Now that the Mumbai terror probe has crossed the hurdle of Pakistani denial, India must shed its distrust...
13 February 2009
Time for India to think of carrots too, not just sticks
New Delhi: Ever since India handed over a dossier of investigative leads on the Mumbai terrorist attacks to Pakistan last month, officials here have been preparing themselves for the worst case scenario of Islamabad stonewalling or blocking the probe. What the Indian side did not really prepare itself for was a response of the kind it received on Thursday, with Pakistan’s Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik, not only acknowledging that terrorists had used Karachi and Pakistan to plan and launch the November 26-29 attacks in Mumbai but also providing additional details about some of the players and their modus operandi.
After expecting the worst, New Delhi today finds itself having to fashion a response to a Pakistani investigative effort that the entire world is likely to judge as serious and effective. So far, the Indian side had been thinking only in terms of the coercive diplomatic steps it could take in response to Islamabad’s lack of cooperation. Now that Pakistan has demonstrated more than a modest measure of cooperation, India will have to also evaluate the carrots, if any, it is prepared to offer to ensure the progress that has been made continues, and the planners of Mumbai are brought to book.
Simply put, Thursday’s press conference by Mr. Malik was the first time the Pakistani state has ever publicly acknowledged that specific individuals and organisations based on its territory were actively involved in staging a terrorist attack on India. The Indian side had been fruitlessly pressing its case on “cross-border terrorism” since the days of the Khalistan movement in the 1980s before Pervez Musharraf, who was Pakistan’s President at the time, agreed in January 2004 not to allow his country’s soil to be used by anti-India terrorists. But that was a general commitment which did not require the Pakistani establishment to swallow the bitter pill of specific liability.
What has happened, therefore, is a dramatic reversal of Islamabad’s long-standing policy of denial and its significance ought not to be minimised in any way. Having acknowledged the role of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its commanders, Pakistan has also now essentially committed itself to proceeding against them. The international political cost to the establishment of turning back from here has risen dramatically and one can only imagine that the delay in the “finalisation” of the report was largely on this account.
In order for this positive turn to be consolidated, the Manmohan Singh government should resist the temptation to gloat or to pick quick holes in what the Pakistani investigation into Mumbai has revealed.
That this is indeed how India intends to proceed for the moment is apparent from the positive statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday evening.
Though there is no reason to assume the details unearthed by Pakistan are genuine, the opposite assumption would also be incorrect. Indian investigators should be given time to examine the Pakistani response, especially the 30 queries Mr. Malik said Islamabad’s investigators have, and a constructive approach should be adopted to the issue of sharing further information and evidence.
India’s response should be communicated directly to Pakistan rather than through piecemeal or even misleading leaks to the media. In the interim, a moratorium on hostile rhetoric and accusatory statements is urgently required. In particular, New Delhi seriously needs to examine what political purpose is served by repeatedly saying some official agencies in Pakistan “must have” been involved in the Mumbai attacks.
Even if this suspicion were well founded, one has to ask whether public accusations will help or hinder the course of the investigation India wants Pakistan to conduct. It defies reason to imagine that Pakistani investigators will ever allow the Mumbai trail to lead to the ISI or elements of the intelligence agency. But even if it doesn’t, a probe that goes half way can still do some damage to the interests of those elements in the Pakistani military establishment who look at terrorism as a force multiplier.
If Mr. Malik’s remarks are taken at face value, it is clear that the Mumbai plot may be far more complex than what Indian investigators have imagined so far. There may be red herrings in the Pakistani investigation too but, prima facie, there is no reason to rule out the possibility that the conspirators operated out of more than one location.
In the immediate aftermath of Mumbai, Pakistan’s offer of a joint investigation into the incident was rejected by India because of its unhappy experience with the joint-anti-terror mechanism. And then Islamabad’s refusal to acknowledge the citizenship of Ajmal ‘Kasab’ — the gunman captured alive on November 26 — made the Indians even more sceptical about Pakistan’s intentions. A corner was turned when Islamabad acknowledged ‘Kasab.’ And what we have seen over the past month is the bare bones of a joint investigation in all but name.
Indeed, at his press conference, Mr. Malik confirmed something National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan had said in an interview earlier this month – that Pakistani investigators had been in touch with their Indian counterparts with follow-up queries to the Indian dossier. Though the MEA sought to deny the existence of these exchanges, this constructive process is now clearly into its third iteration.