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India sets bar higher for talks with Pakistan

It may have happened almost inadvertently, considering India’s decision to delink terror from composite dialogue with Pakistan, but by reiterating that enough evidence against JuD chief Hafiz Saeed has been handed over to Islamabad, India has set the bar higher for resumption of dialogue with Pakistan.

Whether or not the Manmohan Singh government likes it, the fact is that Pakistan’s commitment to dismantle India-specific terror infrastructure will be measured in terms of what action it takes against the 26/11 accused, including Saeed who is identified as one of the three main conspirators along with LeT commanders Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah.

With India insisting that there is enough evidence to prosecute Saeed and Islamabad conveniently looking the other way, it will be practically impossible for New Delhi to initiate dialogue with Pakistan at any level, unless of course it wants to lend credence to its detractors’ contention that it is being sissy-footed on terror.

Of the three main accused, Lakhvi and Shah have been arrested but Pakistan continues to delay their trial which, in any case, will lead to nothing if the charges against them are not pressed forcefully in court. Saeed has been set free by the Lahore High Court, but it is he who, according to senior security officials, is the “biggest fish” of them all. Saeed is a named accused in Mumbai and was involved in inspiring and training those who executed the attacks.

“There can’t be any serious engagement with Pakistan if Saeed is allowed to go unpunished. For India, he has even more symbolic significance than Lakhvi and Shah because of his vituperative utterances in the past against us over the situation in J&K which have resulted in youths taking up arms against India,” said a senior official.

In fact, it is now becoming increasingly clear that it is Saeed’s future which will decide whether or not Pakistan led India up the garden path in Sharm el-Sheikh. While Singh emphasised “trust, but verify”, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, going by her speech on Friday, seemed to suggest verification first and thinking of trust later.

As BJP’s Arun Jaitley has repeatedly pointed out, Sonia has so far not categorically stated that she or the party supports the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement. Even the most ardent of Singh’s supporters are finding it difficult to endorse the “badly drafted” joint statement and it’s clear that the document will be first put to test in the case of Saeed.

Even a cursory look at developments in the recent past is enough to explain why many don’t share Singh’s perception which led to the joint statement. Despite stating in Supreme Court that there was confidential evidence against Saeed, the Punjab government did a turnaround the next day and withdrew its appeal against his release. When TOI contacted Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, he said the appeal had to be withdrawn because the federal government did not share that evidence with the Punjab government. When this issue was brought up in Egypt by the Indian side, the Pakistanis said they were still looking at challenging the verdict on Saeed but so far they have done nothing.

According to intelligence and security officials, whose stand is clearly at variance with the foreign ministry, Saeed is of immense strategic significance for Pakistan considering how he has tried to keep his promise of inflicting a thousand cuts on India and is looked upon as a force multiplier against a `hostile’ India. In this way, he is more important for Pakistan than Lakhvi and Shah. Come to think of it, even these two are breathing easy as Pakistan has postponed their trial to August 29. There are already reports that Pakistan is reluctant to prove their links with Mumbai attack foot soldiers in court.

Pakistan admitted to the role of LeT in Mumbai attacks, a fact which was played up by the government to explain its stand in Egypt, but equally important is the fact that most of its cadres in the past few months have joined a charity group named Falah-e-Insaniyat which is active in Swat and are carrying out their activities as usual. This has been widely reported in the international media, but Islamabad has turned a blind eye to it saying there is no evidence to prove this.

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