On death row since 2002, Afzal Guru was secretly executed on February 9. He was accused and convicted in what is commonly known as the 2001 Indian Parliament attack. Guru’s hanging has caused a spectrum of reaction in the media as well as the general public ranging from approval to horror at the secrecy surrounding his execution. But who was Afzal Guru and why is his hanging important? It is perhaps not the execution itself but the answer may lie in the way in which Guru was executed.

By the time his family in Sopore town in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir received the memo of the final decision, through speed post - the date of the hanging set just the day before - Guru had already been executed.

There was not time or opportunity given for final goodbyes or challenge the President’s rejection of his appeal. As per law, the execution is open to judicial review. He was executed at Tihar jail in Delhi and was buried in the prison grounds. Guru’s family has since rejected the Indian government’s offer to visit his grave.

In his letter to his family, written less than two hours before his death, Guru writes in Urdu: “I thank almighty, that he has chosen me for this stature. From my side, I want to congratulate all the believers. … We all should stay with truth and righteousness, and our end must also come on the path of truth and righteousness. …My request to my family is that instead of grieving over my end, they should respect the stature I have achieved.”

Guru had been charged and convicted of arranging weapons for the attackers in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists and for membership of the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group. He denied both these charges and any involvement in the events of the attack when five militants stormed the Indian parliament, killed a gardener and eight policemen. The attackers were shot dead by security forces.

The Indian Government said that Jaish-e-Mohammad was backed by Pakistan and Pakistan denied any involvement in the attack. A fall-out of this attack was the stand-off between India and Pakistan and a weakening of the already fragile relationship between the two countries. Troops were deployed at the sensitive border. Subsequent to his hanging, the Kashmir Valley has seen widespread protest and the area is under a strict curfew. No cable television, mobile or internet services. In the widespread protests, three youths have died as protestors clashed with security forces.

In India, executions are very rare. Since 2004, Guru’s was only the second after the other being the November 2012 execution of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab who was the sole surviving attacker from the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
In her article in the Hindu, Nitya Ramakrishnan, a senior lawyer who defended Shaukat Guru and Afshan Guru in the Parliament attack case from the trial court up to the Supreme Court writes: Afzal also spoke frankly of his militant years in Muzaffarabad and his voluntary surrender to the Indian authorities. His narrative of how the authorities dealt with him after his return should cause us all concern, if even part of it is true.

Though he had set up a small medical equipment business, the army and the State Task Force (STF) wouldn’t just let him be. They kept picking him up, detaining him for long spells of torture, demanding money for his release and so on. It was during one such stint in the STF camp, that he was introduced to Tariq, who in turn got him to bring Mohammed to Delhi.
The rest is history, though somewhat blurred history. Afzal gave names of STF officers who were privy to this operation. I would think that the possibility of some truth to this is of much greater significance to national security than Afzal’s life or death in prison. Our misfortune is also that it is easier to attack a soft target than face uncomfortable questions.