It was not in wee bit surprising that Pakistan refused to lift a tiny finger to nail Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi, one of the main masterminds of the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 2008. The only surprising thing, if there was ever, was the fact it took two days for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to eat crow.
Should Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who take pride in his Punjabiyat, be ashamed and embarrassed by his government’s turnaround, a few hours after he made a solemn promise to the Prime Minister of another sovereign country, in this case India? Any other Prime Minister in any other country would have found it difficult to justify his betrayal of a promise made as the representative of his people. But perhaps not Sharif. He lost that sense of honour and prestige long time back—when he was forced to sneak out of the back door of the National Assembly to escape being booed at by protesters who were asking for his resignation, at the behest of Pakistan Army.
Returning to the latest Lakhvi episode, Sharif had a long conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi early July, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting; both the leaders wanted to break the logjam in the dialogue between two neighbours. The talk had come to a halt with Pakistan launching indiscriminate firing on the Line of Control as well as International Border last year. To make matters worse, its High Commissioner in New Delhi chose to invite separatist leaders from Kashmir against the expressed advice of the Indian government. Both the Prime Ministers decided to reopen the dialogue and stressed on dealing with terrorism. One of the specific requests made by the Indian Prime Minister, who also graciously accepted his counter-part’s invitation to visit Pakistan next year, was to expedite the trial of the Mumbai terror attack accused whom the Pakistani government had charged. One of them was Lakhvi, the operational commander of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), a global terrorist outfit based in Pakistan. Sharif agreed to do the needful.
Little less than two days after the solemn promise, Pakistan made it known that it was not interested in prosecuting Lakhvi. This became clear when Pakistan turned down an Indian request for voice samples of Lakhvi. Pakistan’s facetious excuse is that there is no law which can allow such an exchange. When has law come in between two Prime Ministers who are the chosen leaders of their respective countries. Even if there was no specific provision in Pakistan’s laws, there were enough legal ways in which a voice sample of a main accused in a terrorist attack could be procured and given to another country. There are enough international conventions and traditions which can guide exceptional gestures on the part of country’s leaders in the overall interest of their people and region. Lakhvi is a global terrorist designated by the UN, US, India and host of other countries. The government of Pakistan of course could have approached the anti-terrorism court to seek suitable directives but it refused to do so.
Those who were desperate to see a silver lining in the Modi-Sharif meeting should have known better and should have paid attention to another news item which appeared a day or two before the leaders met. It was a statement made by a minister in the Nawaz Sharif government about LeT. He said LeT or Jamat-ud dawa was not banned in Pakistan; it was merely under watch. Now if LeT was merely under watch, it would be, in all fairness, difficult to keep one of its key leaders, Lakhvi, under lock and key. It was quite apparent that Pakistan was in no way interested in fast tracking the Mumbai case and even if they did, just to show it to the world, all the six would be released for want of evidence. Lakhvi is already out. Others will follow suit. Hafiz Saeed, the head of LeT, was never charged.
What should India do? Pushing Pakistan on completing the Mumbai attack trial is a waste of time and can be counter-productive. A trial does not necessarily lead to conviction and that is what India wants. India must not lose focus on the big picture—first Laskhar-e-Tayyeba must be banned and its infrastructure either dismantled, sealed or taken over by the state. This would necessarily mean arresting top leadership of the group and charging them with acts of terrorism. This must be followed in quick succession by disarming the cadre, appointing a cleric to run the Lahore mosque managed by Saeed and his family. Shut down the financial pipeline of the group. Bring down all the websites and social media outlets operated by the group. These could be, are the only, first series of steps which can see real dialogue between the two neighbours and peace for the region. Anything short is a futile exercise.