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It's about Pakistan's commitment: India

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: December 23, 2008 12:32 IST
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India is hardening its stand vis-a-vis Pakistan nearly four weeks after the Mumbai attacks.

"Everything with Pakistan is on pause," a senior official in the Government of India said on Monday.

The Indian government is more or less convinced that the Mumbai attacks have been carried out by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, which cannot function without the help of Pakistan's establishment.

However, India will wait for the investigations to be completed before making any charges against the Pakistan army, the Inter Services Intelligence or elements in the ISI.

In the hardest reaction since the Mumbai attacks, a source told the media that India wants Masood Azhar, head of the Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group, fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim and others to subject to the Indian judicial system.

The benchmark is being fixed in the form of a firm demand to hand over these terrorists to India.

"Let us see what Pakistan is capable of doing," the official said.

A source said, "Actually, it is not even about Masood Azhar, it is about the commitment of Pakistan. It is about accepting the principle about handing them over to India."

"India's policy is two-fold," he added. "India wants to prevent the reoccurrence of such attacks and two; India wants punishment for the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and previous attacks. Let us see what Pakistan does, we will do what we have to do."

There is no timeframe fixed, the source said.

When asked about India's military options, if any, he said, "Nobody in the right frame of mind will give you an answer to that." He dismissed the query as a "silly question."

The Indian government has sent the ball now to Pakistan's court, he said.

India is trying to send the message that unless Pakistan begins to hand over fugitives to the Indian justice system, Pakistan's credibility about its commitment to fight terrorism will remain in question.

In the recent past, the source said, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has told Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari about the extraditions of Ibrahim and Masood Azhar. Even the day before the Mumbai attacks, India's home secretary told his Pakistan counterpart about it.

Talking about giving evidence to the Pakistan government about the involvement of Pakistan-based elements in the Mumbai attacks, the source said once the investigations are over, India will share the information. But India's past experience is not encouraging because Pakistan remains in denial mode, he added.

"Pakistan doesn't have credibility whenever we have given evidence." The official implied that telephone numbers and addresses are denied and a credible inquiry does not take place.

"They have evidence of previous attacks in India. They can and should act on the basis of what they already have, otherwise there will be consequences," said the source.

Pakistan has said if India provides evidence it will prosecute the accused whom India wants. In response, the source mentioned that when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, Pakistan asked for United Nations assistance. That is the legal situation they are talking about, he said.

He added that Azhar was chargesheeted and the process of law was on in India when he was released, along with two other terrorists, in exchange for the crew and passengers on Indian Airlines flight IC-814, which was hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar, Afghanistan, on December 24, 1999.

The Indian government had to quash the chargesheet so that Azhar could be flown to Kandahar. The Indian side said it is wrong to claim that the Indian justice system did not even chargesheet Azhar when he was in an Indian prison for three years.

In reply to various questions regarding Azhar and Ibrahim's extradition and existing laws, the official insisted, "If Pakistan wants, it is in a position to hand them over to India. It makes no legal sense. Their laws and international law allow them to do it. Why can't they do it?"

When asked if such "impossible" demands are made, then it is possible that the elected government in Pakistan may come under pressure and fall which may not help India eventually, the source said, "It is not true. When the the Jaish-e Mohammad was found involved in the Parliament attack in 2001 along with the LeT, its chief Azhar was kept under house arrest and there were no wild reactions within Pakistan."

The Indian government believes that an unprecedented level of international pressure is being put on Pakistan to act against the terrorist elements in the country. The banning of Jamaat-ul-Dawa is one such response.

Speaking about Pakistan's response after the Mumbai attacks, the source said, "Pakistan has multiple centres of power. The flip-flop by Pakistan shows they are confused. The civilian government's offer to send the ISI chief to India was gutted within six hours. Why should there be war hysteria if Pakistan doesn't have anything to hide? Why do you do a cover-up if you are not involved?"

At present, the government in New Delhi is alert that there are different voices in Islamabad and such a situation is unprecedented.

Elaborating further, the official said India's diplomatic options are all on the table. India believes it is difficult to judge who is in power in Islamabad and who is not. One has to depend on who is talking and at what time.

The source said it is not India's concern to make sure that the elected government remains in power in Islamabad. India didn't choose Pervez Musharraf, but dealt with him. In the same way, whoever is in power in Islamabad, India will deal with it.

If needed, the source said India will also talk to the Pakistan army which wields real authority in that country.

During the 2001-2002 crisis, India had to deal with Musharraf, the only centre of power. This time there are many fragments. The times are different and India's response will be different, the source said.

Talking about America, the Indian side clearly said that within Pakistan the US has clear leverage when compared to any other country. The US will do what suits it. There cannot be 100 percent congruence of interests between the two countries, but whatever suits India it should accept it, he said.

He made it clear that India is aware of powerful nations's limitations to help India. He said, "They (the US and other Western powers) are not you, and you are not them."

When asked if the terrorism in Mumbai is more about the issue of Afghanistan between America and Pakistan than about India and Pakistan, the government source tended to agree.

"It's true. The Lashkar is no more about Kashmir. The Lashkar branded technology is spreading to Iran, Chechnya and other parts. It is more like Al Qaeda now. The Mumbai attack was a different kind of attack. The terrorists were completely organised."

India understands that the fight in Afghanistan is also important and Pakistan may want to divert attention from its western border, but India will first and foremost look for the "desired outcome."

The source pointed out that the Lashkar has carried out attacks within Pakistan, but its Pakistan links are clear. Even now the Lashkar continues to update its Web site, he said.

When asked why the bus service between India and Pakistan continues in spite of the fact that the peace process has stalled, he said, "Those people climbing on the bus have not done it."

The government also clarified that India has not gone to the United Nations Security Council because of its bad experience in the past.

"We have not gone to the UN Security Council. We have not taken any decision to go either."

The government is looking at all options to try the fugitives in Pakistan who are wanted in India.

India will highlight one demand right now -- that India wants the perpetrators of terrorism to face Indian justice. Only as a last resort, the official said would India consider these fugitives, who are based in Pakistan, to be tried in the International Criminal Court.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi