What Mumbai wants, for now, is an answer. America finally has its Osama bin Laden. When will we get ours?

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