x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

India piles up evidence over Mumbai attacks

The Indian government hands over a seven-page dossier to Pakistan, its fourth since last year's Mumbai terrorist attack,

The Indian Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
The Indian Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

MUMBAI // The Indian government yesterday handed over a seven-page dossier to Pakistan, its fourth since last year's Mumbai terrorist attack, stepping up pressure on its nuclear rival to act tough against the perpetrators of the attack, who it claims are Pakistani nationals. With the latest dossier, P Chidambaram, India's home minister, said the country had provided more evidence to Pakistan to prosecute Hafiz Saeed, the commander of the Lashkar-i-Taiba (LiT), who India accuses of masterminding the attack.

The new dossier comes just four days after a top Pakistani law official expressed his inability to prosecute Mr Saeed given a lack of evidence against him. "India wants us to prosecute him for his involvement in the Mumbai attacks but how could we do so without concrete evidence? Law demands evidence," Latif Khosa, the attorney general of Pakistan, said last week. With the latest information, India had filled "in the blanks", Mr Chidambaram said.

"There is enough evidence to continue the probe against Saeed," he added. After months of heightened tensions, India and Pakistan broke ground recently when both countries decided to restart the stalled peace talks. In the joint statement issued on July 17 by Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, and his Pakistani counterpart, Yusuf Raza Gilani, both sides vowed to insulate the process from terrorism, a sticky issue which has often scuttled negotiations in the past.

Both sides have sat through four rounds of talks, achieving modest gains such as trade agreements and some confidence-building measures. The fifth round was underway when the Mumbai attacks happened. After enduring three wars, numerous skirmishes along the border, and decades of a cold war, observers celebrated this new friendliness as a means to peacefully negotiate all major outstanding disputes, including Kashmir.

But, fearful that Mr Singh had compromised India's stance on cross-border terrorism, hardline critics in India's opposition criticised the joint statement in the Indian parliament last week. "He [Mr Singh] has walked into the Pakistani camp," Yashwant Sinha, a member of parliament from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party, said in a parliament debate last week. There was also some unease about the inclusion of the issue of Baluchistan in the joint statement. Pakistan accuses India of causing trouble in Balochistan province by fanning the insurgency there. Hardline opposition members say that by agreeing to include it in the joint statement, India, which has long played a victim of terrorism, had tacitly admitted it was also a perpetrator.

"When there's war [between India and Pakistan], India wins. When there's dialogue, India loses," said Mulayam Singh, from the Samajwadi Party. Mr Singh denied those charges and said there was no dilution in India's stance on terrorism. He said the talks were still dependent on Pakistan's action against militant organisations. "Unless we want to go to war with Pakistan, dialogue is the only way out," Mr Singh said, but asserted that "we should do so on the basis of 'trust but verify'".

His statement was widely seen as an effort to downplay, possibly retract, the much-celebrated joint statement issued on July 17. "The [Indian government] has become extremely risk-averse after this fiasco," said Darsh Pant, a professor in the department of defence studies at London's King's College. "In trying to be too bold, [Mr Singh] has inadvertently made it difficult for him to take the relationship any further."

In some ways, de-linking terrorism from the talks would have been a practical way for both nuclear rivals to move forward, some observers say. It would also have given Pakistan the maneuvrability to take action against organisations such Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD), believed to be a front organisation for the LiT, said Hamid Mir, the executive editor of the Pakistan-based Geo TV. Organisations such as JuD are popular in Pakistan, he said. It has the potential to ratchet public pressure and mobilise the masses if Pakistan were to clamp down on them.

"By de-linking the dialogue process from terrorism, no one can point fingers at the Pakistani government for acting against them under Indian pressure," he said. Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, disagrees. Since the Mumbai terrorist attack, India has not exercised any outrage over Pakistan's ineptitude in reigning in militant organisations, he said, denouncing Mr Singh's speech in parliament.

"By greeting each major cross-border terror strike in recent years with complete inaction, Singh has speciously suggested to the nation that the only alternative to such abysmal pusillanimity is war," he said. The biggest concern for the opposition is the possibility of another terrorist strike on India as the talks with Pakistan resume. The fear is justified in some ways, but forgoing dialogue between the civilian governments of both countries does not rule out the possibility of further attacks, says Vinod Mehta, the editor of Outlook magazine, an Indian weekly.

"If India waits until Pakistan hangs the last terrorist on its soil, then it is being unrealistic," he said. achopra@thenational.ae