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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

Can Pakistan meet India halfway on 26/11?

January 30, 2009

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What will the Congress party do before the Lok Sabha election to help it recover loss of face for the complete security failure along the Western coast that led to the Mumbai terror attacks [Images]?

As political parties discuss election strategies behind closed doors, the most debated question in New Delhi [Images] is whether America is in a position to help the Indian government get something substantial and real from Pakistan to assuage the hurt feelings of the people after the Mumbai attacks.

Karl F 'Rick' Inderfurth, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs in the Clinton administration, was quite subtle when asked him how America can help India in getting Pakistan to act.

"I think America is in position to help but probably behind the scenes. Pakistan should recognise as well the views the US has expressed after the Mumbai tragedy. The US hopes Pakistan will take concrete action. Let the judicial process proceed against the people who have been detained. Let the terror training facilities be shut down."

One of the most talked about propositions is whether Pakistan will extradite terrorists wanted by India.

A senior Congressman had recently argued in a conversation with that, "If we bring back (Jaish-e-Mohammad founder) Masood Azhar whom the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) dropped at Kandahar (in return for the crew and passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines aircraft) then the issue of terrorism will clinch the electoral victory for the Congress."

Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee [Images] and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon had set the bar when they repeatedly told the media that India wants Pakistan to extradite the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and criminals like Dawood Ibrahim [Images], who are involved in previous cases of terrorism.

So the Congress party's political pressure and the government's demands are understandable, but are they feasible or practical? In fact, experts agree that diplomacy demands that Pakistan should act for the sake of the broader issues behind India's demands.

Former ambassador M K Bhadrakumar thinks, "The US would know India-Pakistan relations would freeze unless Islamabad [Images] meaningfully responded to our demands and expectations, which, in turn, will not be in the interests of regional stability."

It is interesting to recall past experiences with Pakistan, which were also conducted behind the scenes.

There was an extraordinary case when Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, then chief of the Inter Services Intelligence under Benazir Bhutto [Images] (1988 to 1990) agreed to help A K Verma, then chief of the Research and Analysis Wing. Gul agreed to push back four Sikh deserters of the Indian Army [Images] who had crossed over into Pakistan.

Gul later alleged it was Benazir who had handed them over to R&AW. The charge proved costly for her because it was used by the President Ghulam [Images] Ishaq Khan to dismiss her in 1990.

Actually, they were neither 'extradited', 'deported' or 'handed over'. In a secret meeting it was decided that the ISI would 'push' these people across the border in the dead of the night and inform R&AW.

"A team of Indian para-military forces was posted at that point and they quietly arrested the four as they crossed the border," claims a source, now retired, in the intelligence community who knew about the operation. Pakistan made it a condition that the news should not be leaked to the media.

This did not bind Pakistan legally and there wasn't any need to admit that these Indians were in 'hiding' in Pakistan. The deserters did not know that they are being pushed into India.

Another case of Pakistan's behind the scenes cooperation is much more fascinating.

In 1992, under US pressure, the ISI asked Talwinder Singh Parmar of the Babbar Khalsa, Canada [Images], Lal Singh alias Manjit Singh of the International Sikh Youth Federation, Canada, and Sohan Singh the head of the Second Panthic Committee to leave Pakistan. All three men had been given sanctuary in Pakistan.

The intelligence agencies of the US (in respect of Lal Singh), the UK (in respect of Sohan Singh) and Canada (in respect of Parmar) in collaboration with R&AW worked to implement the entire operation.

Lal Singh flew directly from Karachi to Mumbai without anybody getting a hint of it. Sohan Singh flew from Karachi to Kathmandu and then sneaked silently into India from the porous Indo-Nepal border. Parmar flew clandestinely to India via Singapore. Lal Singh was arrested by the Gujarat police when he went from Mumbai to Ahmedabad [Images]. Sohan Singh was arrested by the Punjab police and Parmar was shot dead by the Punjab police in an encounter.

So can the back-room channels produce any surprise results this time?

"Since 1947, Pakistan has never handed over a Muslim suspect in any crime to India -- whether Indian or Pakistani. The past instances of discreet cooperation with India were in respect of non-Muslim terrorists -- all Sikhs. There are still some Khalistani terrorists wanted by Indian investigators, who are living in Pakistan. It may quietly push them into India after alerting Indian authorities. It is unlikely to do so in respect of Muslims," says B Raman, a former senior officer at R&AW.

A New Delhi-based former foreign secretary told "I don't see any possibility of Pakistan handing over any terrorist to India. It will wreck their civil government."

Can Pakistan hand over IndiaN-born gangster Dawood Ibrahim?

G Parthasarathy, former high commissioner to Pakistan, told, "I don't think it will. If Dawood is handed over he will expose all his links with the ISI including the links he has established between Al Qaeda [Images] and the ISI."

"I don't see the (Asif Ali) Zardari government having the influence to overrule the army to hand over any suspects to India," he added.

However, Raman argues that, "This has nothing to do with opposition from the army. While we should not have high hopes of any Pakistani cooperation in bringing the conspirators of the Mumbai attacks to justice either in Pakistan or India, it is important for R&AW and the ISI to have a discreet liaison relationship so that their officers and chiefs can informally discuss such matters away from the glare of publicity instead of shouting at each other through the media."

When Inderfurth was asked the same question, he said, "That depends on who should take responsibility to bring them to the process of justice. The fact is that Pakistan is saying their judicial system should be responsible for any action planned in Pakistan."

(According to a Pakistani television channel, a report submitted to the Pakistan government by the investigators looking into India's dossier claims that the Mumbai attacks were planned outside Pakistan.)

When asked if in the near future any terrorists would be handed over, Inderfurth said, 'Certainly, Indian nationals like Dawood should be handed over to India. For its nationals, Pakistan should determine how to bring them to justice."

When asked if America is in position to help India in the extradition of terrorists, he said, "Probably we can behind the scenes."

Bhadrakumar agrees with Inderfurth, "I expect a denouement so that the broader process of easing of tension resumes. The US can make this happen away from publicity so that the question of the Pakistan government having to "surrender" does not -- should not -- arise."

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