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How India should respond to Pakistan's volte-face

By B Raman
February 13, 2009 17:27 IST
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In the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November, India has to use three yard-sticks to decide on the genuineness and adequacy of any Pakistani co-operation. These are:

  • Does its co-operation help in bringing to justice the operatives of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba in Pakistan and any others, who were involved in the planning and execution of the terrorist strike?
  • Does its co-operation help in a better reconstruction and understanding of the terrorist strike in order to find out answers to some important questions such as why the terrorists targeted Israeli and other foreign nationals, for example? The answers to such questions will be available only with the masterminds of the LeT in Pakistan. Ajmal Amir Kasab, the surviving Pakistani perpetrator, now in the custody of the Mumbai police, may not be privy to the objectives of the LeT.
  • Does the Pakistani co-operation help India in preventing any more terrorist strikes mounted from Pakistani territory – by the LeT, the other anti-India terrorist organisations and Al Qaeda by eradicating their terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory and destroying their capabilities?

There was some forward movement with regard to the first question on February 12, when Rehman Malik, Pakistan's Internal Security Adviser, who is known to be closer to President Asif Ali Zardari than to Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani and who enjoys the status of a cabinet minister though not so designated, handed over to the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad the salient points of the Pakistani investigation and action taken so far with a list of 30 questions for India to answer to enable them to take the investigation forward. These salient points were revealed by him to the media at a special press conference held the same day.

A careful study of the Pakistani media reports would show that Pakistan has been more forthcoming now than it was since 26/11 and has been keen to demonstrate to the international community that in investigating the case "Pakistan means business" as Malik repeatedly emphasised. One should not grudge conceding that there has definitely been a shift from a position of total denial of the involvement of anyone in Pakistani territory to partial acceptance of the conclusion of Indian and Western investigators that the conspiracy for the terrorist attack originated in Pakistani territory and that the key answers to various questions coming to the fore during the investigation are to be found in Pakistan, which only Pakistani investigators can do.

At the same time, there was an undisguised attempt by Malik to project the conspiracy as trans-national and not uni-national only in Pakistan. He repeatedly said that only a part of the conspiracy took place in Pakistani territory. To underline the trans-national dimensions of the conspiracy he referred to the role played by some members of the Pakistani Diaspora in Spain and Italy and to Pakistan's suspicion of a role by some elements in India as seen, according to him, from the fact that the perpetrators had used SIM cards procured in India.

Pakistan's attempt is to project the conspiracy as mounted by non-State elements of which the Pakistani intelligence agencies had no inkling till after the attack. There has been a reluctance on the part of Indian analysts to accept that all the recruitment, planning and training could have been carried out by the LeT in Pakistani territory without the Pakistani intelligence agencies becoming aware of it. Malik has prepared the ground for meeting this argument if and when it acquires force by pointing out that if the intelligence agencies of India, Italy and Spain had missed noticing the preparations being made in their territory, how can they blame the Pakistani agencies for similarly missing them.

There were two significant points in the press briefing of Malik. The first is the absence of any reference to Indian allegations that a group of 32 potential perpetrators were trained by the LeT initially in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and subsequently in Karachi before 10 of them were finally selected and sent to Mumbai by sea. The second is his repeated use of the word 'alleged' while referring to the role of the LeT operatives, who have been detained and against whom investigation has been launched in pursuance of the two First Information Reports registered by the Federal Investigation Agency. He did not use the word 'alleged' while referring to those whose involvement Pakistan claims to have unearthed. This would indicate a possible attempt by them to show their investigation against some LeT operatives as warranted by the Indian 'allegations' against them and not by any evidence so far uncovered by the FIA. Thus, while registering two FIRs against the LeT operatives named by India, they have kept open the possibility of giving a free chit to the LeT after the international pressure and interest subside and releasing their operatives on the ground that the investigation did not bring out any credible evidence against them.

This was exactly the same modus operandi which the Pakistanis had followed after the thwarted attack by a group of terrorists belonging to the LeT and the Jaish-e-Mohammad on India's Parliament in December, 2001. Then President Pervez Musharraf banned these organisations on January 15, 2002, arrested their leaders and ordered an inquiry into their activities. A few months later, the arrested persons were released by courts on the ground that the investigation did not bring out any evidence of wrong doing against them.

While we are right in welcoming the changed Pakistani stance -- even if it be only a change in tactics -- we should avoid nursing illusions that the seeming change in the Pakistani stance marks a watershed in Pakistani attitude to anti-India terrorism. We have to wait and see whether Pakistan really means business this time, or is it merely pretending to co-operate while not sincerely co-operating as it has always done in the past -- whether against anti-India terrorism or against the neo-Taliban of Afghanistan or with regard to the investigation into the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, or the investigation into the proliferation activities of A Q Khan or the investigation into the involvement of Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, in the conspiracy to blow up some US-bound planes in 2006.

Welcome the seeming change in its stance, but avoid over-assessing its significance and keep the pressure on Pakistan. That should be our operating principle.

Pakistan's new stance does not respond to the remaining two questions posed earlier. There are no indications at all that it is having second thoughts about the wisdom or inadvisability of continuing to use terrorism as a strategic weapon against India and that it might now act against the anti-India terrorist infrastructure in its territory and the role of the ISI in keeping this terrorism sustained. Threats of new terrorist attacks against Indian and foreign targets on Indian territory mounted from Pakistan remain as high as before.

There has been a debate as to why this sudden change of stance by Pakistan on February 12. In this connection, the visit of Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, to Islamabad from February 9 to 11 and the first telephone call of President Barack Obama to President Asif Ali Zardari on February 11 have been cited by many analysts. There are two other elements, which also need to be noted. The first was the brutal beheading of a Polish engineer working in Pakistan by the Pakistani Taliban on February 6. There has been a wave of anger and revulsion against Pakistan in Poland ever since the Taliban announced his beheading. The anger in Poland against Pakistan is as intense as the anger in India after 26/11.The second is the Mumbai-style attacks on the offices of the prison department and the justice ministry in Kabul by the Taliban on February 11 which has set off concerns that the Mumbai attack is already having a copy-cat effect.

These are likely to have increased the pressure on the Pakistan government to show that they really mean business in going after terrorism and they are not playing games with the international community. One has to wait and see what further action the Pakistani authorities take in the weeks to come. This is the time for keeping up the pressure on Pakistan.

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B Raman