By Emily Wax
Tuesday, May 4, 2010; A11
NEW DELHI -- A 22-year-old militant from Pakistan was found guilty Monday of "waging war on India" during the brazen November 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people and strained relations between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Ajmal Amir Kasab, who bowed his head as the verdict was announced, will be sentenced Tuesday and could face the death penalty.
It was an emotional day for many Indians because Kasab is the lone surviving attacker from the gun-and-grenade ambush on India's financial capital, a powerful strike at a city that has been at the forefront of India's economic boom.
Kasab was videotaped by a security camera at the start of the three-day siege, wild-eyed and shooting up the city's busiest railway station. Prosecutors say Kasab was one of two militants who killed 52 people there.
A total of 610 witnesses testified during Kasab's trial, which ran for 271 days and produced a 1,522-page verdict that was read aloud Monday in a packed courtroom within the jail premises in Mumbai where Kasab is being held for security reasons.
Judge M.L. Tahiliyani acquitted two Indians who had been accused of helping plot the attacks. Throughout the trial, experts said the evidence against the men appeared weak. But political analysts in New Delhi also said that India's government was eager to distance two of its own citizens from the plot and preferred to point the finger at Pakistan.
Office workers and schoolchildren across the country gathered at television sets to watch the verdict. The country remains deeply divided on how Kasab should be punished, with some saying the death penalty would only further the cycle of bloodshed.
"I will never have the mother of my children back," said Santanu Saikia, whose wife, Sabina Sehgal Saikia, an editor with the Times of India newspaper, was killed in her room on the fifth floor of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel. "We have taken a decision that we are going to forgive Kasab in her memory. What else can we do?"
On the world stage, the Mumbai massacre brought relations between India and Pakistan -- which have fought three major wars -- to a new low. The Obama administration wants to ease tensions on the subcontinent and has been urging both sides back to the negotiating table. Improved relations would let Pakistan focus on fighting the Taliban on its western border with Afghanistan.
At talks at a regional conference last week in Bhutan, the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers agreed to begin rebuilding relations. But in a reminder of the fragility of the talks, a terror warning in India all weekend kept many families locked indoors and sparked debate on Sunday talk shows about whether negotiations are realistic.
India says the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-i-Taiba, whose name means "Army of the Pious," ordered the November attacks. During the announcement of Kasab's verdict, the judge said India had evidence that Kasab was a part of the group. India has been frustrated over Pakistan's inability, or unwillingness, to dismantle Lashkar-i-Taiba and related organizations.
Special correspondent Mohammed Rizwan in Faridkot, Pakistan, contributed to this report.