Executions in India are so rare that one might almost forget it still had the death penalty, but Mohammed Afzal Guru yesterday became one of its victims.
Mohammed Afzal Guru, who has been on death row in India since his conviction in 2002 for helping to plan the deadly attack on the Indian parliament the previous year, was hanged on Saturday morning. Guru was linked to the militant Kashmiri group Jaish-e-Mohammed, although he always maintained his innocence.
India’s information minister observed that “the law took its own course”, while another government spokesman said “We have sent a message to the world that we cannot tolerate terrorism at any cost.” The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party also welcomed the execution, claiming that it should have happened sooner.
But while fighting terrorism is all very well, there’s no sign of India making any move to address the fundamental cause of its terrorist problem, namely the Kashmiris’ desire for self-determination. In the aftermath of the 2006 attack in Mumbai, I wrote that “India’s friends (among whom Australia should be more prominent), as well as offering every assistance to fight terrorism, need to quietly insist that self-determination for Kashmir is the only long-term solution.”
That solution looks to be as far off as ever. While other international flashpoints have displaced it from the headlines for the time being, there seems little doubt that Kashmir will be back. The state is under curfew tonight to contain any unrest resulting from news of the execution.
But that’s not the only reason to take note of Afzal Guru’s death. It also serves as a reminder both that India has retained the death penalty, and of how extraordinarily rare its application of it is. The BBC reports that this was only the third execution in India this century. (Wikipedia, of course, has more details.)
For a country of more than a billion people that represents serious restraint. While in my view three executions is still three too many, it should be contrasted with (according to Amnesty International’s figures) 43 in the United States in 2011 alone, more than 82 in Saudi Arabia, more than 360 in Iran, and probably “thousands” in China.
So for all the legions of pundits who compare the development of India and China without ever seeming to notice or care that one is a democracy and one a dictatorship – keep those numbers in mind. Economic growth isn’t the only thing that matters.