On October 8, Hindustan Times carried a shocking story. It said that ?convent-educated Pune faith healer Sohail Sheikh was asked by the chief of Pakistan'sInter Services Intelligence (ISI) to tail and ?bump off? BJP leader L.K. Advani.?
In his confession to the police (recorded in Marathi), the alleged master-mind of the July 11 serial bombings in Mumbai, Faisal Sheikh said that Sohail (38) ?had one-to-one meeting with the ISI chief? who asked Sohail ?to begin collecting intelligence on Advani and a few other top leaders, other targets as well, like Indian armed forces? military installations, the Bombay Stock Exchange and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre?. Faisal (31) is the Laskar-e-Toiba's?Western Indian Commander?.
Advani was to be the first target for assassination and Sohail was asked to track Advani'stravel schedule. Sohail was given an e-mail address and also a few telephone numbers that could reach the ISI chief via Dubai.
On October 9 Hindustan Times carried yet another story, this time as a front page lead which said that the ?11/7 brain admits to plotting abortive hit on Modi?. The story again, was based on confessions to the police made by Faisal Khan who apparently admitted to have planned ?the failed assassination attempt on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as well?. The attempt had been foiled by the Ahmedabad Police, which shot dead the four would-be assassins, including one Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year old B.Sc student from Mumbai (Mundhra) on June 16, 2004. General Musharraf, of course will vehemently deny the accuracy of these stories and demand ?evidence? which is par for the course.
The business of ISI is killing Indians and the business of Musharraf is to defend the killers. Indeed, he has admitted in his memoirs that he was more an ?officer than a gentleman?. He no doubt still remains an officer than a gentleman. Hindustan Times should also get credit for yet another story (October 9) featured on the front page that several female students from ?some of the best universities in England? have been turning to ?prostitution or sex-related work? to fund their rising tuition fees. The annual tuition fees for undergraduate courses apparently have trebled from ? 1,000 (Rs 85,000) in 1998 to ? 3,000 now.
To give Hindustan Times its due, in that same issue (October 9) it carried an extremely well?argued case against Mohammad Afzal insisting that ?the fear that Afzal will become a martyr for Kashmiris is unfounded?, that ?India should not show itself up as a soft state by granting reprieve to those who endanger its sovereignty and ?Afzal must be hanged if India has to survive?.
But the paper also gave space to Abhishek Singhvi, a senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India and a Congress MP who maintained that ?seeking clemency is a right?, on the grounds that ?clemency, pardon, reprieve and the entire gamut of post-conviction processes available to a convict have been a part of our Constitution from its inception? and ?specific provisions provide for it?.
According to this Congress spokesman, the party'sstand is ?in favour of a hands-off policy?. But Shri Singhvi knows that he is on slippery ground. And he is playing it both ways. As he put it, ?equally, the stand that Afzal must necessarily and as a matter of inalienable right be granted clemency?made by almost all sections of the political spectrum in Jammu and Kashmir, including the Congress government in that State?is untenable because it eliminates all discretion and application of the guidelines regarding clemency. It imposes a result irrespective of the merit of otherwise of Afzal'scase.?
But why are some of our editors and most Congressman, afraid to take a definite stand and demand that Afzal deserves to be hanged? Indians, Amartya Sen said the other day, are argumentative and will go to any length to be argumentative just for the heck of it. Writing in The Indian Express, S.Gurumurthy damned secularists, saying: ?Afzal is not just anti-national. He attempted to defy not just the law of crimes?he attempted to destroy the Constitution. He was the main conspirator in the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. With Pakistan providing the attackers, he conspired to kill or take as hostage, the Prime Minister and other Ministers and Parliament members..? So his is no ordinary crime. He is a terrorist, not an ordinary criminal??
The Tribune (October 3) said ?no country in its right mind can justify or condone such a diabolic act as attack on Parliament.? It added, ?What must be remembered is that the apex court reduced the sentences of several others. By not doing so in Guru'scase, it has established that his guilt is proven beyond all doubts. There seems hardly a ground for clemency for Afzal Guru.??
The Pioneer (October 5) thought that the entire debate on clemency is ?spurious?, that ?the gravity of the crime demands that the petition should be rejected with the contempt it deserves? and that ?to even waste time and effort on considering the merits of the appeal would be tantamount to heaping insult on the memory of those who sacrificed their lives defending the very symbol of democracy in India?.
?Allowing (Guru) to live for a day longer than October 20 would strengthen the hands that tend to destroy our nation?, said the paper sternly. What is inexplicable is that hardly any paper?barring The Tribune (September 27) published the story that the Pakistan Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of 12 persons found guilty of involvement in two assassination attempts on President Musharraf in 2003. A military court had sentenced the 12 convicts to death. The Lahore High Court earlier had rejected an appeal from the convicts ruling that it did not have the jurisdiction to overturn the verdict of a military court. Musharraf was not killed. But all 12 persons ?guilty of involvement? have been sentenced to death by Pakistan'sSupreme Court. How many were killed at the instance of Faizal Guru? And how many more would have been killed had not the security guards intervened, inviting there own deaths? Have our newspapers cared to interview their wives and children?
Why should the Indian press give so much space to Guru'swife who called on the President seeking clemency for her husband? Was all the fake publicity called for. The English media has a lot to answer for. If Afzal is pardoned, the blood of the Indian security guards who were killed will be on their hands?for ever. There is only one thing Afzal deserves. Public hanging.