FARIDKOT Farmers in the remote impoverished home town of the surviving gunman of the Mumbai massacre angrily denounced his conviction as a travesty of justice at the hands of “infidel” India on Monday.
The town of Faridkot in the Pakistani farming belt of Punjab province has become notorious as the home of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, convicted of taking part in the November 2008 bloodbath that killed 166 people in Mumbai.
Power supplies were down due to Pakistans dire electricity crisis, but the verdict was the talk of the town as people sat in shops and small restaurants along the main road awaiting news of his fate.
Minutes after the power spluttered back and as children in shabby clothes tussled in the unpaved road, news channels announced that the 22-year-old had been pronounced guilty of murder and waging war against India.
“This is all against Pakistan. Ajmal is a child and he cannot commit this incident,” said Muhammad Iqbal, a farmer in his late 50s. He was also angry at the acquittal of two Indian suspects.
“Why was there no equal sentence for all the culprits and why has only Ajmal been declared a criminal?” His small group were defensive, even outraged. Around 10,000 people live in the town, most of them labourers and farmers, few of them literate.
“It is discriminatory and it would be better to hand him over to Pakistan,” said another farmer, Muhammad Yasin, 46. “Neither should he be given the death
At one restaurant featuring a traditional tandoor oven, more than a dozen people sitting on benches and a large couch entered into a heated debate.
“This is wrong. India is biased,” said Muhammd Akram, 33, a local farmer, in between sipping a cup of tea.
Although he had no answer to who was responsible for the militant attack that plunged Indian-Pakistani relations to new depths, he said Kasab should be released. “He has done nothing. He was wrongly involved in the attacks.”
The previous day, a hawker in Faridkot distributed a weekly newspaper published by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, believed by Indian and US officials to be a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the attacks.
“Are they talking about our Ajmal?” 45-year-old Noor Ahmed asked, interrupting fellow residents who were discussing the case.
“No. No. We dont know him,” he said, sitting on a dirty couch in a small brick-and-clay room on the banks of the local canal.
“But we have sympathies for him being Muslim.”Some residents said Kasab, like other young men dragged into the shadowy underworld of militant Islam, should be seen as a pawn, brainwashed by powerful jihadi groups.
“Look, dont blame him. There is nothing wrong if he did it with good intentions against an infidel country like India,” said Amjad Ali, a 60-year-old farmer with white hair.
“India is doing bomb blasts in Pakistan and it has also blocked Pakistans water,” he said -- echoing the belief of many in Pakistan that its arch-rival is behind suicide attacks in the country and siphoning off of water resources.
One student claimed Kasab was a childhood friend who was in a group that used to swim in Faridkots polluted canal and liked to throw other boys into the water. He believes Kasab was brainwashed.
“Definitely, the (Mumbai) incident created a bad impression for Pakistan and especially Faridkot,” the student said.
He called for the massacres masterminds to be punished, and said it would be better if India extradited Kasab to Pakistan. — AFP