26/11 justice elusive, India-Pakistan talks on ice

By Manish Chand, IANS
Thursday, November 25, 2010

NEW DELHI - Two years after the worst terror attack on Indian soil, the perpetrators of 26/11 remain sheltered behind a wall of subterfuge in Pakistan, only serving to freeze bilateral ties. Voices calling for coercive action by India are growing even as some experts say more needs to be done to ramp up internal security.

Since 10 Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai Nov 26-28, killing 166 people, New Delhi has given Islamabad 11 dossiers detailing evidence against the perpetrators, including Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the suspected 26/11 mastermind.

But every new dossier has elicited fresh queries from Pakistan, delaying the trial of the seven Pakistanis arrested by Islamabad for their alleged role in the Mumbai strikes. And Saeed continues to remain a free man, spouting virulent anti-India propaganda.

In May, a special anti-terror court pronounced capital punishment for Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone gunman caught alive in the Mumbai attack. But the process of sending Kasab to the gallows can take a long time as he has appealed against the death sentence.

The trial of the seven detained by Pakistan, including LeT operative Zarar Shah, has also proceeded at a “glacial pace” in the words of Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao.

“26/11 happened because there was the involvement of Pakistani state agencies in it. We have only tried diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. Clearly, that has not worked,” Satish Chandra, a former deputy national security adviser and a former high commissioner to Pakistan, told IANS.

“It’s time to take coercive action to make it painful for Pakistan to persist in that course,” he said grimly, adding India needed to step up its internal security infrastructure.

Prakash Javadekar, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, told IANS: “This is the worst failure of the UPA government. We could not pressure Pakistan to punish the 26/11 accused and neither could we pressure the US to give us David Headley who knows more about the Mumbai attacks.”

“Things stand in a state of paralysis. Our dossiers are bring thrown in the dustbin by Pakistan,” said Javadekar.

Ajai Sahni, a counter-terrorist expert, is scathingly critical of the so-called upgrade in internal security since 26/11.

“The government has done some cosmetic things like the setting up of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and four hubs for NSG in cities, but it has not addressed the core problem of policing,” said Sahni.

“No police force in the country has acquired the capacity to respond effectively within the first few minutes of the terror attack. Our internal security remains utterly inadequate,” he said.

There was a potential game-changing moment when Indian investigators in June this year got access to question David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani American LeT operative who was arrested by the FBI in October 2009.

Headley reportedly revealed the involvement of Pakistani state agencies, including Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in directing the Mumbai carnage.

When Home Minister P. Chidambaram went to Islamabad in June, he confronted his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik with the Headley disclosures, he was assured of cooperation, but no tangible action followed.

“The government needs to clarify whether some sections of the Pakistani state were involved,” said Brinda Karat, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader.

“We also need to find out whether the US authorities shared intelligence with India on a real time basis about the Mumbai attacks. It’s important to address these questions if we have to get justice for Mumbai attacks,” said Karat.

Despite Pakistan’s subterfuge, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to seize the initiative when he met his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani in Thimphu April 29.

However, it proved to be short-lived as the July 15 talks between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad broke down in bitter discord.

India insisted on the primacy of terror and justice for the 26/11 victims, but Pakistan asked for a timeline to resolve complex issues like Jammu and Kashmir and Siachen.

Moreover, Qureshi’s attempt to equate the mild-mannered Home Secretary G.K. Pillai with terror ideologue Hafiz Saeed vitiated the atmospherics further.

Bilateral ties have since drifted into a slough of indifference. Qureshi, who was expected to come to India in December, will now come only in the first quarter of 2011.

Pakistan has proposed to send a judicial commission to India to record the statements of judicial officers who recorded Kasab’s statement.

Finally, on Nov 8, with US President Barack Obama at his side, Manmohan Singh encapsulated the growing exasperation in India over Pakistan’s stonewalling tactics.

“We are not afraid of the K-word. But Pakistan must first stop the terror machine,” Manmohan Singh said, adding Pakistan should stop “terror-induced coercion”.

At least for now, Pakistan does not seem to be listening. For two years, India may have averted another Mumbai-like attack, but the threat is always present.

The Indian government is preparing a pointed reminder to Pakistan as another 26/11 anniversary comes around, official sources said.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

Filed under: Terrorism

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