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Between the line

Some beginning, at last
February 18 , 2009


SUPPOSE 10 Indian Hindus had taken a boat from Mumbai and attacked Karachi, killing some 180 people, including 81 foreigners, what would have been the reaction of Pakistan? Again, how angry and broken the Pakistanis would have been if New Delhi had not even identified the perpetrators, much less brought them to justice? Would the government at Islamabad have waited patiently for almost three months after the carnage to get a reply and that too mostly through non-official channels? These are precisely the questions raised in India as its exasperation increases day by day.

Right from the beginning, Pakistan has been dismissing the whole thing as if it was an adventurous prank of some street urchins. It has never appreciated the depth of anger that is seething throughout India nor the pressure on the coalition government by its partners and within the ruling Congress itself to act.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has shown commendable restrain while the government at Islamabad has done little beyond holding meeting after meeting. Everything coming from India has been either rubbished or scoffed at. Questions asked through the Pakistani media have even suggested that what happened at Mumbai was India’s doing.

It looks as if Islamabad has something to hide. Otherwise, the Asif Ali Zardari government should have come clean on day one itself. Why has it dragged its feet? Frankly speaking, it is not difficult to guess. Anti-India elements still dictate Islamabad. Although democratically elected, the government seems to lack gumption to join issue with those who have enjoyed power for decades and who are not terribly upset over the Mumbai attack.

The tragedy is that political parties in Pakistan want to be on the right side of such elements because even if the leaders were to challenge the establishment they are not sure whether they would be able to bring people on the streets on secular issues. The lawyers’ movement is a warning. It began for laudable purpose of reinstating the judges dismissed by former President General Pervez Musharraf and continued for months. But it petered out due to lack of popular response.

It is possible that the dossier New Delhi has given Pakistan has holes. Every bit of evidence cannot be foolproof. But Islamabad raises doubts whenever New Delhi provides it with any evidence. It is considered fragmentary and, cynically, described as information, not evidence. At least the telephonic talk between the terrorists and those in Pakistan should have been taken as concrete evidence.

Take Islamabad’s denial of Kasab’s nationality. Islamabad went on saying that he was not a Pakistani national. It was the Pakistani media which forced the government to admit that he was a resident of Murdika, near Lahore. That Islamabad should ask for facilities to interview Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist, is not surprising. But why did it reject New Delhi’s earlier offer to facilitate Pakistan to interview Kasab? (He is under threat from the underworld). It shows as if Pakistan had a closed mind on the Mumbai attack and reacted in that manner long before India’s dossier reached it. The purpose was to shift the blame. Once reports from Islamabad were that the perpetrators were from Bangladesh and then the name of Europe was substituted for the origin of attackers.

Foreign Minister Shah Mohammad Qureshi’s statement that the Mumbai attacks was not discussed with US liberal representative, Richard C. Holbrooke, is enigmatic. Washington had made it clear when it announced the appointment of Holbrooke that his job was confined to Afghanistan. Both New Delhi and Islamabad are keeping Washington in the picture. That is enough. Let us not involve it in the problem which we have to sort out between ourselves.

As of today, Pakistan has not accepted the involvement of people from its soil, whether of state or non-state actors. This reflects one-upmanship which is counter-productive. Some statement to suggest that Islamabad itself was not sure on this point would have gone a long way in building up trust between India and Pakistan, something essential even if they were to start afresh. What Pakistan should have reckoned with from the beginning is that its statements on the Mumbai attack would be taken with loads of salt.

Even now Islamabad is asking more questions than answering them. Seeking more information may well be part of Pakistan’s strategy of denying everything lest even a bit of admission should lead to a trail which it does not want to be followed. But it is sad that in the midst of such efforts—India is also to blame—the main issue of terrorism has got lost. Prime Minister Yousf Reza Gilani is right when he says that it is obvious that the terrorists have succeeded in their purpose to divert attention from terrorism.

Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s reiteration that every option is open or the statement by the chief of the army staff, Deepak Kapoor, that the strategic strikes are possible may well be meant to pacify the people in India. But it only strengthens suspicion about New Delhi’s bona fide. It renews the age-old belief that India is out to destroy Pakistan. Because of the impending Lok Sabha elections, the two main political parties, the Congress and the BJP, are vying with each other in making inflammatory statements. It appears as if the ruling Congress is going to stretch the Mumbai tragedy till after the polls, scheduled to be held late in Aril or early May.

It was an unhelpful top level meeting which Gilani presided over the other day to discuss a preliminary report on “evidence” from India linking “elements” in Pakistan to the attack. An official announcement said Pakistani investigators needed more information from India to complete the investigation into the Mumbai attacks and that Islamabad would convey a request for further details to New Delhi shortly. “The meeting, however, observed that without substantial evidence from India it will be exceedingly difficult to complete the investigation and proceed with the case,” the statement said. “In order to complete the investigation the questions which are arising from the inquiry carried out by the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) need to be answered by the Indian authorities. These will be communicated to the Indian authorities shortly.”

We are almost back to square one. However, the committee’s statement does at least show Islamabad’s intent to register the cases on the basis of the inquiry conducted by the FIA. The government has detained as many as 71 persons in connection with the attack on Mumbai. In a way, there is a formal acknowledgement of the existence of a Pakistani link in the attacks. This seems to have been conceded unwittingly. But at last some beginning has been made.

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