Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Admiral Noman Bashir muddies Mumbai probe waters

Domestic political turmoil will add to choppiness of India policy …

28 February 2009
The Hindu

Admiral Noman Bashir muddies Mumbai probe waters

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: There are two ways of interpreting Friday’s claim by Pakistani naval chief Noman Bashir that Ajmal Amir Iman ‘Kasab’ – the lone surviving gunman from last November’s terrorist attack on Mumbai – did not use the “sea route” to arrive in India.

The statement is astonishing mostly because it runs totally counter to what the government of Pakistan formally put out in a press conference held by its Interior Adviser Rehman Malik on February 1. At the time, Mr. Malik not only acknowledged that a part of the Mumbai terror conspiracy had been hatched in Pakistan but also confirmed the use of the “sea route” and provided details about the use of boats by the terrorists that India was not even aware of.

The first and most benign explanation for this flip-flop is that the admiral is seeking to deflect any criticism of the Pakistani Navy and Coast Guard for having failed to detect or stop the terrorists from launching their attack on Mumbai. His observation that the Indian Navy was “10 times bigger” than Pakistan’s and that the Pakistanis could not be blamed for failing to prevent the attack when the Indians themselves proved unable to do so suggests the Navy Chief was not contesting the reality of the sea voyage so much as protecting his service from the charge of incompetence or even collusion.

A second – and more ominous — possibility could be that the Pakistani military is taking advantage of the political turmoil into which the country has now plunged following the do-or-die struggle between President Asif Ali Zardari and Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif to flex its own muscles.

With Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani on a visit to the United States – where he was inducted into the U.S. Army’s ‘Hall of Fame’ at a ceremony in Fort Leavenworth on Thursday – the military establishment may have decided the first salvo against civilian authority was best fired by the least conspicuous service, the Navy.

While it will not be easy for the military establishment to revert to the earlier policy of denial which it imposed on the civilian government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in the first few weeks following the Mumbai attacks, slowing down the pace and intensity of the Federal Investigation Agency’s probe into the plotters would not be so difficult. As it is, India and Pakistan are now entering uncharted legal territory. Trying a conspiracy case in two separate venues is difficult at the best of times. When prosecutors on both sides distrust each other, it is not hard to imagine the case getting stuck in ‘procedural’ and judicial delays of one kind or another.

That President Zardari and the military have not always seen eye to eye on the Mumbai incident was demonstrated by earlier flip-flops on the question of whether the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency should visit Delhi, the nationality of ‘Kasab,’ and the authenticity of the investigative leads India provided in its dossier to Pakistan last month.

In the end, however, the President was able to have his way. Pakistan’s acknowledgment of the fact that its soil had been used to stage the Mumbai attack marked a potential watershed in the bilateral relationship, even if some of the ‘30 questions’ it posed to India suggested an unhealthy degree of scepticism about the broad facts of the case.

Mr. Zardari’s decision to sack the special public prosecutor handling the case against the Mumbai co-conspirators after he said that Pakistan wanted ‘Kasab’ to be extradited from India is a further sign of his intention to avoid complicating bilateral relations with unhelpful and impolitic demands. And yet, it is clear that the imperative of domestic political survival will weaken his hands as far as policy towards India is concerned.

With the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) now locked in mortal combat, Mr. Sharif will end up strengthening his relations with Islamist parties and groups. On his part, Mr. Zardari must perforce embrace the PML (Q), the erstwhile King’s party and favourite of the military establishment. Both of these new equations will further reduce the political space that is available in Pakistan for a frontal assault on the Lashkar-e-Taiba and other jihadi organisations.

6 comments on “Admiral Noman Bashir muddies Mumbai probe waters

  1. kuldeep singh chauhan
    March 4, 2009

    another burning example of pakistani duplicacy to confuse obfuscate and divert the attention of world from the real issue of terrorism residing deep in pakistani psyche to be used an instrument of state policy……

  2. Ravi Kiran
    March 3, 2009

    siddharth would you give me an interview ? i am a critic of your point of view but an admirer for your clear thinking . Please write to me if you would want to give an interview to me (atleast an email interview) . i would want to question you on topics ranging from Iran , USA , BJP , China and your view of different personalities of modern Indian history .My email address is

  3. Ravi Kiran
    March 3, 2009

    Zardari and Army might not have seen eye to eye on the issue , President Zardari had his view as the Army can live with that view . Accepting the crime means nothing as long as they dont follow up with action . It’s very difficult to say if Zardari has more mature view of solving the conflict and does not believe in the ‘terror tool’ anymore but everyone in Pakistan knows very clearly that there is no way India would talk “kashmir” if it was not terrorism . Despite all the internal struggle and the loss the terrorists are inflicting on the country the real bodies in pakistan still are confident of managing it . And to start with India should not believe the change in attitude it would be so naive . It’s imperative we have to get aggressive(i dont mean war) . We have afghanistan , our own internal security system and deep pakistan capability we need to build up . We have to keep talking to Pakistan(Never stop conveying sense to them) but never wait for them to take action . I dont really know why a person like Advani would not pursue the policy of Hot pursuit .

  4. Anonymous
    March 3, 2009

    This sea route issue gets more murkier. < HREF="" REL="nofollow">ex-ISI Lt. Gen Hamid Gul<> asks some interesting questions in his recent interview (lots of thought provoking conspiracy theory materials) as to how can terrorists traveling in dingy boats have energy/stamina left to stage such attacks for three days ? I guess it was mentioned in the news that they were on energy boosting drugs.

  5. Anonymous
    March 2, 2009

    ” extradited from India ” lol are these pakis high on Afgani opium? their Terrorist comitted the crime in India and will hang for it in India.

  6. Siddharth Varadarajan
    February 28, 2009

    The Pakistan Navy issued the following clarification on Friday night:The Director PR Pak Navy, Captain Asif Majeed Butt clarifies that in an answer to a side question about Ajmal Qasab asked during ‘Exercise Aman’ press conference held today in Karachi, the Chief of Naval Staff replied that the evidence of sea routes being used for this terrorist activity is not held with Pakistan navy. It is further clarified by the naval spokesmanthat since investigations is being carried out by interior ministry, the Pakistan navy stands by their investigative report.

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This entry was posted on February 28, 2009 by in Indian Foreign Policy, Pakistan, Terrorism.



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