Back to square one?
In an unfortunate reversal for Indian investigative agencies, Pakistan has told New Delhi that there is no substantial evidence to prove Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar role in last month’s Pathankot air base attack. Investigations by India’s security agencies had claimed that based on the evidence collected, they believe Azhar and the JeM were behind the attacks. After the dastardly attack, in which seven security personnel were killed, both sides responded in a mature manner. In a move that had generated much hope among strategic observers on both sides, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and promised complete cooperation and assistance in the investigation. Subsequently, Sharif constituted a special investigative team comprised of top-level military, intelligence and government officers to look into the evidence presented by India. The Foreign Secretary-level talks—the first step in the recently announced Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue process—between the two countries have been put on hold as India wants Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the attack before going ahead with any substantive engagement. Meanwhile, only last week, Pakistan’s investigative team had asked India’s foreign ministry to provide more evidence. Although New Delhi has not yet responded to these latest developments, there is a nagging feeling that the recent attempt to resuscitate bilateral relations might once again leave India terribly frustrated. Suffice to say, these developments also add up to a familiar pattern of Pakistan letting terrorists who’ve targeted India off the hook. But there are many questions that remain unanswered. Will India either call-off or further delay foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan? Any attempt to call these talks off now could invite serious questions of the NDA government, considering how far it stuck its neck out to maintain engagement levels with Pakistan. Adding further confusion to the entire matter are the doubts raised by India’s National Investigative Agency (NIA) about the number of terrorists involved in the Pathankot attack. The National Security Guard, which led the counter-terror operations, claims that it had killed six militants. However, the NIA is looking into the possibility that only four attackers may have been involved. To strengthen its case against the Pakistan-based JeM, India needs to establish a basic modicum of clarity over the very number of people involved in the terror attack.
Meanwhile, in a Mumbai special court, Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Headley made numerous explosive revelations in his deposition on the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. To the uninitiated, David Coleman Headley is an American terrorist of Pakistani origin, and a spy who conspired with the LeT terror organisation and Pakistani intelligence officers in plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Headley is currently lodged in a US jail, where he is serving a 35-year prison sentence for his role in the Mumbai attack. The revelations that Headley made are pretty sensational. Headley confessed that he was “handled” by senior officers in Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI. Headley also confessed to having visited terror training camps in Pakistan, during the course of which he met and interacted with LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Jamaat-Ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed. In response to public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam’s question on what “jihad” meant to Headley, the latter said that it meant fighting enemies of Islam. In these training camps, Headley was reportedly taught that India is the “enemy of Islam”. Headley’s deposition will once again put the focus back on the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment’s use of non-state actors to attack India’s sovereign interests. The lack of concrete legal action against Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi before him has frustrated India’s attempts to bring the guilty to book. Until he was taken into “protective custody”, the JeM’s Maulana Masood Azhar also roamed around Pakistan a free man, preaching “jihad” across the country. As this column has repeatedly stated, the Pakistan state establishment must dismantle these terror groups for good. Islamabad’s best intentions cannot mask the fact that proponents of terror continue to roam free, spewing anti-India rhetoric. Speaking at a public rally last week, a key player behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Hafiz Saeed praised last month’s terror attack in Pathankot. Addressing a rally of around one thousand people in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Saeed said: “800,000 Indian troops are committing genocide on Kashmiris. Don’t they have a right to carry out Pathankot-style attacks for their defence?” Saeed also lauded Kashmiri militant leader Sayed Salahuddin, who heads the United Jihad Council (UJC) that has claimed responsibility for the attack. “You have only seen one attack on Pathankot. Matters could easily escalate.” We must remember that the United Nations did declare the JuD a terrorist organisation in December 2008 and Saeed a terrorist. Since 2008, various Indian ruling dispensations have demanded that Pakistan hands over the JuD chief. Unfortunately, there is no extradition treaty between the two countries. Moreover, in April 2012, the United States announced a bounty of $10 million on Saeed, for his alleged role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Under all these circumstances, it is fair to presume that the initial excitement that had accompanied Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Lahore on Christmas Day to kick-start Indo-Pak ties is slowly dissipating.