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India wants early end to 26/11 trial in Pakistan

By Nikhil Lakshman
Last updated on: August 30, 2012 14:48 IST
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When the prime minister met President Zardari in Tehran, 26/11 was clearly on the Indian leader's mind. Nikhil Lakshman reports from the Iranian capital.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pressed President Asif Ali Zardari for the expeditious conclusion of the trial of the 26/11 masterminds in Pakistan when the two leaders met for 40 minutes on the rim of the Non Aligned Summit on Thursday evening.

Action in this sphere would be a major confidence builder, build up trust in India and move the relationship forward, Dr Singh told Zardari, who was accompanied to the meeting by his son Bilawal Bhutto, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and 'Interior Minister' Rehman Malik.

Zardari said his government is committed to bringing the 26/11 accused to justice. But Malik complained that the Pakistani judicial commission, which visited India in March, was unable to cross-examine four personalities in the Mumbai attacks case, and would like to visit the city again so that they could speak to the investigating police officer who arrested Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving Pakistani terrorist, the additional chief metropolitan magistrate before whom Kasab's confessional statement was recorded, and the two doctors who examined him after he was captured.

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai -- who was part of the prime minister's team including External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Pulok Chatterjee -- said the Indian government has taken a positive view of the request, but would like clarification from the Bombay high court whether such a cross-examination by an alien government agency is indeed possible.

India is apparently keen that the 26/11 accused in Pakistan -- who include Lashkar-e-Tayiba operational head Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhwi -- be convicted quickly and would like to remove any roadblocks in the way on the Indian side.

The matter of Kasab, whose death sentence was upheld by India's Supreme Court earlier this week, did not feature in the prime minister's discussions nor did the case of Indian prisoners held in Pakistan including Sarabjit Singh.

Malik proposed regular institutionalised dialogue between Pakistan's interior ministry and India's home ministry as well as a better dialogue process on border management. Pakistani security forces have fired into Indian territory in recent weeks, causing villagers in border areas to flee their homes.

The need for such dialogue was felt, Mathai said, and could take place at different levels in the Indian home and Pakistan interior ministries. The discussions on border management could involve the Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers, the foreign secretary added.

The prime minister said India is willing to meet Pakistan more than half way in improving relations, but felt "we need to be patient and move step by step in a gradual manner." Both Dr Singh and Zardari agreed that a step by step approach had a greater chance of success.

Zardari once again invited Dr Singh to visit Pakistan, an invitation he first extended when the two men met in April prior to the Pakistan president's visit to the Ajmer shrine. The prime minister said he was keen to do so, but would like a "well-prepared visit". The foreign secretary did not clarify if a "well prepared visit" meant a successful conclusion of the 26/11 trial in Pakistan.

External Affairs Minister Krishna will visit Pakistan on September 7 to meet Khar and take stock of the progress made in the India-Pakistan relationship and prepare a road map for the way forward.

India's impatience with Pakistan's delaying tactics in the 26/11 trial was made amply clear by a senior Indian government official on Tuesday. Asked about the Pakistan government's equation of the 26/11 attacks and the 2006 blast aboard the Samjhauta Express, he said, "it is clear that there is a difference in how the Indian State reacts and how the Pakistani State fails to react and even works with these (terror) groups."

"We have shown in (the) Mumbai (attacks) connections back in Pakistan, not only with non-State actors, but also up the official hierarchy," the Indian official had said. "The Indian State has gone after the people behind the Samjhauta blasts."

"With the same evidence, in a free trial, in open court," he added, "we got a conviction ( in the 26/11 attacks case). They (the Pakistanis) keep changing their judges, allow the accused to use mobiles in prison..."

"The evidence available to us was available to them too," he added. "There are no two sides to this. You cannot equate a terrorist with a victim."

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