Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: Kasab, The Face of 26/11

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Thanks to the Writer for the lovely emails despite the 'scathing review'

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Author: Rommel Rodrigues

November 26, 2008 was India’s 9/11 — or so they say. It was the day 10 gunmen held one city hostage for over 60 hours. A day that sent accusations flying across the border, and the fear of something deadlier being traded saw the international community scrambling for cover. India was breaking news for days. Pakistan also made headlines around that time but not for the same reasons.

They caught the perpetrator. Ajmal Kasab is exhibit A in the case against the country of his birth. What little is known about Kasab (the name literally means butcher), beyond his nationality (Pakistani) and vocation (deadly pawn) comes from a hastily complied sketch leaked to the media in the early days of the attack. The rest came from following the trail of breadcrumbs, obligingly left behind, that led to Pakistan — a nation viewed as both the donor and recipient of terror.

When Rommel puts himself in the shoes of the lone survivor of the death squad for a walk down memory lane, it is not for the view but the forlorn hope of finding skeletons in his neighbour’s closet. Using a wide angled camera, he pans into neighbouring Pakistan, the village where Kasab was born, the streets he traversed, the contacts he made, the secret dreams of handling weapons he harboured and the moment when he graduated from petty thief to hardened jihadist.

This excursion into Kasab-land is to understand what goes into the making of a “deranged fidayeen jihadi”. It is clear that had he not been reeled in by the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Kasab’s criminal tendencies would have found another outlet — albeit a less dramatic one. The writer collates the evidence, piecing together the life of a murderer from the cradle to the (court assigned?) grave to give readers their first inkling of the violent elements that operate below their nation’s radar.

The incredibly detailed recreation of life in a terror boot camp run by the LeT and its ilk (some masquerading as relief centres) claims to give an unimpaired view of the breeding grounds of home grown terror. He has padded his research with stories of disenfranchised youth, driven by poverty into the arms of waiting jihadist organisations.

Rommel has a vivid imagination. His interpretation of events turns a monster’s life around to serve as a springboard to launch an inquiry into the phenomenon of cross-border terrorism. But he proceeds to take several swipes at Pakistan without subjecting India to the same scrutiny. Meticulously researched though the book may appear to be, it begs the question: what is the true source of the author’s intel? Which part is pure speculation and which is grounded in fact?

In an interview given to Mid Day, the writer claims that second-hand information has been validated by experts and sources, yet the lack of footnotes/references is troubling. Which is why, at times, this reads like fiction based on a cocktail of facts and a liberal dose of speculation that stops short of breaking new ground.

The book follows the official script, challenging Pakistan’s defence of the ‘non-state actor’ and implicitly questioning its claims of independent terrorists misusing territory by first introducing retired army officers on the LeT’s premises and later placing serving ones at the scene. But his own description of events that point to contempt harboured by “the army of the privileged holy warriors” (as the radicals like to call themselves) for leaders and the military alike does not support such an alliance.

While the world tuned in to a long drawn out stand off and what appeared to be a lack of adequate response despite an advance warning by the CIA, the writer takes a more scenic route wilfully ignoring the law enforcement’s ineffectiveness and using RAW’s supposedly exceptional intelligence work to cover up their Blue Water Navy’s unexceptional role in countering terror.

Kasab, The Face of 26/11 claims to have surprising insight into its neighbour’s contribution to extremism but not when it comes to the state of its own homeland security. It sets out to establish the humane treatment meted out to the captured prisoner in a handy narrative, which serves to vindicate the Indian justice system. Human Rights Watch would love that part. And, when it talks of 576 incarcerated Indian fishermen, it suffers from a sudden onset of amnesia, forgetting their Pakistani counterparts languishing in Indian jails, some for decades.

The horror is magnified, as is the menace, and this insider look will stoke the paranoia. The book ends abruptly, a bit like the journey of the principal character. This nifty piece of detective work gives Kasab a plausible back-story but fails to account for the forces at play that allowed them to fearlessly wander the streets of India unchallenged without triggering red flags all over. In about 10 days the perpetrator will be sentenced by Indian courts. The book is just one more nail in Kasab’s pre-ordered coffin.

Penguin; Pp 276; Rs 595

Image Courtesy of: http://db2.stb.s-msn.com/i/9A/D7EBAB67CE6981EB56567FEEC4AEDD.jpg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Escape from Oblivion / Author: Ikram Sehgal

Thanks to the lovely Nefer & Haya for the launch Invite

Published in Daily Times / Jul 21, 2012
Under the title: So You Think You Can Escape?
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

'In this game there are no second chances. You either win or you die.’

The man who penned these words 41 years ago was busy planning his escape from an Indian POW camp that was not really supposed to exist. Today, as a defence analyst who owns a successful business empire, he sits amiably on a stage flanked by officers from his old command, some well-known personalities from the media, and at least one fiery cricketer-turned-politician who aspires for the premiership. (See Pix Here)

The extraordinary tale of a Pakistani army captain adrift in enemy territory who went knocking at the US Consulate gate and the American Marine Sergeant on duty who saved the day (part of it anyway) appeared in print a few years ago. That, however, was not the end of the captain’s ordeal. What happened in the interval before Sgt Frank A…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: DIARIES OF FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMMAD AYUB KHAN 1966-1972

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007

Books allow people to have their say. Diaries express what they actually meant. Therefore, every prominent personality must stray from the path of political correctness and leave behind a diary. One way to regain an insight into the defining moments of our history post ‘65 War would be through the diaries of Pakistan’s first military ruler and first C-in-C, Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan, who also authored the book, ‘Friends. Not Masters’. The personal lives of public figures are always intriguing; while their contemporaries indict/acquit them on consequences of their actions, diaries give individuals a rare shot at swaying the upcoming generation of juries. Recorded during the uneasy calm before an inevitable storm brewing on the Eastern horizon and Indian front, the entries, spanning 7 years from September 1966 - October 1972, are replete with shrewdness and candor of a narrator who observed the events initially as a key player…

BOOK REVIEW: Half of Two Paisas - The Extraordinary Mission of Abdul Sattar Edhi And Bilquis Edhi

Published in Daily Times / 09 March 2013 under the title MISSION I(A)MPOSSIBLE

Author(s): Lorenza Raponi and Michele Zanzucchi
Translated from Italian by Lorraine Buckle
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal



Described as an ‘agent of change’ and a shining example of ‘humanitarian Islam’ by one author and hailed as a modern day ‘St. Francis of Assisi’ by another - the simply dressed old gentleman who sits unobtrusively in the front row is merely on a stop-over before he runs off again to save some lives. Many present at the launch of ‘Half of Two Paisas - The Extraordinary Mission of Abdul Sattar Edhi And Bilquis Edhi’ - co-authored by Lorenza Raponi and Michele Zanzucchi, are already part of the ‘Edhi’ admiration society.



Lorenza and Michele met ‘The Edhis' during a trip to Pakistan in 2005. The philanthropist on the frontline of poverty who founded the Edhi Foundation and charmed the visiting Italians has been playing the part of the savior for over six decades. Ms. Raponi first heard of Abdu…

ART REVIEW: Flying solo with ‘the artist presently known as Omar Farid’

First Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 23 June 2013 - Sunday Edition


A small gathering of connoisseurs and curiosity seekers get a personalised tour of the show, their ‘oohs’ and ‘ahas’ broken by an occasional ‘o my that is disturbing’, at which the artist bows and looks pleased. Omar Farid’s ‘Flying Solo’ exhibition promises a delightful getaway to a spruced up wonderland. A few days earlier at another gallery, he was seen airing his views on real art, which must be unforgettable — leave lasting imprints, make one think and blink — or words to that effect.
We see what he means at his opening held the very next week at the Art Chowk in Karachi.




A wily feline in ochre/burgundy tones looms into view, oozing malevolence and doom for some unsuspecting bird, mercifully out of frame. There is no need to overanalyse the creature. In this case, a cat is just a cat. The experience will get ‘curiouser’ as a macabre, ink and acrylic induced haze envelops the quaint backdrop.



What do you …

OPED: Pakistan at the Frontlines of Educational Reforms

Originally Published by Global Affairs / May 2017. Written before the Mashal Khan tragedy in Mardan



A terrifying document surfaced the other day on the social media that suggested a possibly extremist agenda in the education department in KPK - Pakistan. The letter dated 2015, ostensibly from Pervez Khattak directed DCTE Abbottabad to seek input from proscribed groups - the ASWJ for devising the curriculum. It was an alarming discovery and the comments that followed on the twitter timeline of the social activist who shared the story were even more alarming for they appeared to support making terror outfits stakeholders in the academia.

In a different part of town a few good Samaritans put forward a timely proposal that promised salvation for young Pakistani’s at the mercy of the hardliner’s pen.

Representatives from 7 organizations presented a pilot project launched to defuse the ticking time bomb of bigotry and hate. They dubbed it - ‘Badal Do’ – ‘Ignite the Change Within’ - a c…

BOOK REVIEW: Estranged Neighbours: India - Pakistan (1947-2010) By General K M Arif

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Thanks to Dost Publications for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / 25 Sep 2010 under the title: Dreaming of an elusive peace

General Arif admits that he is a “soldier by profession and peacemaker by choice”. The peacemaking side hastens to the battlefield to clear the air and maybe mend some fences while the soldier in him is ready to launch a verbal offensive. He does intend to bury the hatchet but not before evaluating the number of times this hatchet has been wielded in the past by the powerful nation of India against a flailing state of Pakistan. There is a third side — that of the pragmatist who intends to bring Pakistan back in alignment with its stated polices.

South Asia is frequently in crisis mode and Estranged Neighbours studies the inherited problems, shared dilemmas, post partition woes and regional complexities faced by both nations. General Arif witnessed the partition, was President Ziaul Haq’s chief of staff and spent nearly 40 years in t…