New Delhi: India launched a multi-pronged diplomatic offensive against Pakistan on Monday by delivering what it said was clinching evidence linking “elements” in that country to the Mumbai terrorist strike, demanding that Islamabad help punish the attack’s masterminds.
Foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon summoned Pakistan’s high commissioner Shahid Malik and handed over the evidence, which included material from the interrogation of captured gunman Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, details of the attackers’ communication links and recovered weapons and data retrieved from their satellite phones, the foreign ministry said.
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As part of the offensive, home minister P. Chidambaram is due to fly to the US “in the next few days” to meet American officials, he said in an interview aired by NDTV 24x7 network. Chidambaram said over the weekend that proof against Pakistan was “overwhelming” and “unanswerable” and indicated that the attackers were backed by the Pakistani authorities.
“What happened in Mumbai was an unpardonable crime,” external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters on Monday. “As far as the government of Pakistan is concerned, we only ask that it implement the bilateral commitments it has made at the highest levels to India.”
At least 183 people were killed in the Mumbai attack, the most audacious terrorist strike ever staged in India. The Indian government has previously linked the attack to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group and mounted diplomatic pressure on Islamabad, which has demanded that New Delhi offer proof.
The attack began on 26 November and lasted for nearly three days. The gunmen attacked 10 sites across the financial capital, including two five-star hotels, the main train station, popular restaurants and a Jewish centre.
The delivery of evidence marks the launch of another diplomatic offensive by India against the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. US vice-president elect Joe Biden will visit Pakistan on 9 January and meet Zardari, 11 days before taking office with Barack Obama, Pakistan’s Geo television channel reported.
“It is our expectation that the government of Pakistan will promptly undertake further investigations in Pakistan and share the results with us so as to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its website. “We would also hope that Pakistan will implement her bilateral, multilateral and international obligations to prevent terrorism in any manner from territory under her control.”
Diplomatic offensive: External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee with Chinese vice-foreign minister He Yafei in New Delhi on Monday. India has asked China to use its influence with Pakistan to ensure that the planners of the Mumbai attacks are brought to justice. AFP
The US has sent a string of envoys to the region in recent weeks to help defuse tensions. US assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher arrived in Islamabad on Monday and met with Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who said he assured Boucher that “we will not allow our soil to be used for any kind of terrorism.”
“I also said that to create conducive environment it would be the best for Pakistan and India that we resolve core issues like Kashmi,” Gilani said.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed Sadiq said the authorities are reviewing the evidence and declined to comment further. The Pakistan government has said “non-state actors” may have been responsible for the attack.
“This is a good development,” Asad Durrani, former chief of Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, said about the handover of evidence by India. “Most people in Pakistan feel they have to get to the bottom of (the Mumbai attacks), regardless of who is involved, state actors or non-state actors. Most people in Pakistan say those who have perpetrated the crime need to be punished. They will tell the government, now that you know, do something about it.”
“After this, I will be very happy if India and Pakistan can carry out a joint investigation, but we should keep the Western powers out,” Durrani said. “Any action taken cannot be very visible, but any evidence will certainly help Pakistan to crack down on the perpetrators.”
Pakistan’s leaders have recently adopted a conciliatory stance, veering away from confrontation. Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Sunday, “Good relations with India are in the interest of Pakistan. Stability in the region will benefit Pakistan.”
Still, the evidence is unlikely to spur Pakistan into action, said security experts and former diplomats, who ruled out any prospects of the terrorist masterminds being extradited to India.
“They (Pakistan authorities) are not going to hand over the terrorists,” said Vikram Sood, former secretary of India’s external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing.
According to Vinayak Patankar, a former army general who has also served as a security adviser to the Jammu and Kashmir government, handing proof to Pakistan is of “no consequence” unless India followed it up “with concrete steps”.
“What if they (Pakistan) don’t act?” asked Patankar. “The first thing we need to do is to stop saying that war is not an option.”
India has called on Pakistan to hand over the suspects and dismantle the terror network it says is based across the border. Pakistani leaders say they will try any suspects in the attacks in their own courts. Authorities in Pakistan have arrested at least two men accused of planning the attacks.
“Even after a month, we will be exactly where we are today. Pakistan is in denial mode and its government is in the sway of the army,” said former foreign secretary M. Rasgotra. The career diplomat, who was also on the country’s National Security Advisory Board, added it was important that India stopped talking in multiple voices. “Diplomacy has a role in quietly but firmly telling the world and Pakistan that we will not take this any more,” he said.
Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said handing over the evidence to Pakistan was futile. He added, “Also, why should we hand over any evidence to Pakistan? Why should evidence of a crime be handed over to the perpetrator? Why should the accused become the judge?”
Much of India’s evidence against the militants comes from interrogations of Kasab, the only gunman to survive. He has reportedly told authorities that he and the nine other attackers were Pakistani, that he was trained in Pakistan, and that his handlers are still there. Pakistan has said it has no record of Kasab as a Pakistani citizen.
“Giving Pakistan evidence in a folder is not going to really help,” said Wilson John, a Pakistan expert at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
“The Pakistanis are not going to hand over anybody, they are well within their rights to investigate crimes against their own nationals. The point is not the handing over of certain terrorists that India believes is behind the Mumbai attacks, but of ensuring that Pakistan does not use its territory to export terror.”
Mint’s Ruhi Tewari, AP, PTI, AFP and Bloomberg contributed to this story.