Long but taut

New Delhi, Feb. 9: Afzal Guru, the 43-year-old Kashmiri convict in the Parliament attack case, was hanged this morning in the capital's Tihar jail in a noose taut with law, politics and strategy.

"He was very peaceful and calm during the final moments. He looked very composed," a Tihar jail official said of the 8am execution that stunned the Opposition with its timing and secrecy amid signs of shock in curfew-bound Kashmir.

The orders for the execution were issued after President Pranab Mukherjee rejected on February 3 a plea for mercy by Afzal's wife. The President took the decision after the Union home ministry sent its recommendation on January 23.

Between the Parliament attack on December 13, 2001, and the execution, over 11 years had passed while six years had ticked by since the Supreme Court rejected Afzal's review petition in January 2007.

Within an hour of his hanging, Afzal was buried in the campus of the jail where he was on death row since the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the trial courts in 2005. Afzal was buried not far from the grave of Maqbool Bhat, a founder of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) who was hanged on February 11, 1984.

The execution stumped the leaders of the Opposition BJP, some of whom woke up to the news on a weekend morning, barely able to come to grips with the idea that the UPA was knocking off one of its poll planks.

The BJP was wanting Afzal's execution since the Supreme Court order and raised its demand to a shrill pitch after the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani killer in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

The element of surprise was compounded because the government ensured the utmost secrecy till the hanging took place. Neither in the case of Ajmal Kasab nor in the case of Afzal Guru did anyone, apart from the ministers and the officials involved, get wind of the timing of the executions.

A jail official said Afzal's family was informed of the execution. But his lawyer Nandita Haksar said the family was not informed. The lawyer also wrote to the authorities seeking his body on behalf of the family.

In Kashmir, where chief minister Omar Abdullah was informed on Friday night of the impending hanging, the army was on alert, though it was the police that imposed the curfew. Omar tweeted that only "some people" had protested. But there was a clampdown that by and large kept people off the streets and electronic communication networks choked.

The Centre had also accepted an assessment by security agencies that in the harsh winter, high passes on the Line of Control would make infiltration of militants into the Valley difficult. The weather may also force people to stay indoors after about five years of relatively less violence.

The cyberspace was on fire as the Internet ran smoothly for hours in morning, giving many the opportunity to vent their anger. Paradise Kashmir, a prominent Facebook page known for presenting a charming face of Kashmir, said it had "no more photos of paradise" today. However, some comments on the page supported the hanging.

The Lashkar-e-Tioba warned of attacks, saying "India will pay for this act".

The fear of a tailspin in the law-and-order situation, reminiscent of the 1980s and 1990s that was stoked in part by Bhat's execution, continued to lurk in the background.

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