Mumbai: With Kasab dead, should India now forget 26/11? Will Pakistan deliver what India wants? Or is it time for India to move forward?
For four years Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab’s lasting image of a youth on a killing spree with his Kalashnikov rifle at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus has defined the India-Pakistan dialogue process. With Kasab gone (the LeT terrorist was hanged on Wednesday morning at Pune’s Yerawada Jail), the moot question is whether the bilateral ties between the two nations can tangibly move forward?
More importantly, what is going to be the fate of investigation into the Mumbai attacks? Can progress be achieved between New Delhi and Islamabad without delinking 26/11 from the overall dialogue process, or is progress on other contentious issues with Pakistan acceptable to India while Islamabad does nothing or little in relation to 26/11? Kasab was just a pawn; the chief architects of the Mumbai attacks – from the shady and rogue world of the Pakistani Army and the ISI along with their protégés such as LeT’s Hafiz Saeed, are still walking free in Pakistan and spewing more venom against India.
The pessimism is warranted as the entire composite dialogue process between the two countries has gone off track since 26/11. The abiding image of Kasab and nine other Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists perpetrating a three-day bloodbath in Mumbai that claimed 166 lives including many foreigners continues to overshadow India’s talks with Islamabad.
Since Mumbai attacks of 2008, the two nations have met 25 times without achieving any major breakthrough except the recent inking of a liberalised visa regime during former external affairs minister SM Krishna’s October visit to Pakistan.
After 26/11, the first meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two nations took place in February, 2009, on the sidelines of the SAARC ministerial meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was followed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation on the sidelines of the G-8 Summit. In all, India and Pakistan met five times in 2009 including the high profile Singh-Zardari meeting on the sidelines of the NAM Summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt.
In 2010, four high-level meetings took place between the neighbouring countries. In July, 2010, talks between the then external affairs minister SM Krishna with his counterpart SM Qureshi in Islamabad ended in bitterness over Pakistan raking up the Kashmir issue and India insisting that Pakistan give a timeframe for completing the Mumbai attacks trial.
In 2011, the number of meetings increased to six which also included high profile cricket diplomacy visit of former Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to watch India-Pakistan semi-final cricket match during the World Cup at Mohali. The year also saw Pakistan announcing its intention to grant India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status.
The number of these meetings has increased to nine in 2012 including the recent visit of Krishna and signing of a liberalized visa regime with Pakistan. The last meeting between the home ministers of two nations, Sushil Kumar Shinde and his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik, took place earlier this month in Rome where the former pressed for speedy punishment to the perpetrators of Mumbai terror attacks. Pakistan responded by seeking to expedite the trial while India reciprocated by inviting cricketers from across the border for a bilateral series, first time post the Mumbai terror attacks.
While the two nations have shown intent to engage, not much has got translated into tangible gains on the ground. That’s because the 26/11 attacks remain central to the step-by-step process of re-engagement with Pakistan. Even Manmohan Singh has been deferring his visit to Islamabad supposedly due to the lack of progress in 26/11 case in Pakistan. The “sense of hurt” remains in India, further exacerbated by Islamabad’s attitude on the trial. Unless the terror machine that operates with substantial support from the Pakistani Army is brought to book, it is unlikely that any lasting progress in the peace process happen. Kasab’s execution might only abet the negativity in the sentiment on both sides.
Will Pakistan deliver what India wants?
The secret execution of Ajmal Kasab will not bring down the curtains on perhaps the most sophisticated terror strike on Indian soil. The probe into unravelling the full 26/11 conspiracy and bringing the plotters to justice in Pakistan is a job that is not even half
The sheer enormity of the attack, hatched across the border, has ensured that substantial progress on 26/11 attack probe is a imperative for India in making dialogue process with Pakistan meaningful.
"I would imagine that they (Pakistan) will be able to say that they have done whatever it takes to reach closure on an extremely unhappy event that caused enormous distress to our country...," external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said.
Even as it prods Pakistan to speed up the trial of the seven suspects, including LeT commander Zaikur Rehman Lakhvi, the trial is taking a long time. For example, the suspected key planners of the attack were arrested in January 2009, but no substantial progress has been made in the case and remains a far-fetched idea.
Pakistan may be keen on a visit by Manmohan Singh but that is unlikely to happen, given India's "sense of hurt" caused by Mumbai terror attacks.
Noting that there was "enthusiasm" on part of Pakistan leadership to see Singh visiting that country, sources said, "We are receiving some interesting positive signals but at the same time there are expectations that remain unfulfilled."
"There must be some delivery. We are ready for some delivery, so that we can move forward and all this has to be kept in mind when the Prime Minister decides what the path will be," sources said.
Reports emerging from Pakistan in the last one month have indicated that government there was keen on Singh's visit before their general elections in March. According to these reports, Singh's birthplace Gah was also being spruced up for a possible visit by him.
He also mentioned that there was a very "small window" given that Pakistan was fast moving towards their elections.
India is putting best efforts which were "persistent, consistent, clear and determined" to push Pakistan on 26/11.
During his meeting with Zardari on the sidelines of the NAM summit in Tehran in August, Singh had conveyed that expeditious concluding of 26/11 trial would be the biggest confidence building measure by Pakistan.
The source also said though India welcomes forward movements in some areas. At the same time, the matters placed on the agenda must be clear one by one.
On JuD Chief Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind 26/11, still moving freely in Pakistan, sources said there are issues about engagements on the wish list that India has given and there was a need to move forward on that before one can show any "further willingness to move forward. There are things on which you cannot do things in haste."
(With inputs from Zee News, HT, PTI)