The guilty verdict announced Monday for Pakistani gunman Mohammed
Ajmal Amir Kasab closed one chapter of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. But
the impact on counterterrorism policy is still slowly unfolding.
A year and a half after 10 men with AK-47s debarked on India's
commercial capital and launched a rampage that killed 166 people,
the trial of the lone surviving gunman is all but over.
On Monday, a judge in a high-security Mumbai court pronounced
Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab guilty of murder and waging war against
India. He will deliver the sentence in 10 days, after which the
defendant can appeal.
The verdict brings closure to one of the worst terror attacks in
But the impact of the attack on India's counterterrorism policy
has barely begun to be felt.
The 2008 attack on Mumbai triggered a shift in Indian
antiterrorism law, inducing the government to bring back some of the
harsh post-9/11 measures it had repealed just four years earlier.
Kasab is among the first to be tried under an altered legal
framework, one that reflects a worldwide struggle to reconcile
national security with human rights after the 9/11 attacks.
"Following [former President George W.] Bush's example, many
countries implemented harsh antiterror laws," says Colin Gonsalves,
a New Delhi-based civil rights lawyer. "But many regret passing
those laws now, because of the setback they represent for a
Most countries passed or amended their laws after 9/11 to comply
with a United Nations Security Council resolution that called on
members to implement counterterrorism measures, criminalize
terrorism, and share intelligence. Many of these new laws undermine
human rights norms, the International Commission of Jurists said
Both the United States and Britain, for instance, have since 2001
expanded the government's powers of surveillance and preventative
detention, broadened definitions of terrorism-related offences, and
made sentences harsher. The US authorized military tribunals that
curtail defendant rights. More recently, Russia passed a law
allowing terrorism trials to proceed without a jury, says Kim Lane
Scheppele, director of the Program in Law and Public Affairs at
Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and
"Few states have seen their constitutional sensibilities remain
intact in the panic over terrorism," Ms. Scheppele said by e-mail.
Rights vs. security
Though India's legal system enshrines due process and judicial
review, some of its antiterror laws rank among the harshest for a
constitutional democracy. It permits, for instance, one of the
longest periods of pre-charge detention.
Indian security laws are a legacy of British colonialism - the
Indian Penal Code under which Kasab is charged with waging war
predates its 1947 independence. But it has a more recent record of
using antiterrorism laws to intimidate political or popular
opposition that makes these measures especially controversial.
Since the 1970s, the central government has used such laws to
suppress, sometimes violently, regional insurgencies and separatist
movements in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, the northeast, and more
recently, Maoists in central India.
"In some respects, like Israel, India has been dealing with
significant national security concerns since its independence," says
Sudha Setty, associate professor at the Western New England College
School of Law in Springfield, Mass., adding that this may explain
why Indian "counterterrorism laws have been so robust."
India's first nationwide terrorism law was adopted in 1985,
replacing a law targeted at Sikh separatists in Punjab. The law was
allowed to expire 10 years later after widespread complaints about
human rights violations. But in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, in
2002, a similar law was passed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya
Janata Party-controlled parliament. …