31 January 2009

Pakistan weighs response to Indian dossier

The material handed over to Pakistan contained curious omissions — for example the Urdu logbook maintained by Kuber was not shared even though it might have provided clues...

31 January 2009
The Hindu

Pakistan weighs response to Indian dossier

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: With reports swirling around of Pakistani investigators claiming the Mumbai conspiracy was hatched in a third country, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Friday repudiated comments made by his envoy in London that the terrorist attacks were not planned from the territory of Pakistan.

“How can he comment? We can’t right now,” Mr. Gilani said in Davos when asked by NDTV about the statement of High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan that the Indian evidence could be fabricated. “If the PM cannot comment, then how can he? It is only the job of the Interior Ministry,” the Pakistani Prime Minister added.

Pakistan is expected to formally communicate the results of its initial investigations into the Mumbai attacks next week. But Mr. Hasan’s comments – and the sharp response by Prime Minister Gilani – appear to be an indication of the uncertainty within the Pakistani establishment over how best to respond to the dossier India handed over earlier this month.

At the time, senior Indian officials had indicated that the same amount of information was shared with Pakistan as had been provided to all countries other than the 15 whose nationals had been killed in the Mumbai attacks. But The Hindu has now learned that Islamabad was actually provided a compressed, third version consisting of 13 pages with a two-page covering note. In contrast, other countries received 54 pages of evidentiary material and another 15 pages – irrelevant from the point of view of investigation – drawn from a background PowerPoint presentation on India-Pakistan relations.

Though the Pakistani edition of the dossier contains a crisp summation of all information the Indian side considers “actionable” (and some additional public domain material such as the mug shots of the nine deceased terrorists), the “optics” of being handed over a file that was much thinner than what had been shared with the whole world generated some disquiet in Islamabad. Several senior Delhi-based European diplomats also conveyed to The Hindu this week their belief that India erred in being so niggardly with Pakistan, especially when the dossier was being distributed so widely.

Pakistan privately asked India why other countries had been provided a more detailed dossier but decided at the highest level not to make this an issue. In turn, the fact that Islamabad didn’t publicly protest or say that it had been given insufficient information was seen by the Indian side as a positive sign.

Indian officials justify their decision by noting there was little point in giving Islamabad photographic evidence of Pakistani food and clothing items recovered from the Kuber, the boat the terrorists used for a part of their journey to Mumbai, or pictures of the phones used, or the background material on bilateral relations. “Anything that would be of value to a serious investigation like the telephone trail was given to them,” an official told The Hindu.

And yet, the dossier handed over to the Pakistani side contained curious omissions. For example, the logbook maintained by the Kuber, which was included in the full dossier, was not shared with Islamabad, even though diligent investigators might be able to ferret out clues from the handwriting and use of language. Nor were the elaborate navigation coordinates recovered from the GPS handset. The Urdu logbook, for example, mis-spells the Hindi word ‘marg’ as ‘mrg’ (Persian for ‘death’) by omitting the necessary vowel, alif, between the consonants ‘meem’ and ‘ray’ in its list of Mumbai streets, a common mistake made by Urdu speakers unfamiliar with Hindi pronunciation. The Hindi transliteration of the logbook done by the Indian side also contains mistakes – the Urdu word ‘sev-aiy-aan’ (vermicelli) has been rendered ‘sooiyan’ (needles), perhaps because the Urdu spelling used on the Indian side for vermicelli is the less-Punjabised ‘seviyaan’. Both these points would strengthen Indian claims that the terrorists were indeed from Pakistani Punjab. But New Delhi chose not to press these.

The abbreviated dossier also omits information like the fake name, ‘Kharak Singh,’ used by the terrorists to open the VoIP phone account with Callphonex, and the names of the ‘Pakistan-based handlers’ India says were in touch with the terrorists.

Terming such details as irrelevant from the investigative standpoint, Indian officials say how Pakistan responds to the limited information given will determine not just the next steps in the Mumbai investigation but also the next steps in the bilateral relationship.

New Delhi is bracing itself for the news that some of the leads have turned cold. But the hope here is that Islamabad will see wisdom in meeting the legitimate expectations of India that the Pakistani links of the Mumbai attackers are thoroughly probed.


Winnowed said...

Very interesting stuff. It's tough for lay persons whose only source of information is the media to form judgements on issues like these. Your analyses go a long way in framing and forming public opinion.

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