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Now open to Pakistani trial provided it is fair and not ‘a sham’…
India does U-turn on extradition of Mumbai suspects
Now open to Pakistani trial provided it is fair and not ‘a sham’
New Delhi: If India has been frustrated by the raft of contradictory
statements emanating from Islamabad in the wake of the November 26-29
terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Pakistani side can be excused for
feeling slightly confused about the Indian Government’s stand on a
question that been at the centre of the war of the words between the
two countries these past six weeks: Extradition of the Mumbai suspects
After spending the better part of the month raising the somewhat
premature demand that the suspects – many of whom have yet to be
identified – be handed over to India, the Government has now climbed
down a notch and conceded the possibility of Pakistan-based
perpetrators being prosecuted in their own country.
Asked what he wanted from Islamabad, External Affairs Minister Pranab
Mukherjee told Prabhu Chawla in an interview on Thursday for the
forthcoming edition of India Today, “They should try the perpetrators
of Mumbai”. Fugitives who had run away from India had to be handed
back but the Government was willing to accept that the Lashkar-e-Taiba
men and others suspected of involvement in Mumbai could be tried in
Pakistan. “A fair and transparent trial should be held, not a sham”,
he said. “The prosecution should be done properly. They should punish
them. Only then will we be satisfied”.
In their off-the-record interactions with the media in the aftermath
of Mumbai, senior Indian officials had conceded the impossibility of
Pakistan ever agreeing to hand the Mumbai plotters to India. But they
said India could also not afford to drop its demand for extradition
since Pakistan couldn’t be counted upon to prosecute them either.
Officials cited the revolving door detentions of LeT chief Hafiz
Sayeed and the trial and conviction of Omar Sheikh for the murder of
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. “Six years after being
sentenced to death, nobody seems to be in a hurry to hang him”, a
senior official told The Hindu. “For all we know, he may not even be
in a proper prison”.
But if Mr. Mukherjee’s latest statements represent an explicit and
pragmatic easing of the Indian position on extradition, it is also
true that he had been dropping hints about this for some time. The
trouble is, the Indian side has not always been on message.
In a joint press conference with his visiting British counterpart on
January 13, Mr. Mukherjee made a distinction between the perpetrators
of last November’s terror strikes in Mumbai and “some of the fugitives
violating Indian laws who have taken shelter in Pakistan” when asked a
direct question on whether his Government would accept anything short
of extradition for those involved in Mumbai.
Mr. Mukherjee said he hoped the latter category “will be handed over
to India for their proper justice”. As for Mumbai, he said: “I do hope
the materials which we have provided to Pakistan, evidences (sic)
which we have given, they will act on it and they will ensure that the
perpetrators of this terror act are brought to justice”.
This distinction between fugitive Indians and Pakistanis and
non-fugitive Pakistanis was one the minister had made before and
implied acceptance of a trial in Pakistan for those who were its
nationals even if the crime they had committed occurred on Indian
Thus, on December 13, Mr. Mukherjee told CNN-IBN that
“there are two categories of people involved”. The first were those
who had “committed crimes in India… and have taken shelter in
Pakistan, like Dawood Ibrahim. We are asking the Pakistan authorities
to hand persons like these to Indian authorities so that there can be
trials as per Indian laws here”. The second category are “persons who
are Pakistan citizens, who are indulging in terrorist activities. Let
them be arrested, let them be tried as per Pakistan laws”.
Notwithstanding the careful distinction the minister made last month,
the Government’s position soon changed to the maximalist and
ultimately counter-productive demand for all those involved in Mumbai
to be handed over.
Speaking to NDTV on January 1, Mr. Mukherjee said: “We
have been told that there is some strong evidence available to the FBI
and they have shared it with Pakistan and we expect Pakistan will act
on them (sic) and they will hand over the perpetrators of the terror
attacks in Mumbai to us. It is expected of Pakistan to do that”.
In the same interview, Mr. Mukherjee argued that the absence of an
extradition treaty did not free Pakistan of its obligation to hand
over the terror suspects to India and cited various international
conventions and agreements in this regard.
Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon amplified these points in his
press conference of January 5. “What we want, as I said over and over
again, is to bring the perpetrators to Indian justice, and to
guarantee that there are no terrorist attacks from Pakistan on India.
I think that is our goal,” he said when asked whether the Government
wanted Pakistan to hand over the perpetrators to be tried in India. He
was then specifically asked: “Does Indian justice mean being tried in
India?” to which he replied: “Where else is there Indian justice?”
If there was any ambiguity about what New Delhi expected from
Islamabad once the investigations were over, Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh could not have been more explicit. “We hope that these criminals
will be handed over to us to face trial in our country”, he told a
meeting in Guwahati on January 3. India did not want war with Pakistan
“but it must hand over the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.”
But two weeks later, the line had changed. “Are you saying that
Pakistani nationals who are involved [in Mumbai] be tried over there?”
Mr. Mukherjee was asked by India Today. “Yes, this can happen. The
trial should be transparent. We have caught Ajmal Kasab. But there
were others who were a part of the conspiracy. They should be caught
and tried there. The authorities there should not let them go
scot-free”. Asked whether he wanted them to be brought to India, the
minister replied: “If they can hand them over to us, we will only be
too glad. But if they don’t, at least they should hand over those
other criminals who have committed offences here, escaped the law and
taken shelter there”.
By reversing the Government’s stand, Mr. Mukherjee has no doubt opened
a door for the Pakistani authorities to cooperate with the Indian
investigation without giving the impression that New Delhi was seeking
to rub their nose in the ground. But the flip-flop is also bound to
raise questions about whether the Government really knows its mind and
is following the most optimum diplomatic strategy.