THE thrust of the steps taken by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the Indian security establishment with regard to the investigations into and the follow-up on the November terror attacks in Mumbai has essentially two dimensions. One is strengthening the internal security mechanisms across the country, ensuring better coordination among various Central and State agencies, and making these better prepared to engage the threat of terrorist attacks. The second is making Pakistan accountable for the actions of the anti-India terrorists operating from its soil and forcing it to dismantle these terror outfits.
On both counts, the record of the UPA government and the security establishment headed by the Union Home Ministry has been a mixed one. The government has made some progress, but by the admission of its own political and administrative leaderships, there is a lot more ground to be covered. The fact that there is a lot of political and diplomatic tightrope walking to do in both the areas makes the tasks associated with it all the more weighty.
The perception within the UPA government and the security establishment is that the two important Bills passed in the last session of Parliament The National Investigation Agency (NIA) Bill, 2008, and The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2008 have given a fillip to the efforts to strengthen the internal security establishment. According to senior officials in the Home Ministry, steps are afoot to evolve the NIA as an effective agency capable of taking on the multidimensional security threats faced by the country. The two-day Conference of Chief Ministers on Internal Security held on January 6 and 7 in New Delhi was aimed specifically at securing greater political acceptance to the measures planned under the new laws. The government did try to stress on developing a unified approach on issues of internal security at the conference.
However, the meet also reflected the concerns that a number of State governments have on the two new laws as well as the mechanisms of implementation that the Home Ministry and the security establishment are planning on the basis of these laws. The Chief Ministers belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led principal opposition coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, asserted unanimously that they would resist any effort to use the new legislation, particularly the one that facilitates the setting up of an NIA, to undermine the countrys federal structure. The manner in which Home Minister P. Chidambaram coined his letter of directives to Chief Ministers following the Mumbai attacks also came in for considerable criticism.
These developments at the Chief Ministers meet made it amply clear that the Home Ministry and the Central security establishment would have to proceed with greater understanding of the concerns and sensibilities of the State governments while advancing new initiatives.
The operations on the second front making Pakistan accountable for the Mumbai strikes and forcing it to act decisively against terror outfits based on its soil have been even more cumbersome, especially in the context of the multidimensional political and military conundrums that persist within Pakistan as well as its relations with India. Right from the beginning of the investigations into the Mumbai attacks, India has been consistently pointing toward the involvement of Pakistani elements in organising and carrying out the dastardly act that killed more than 170 people and injured many more.
On its part, Pakistan consistently denied the charge. The Indian political leadership, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, Chidambaram and Defence Minister A.K. Antony have repeatedly highlighted the untenable nature of Pakistans denials and put pressure on Pakistan through various means.
These included the collation and presentation of evidence on the attacks to Pakistan and also to the international community. India handed over a dossier consisting of investigation material and evidence to Pakistan on January 5. This was essentially in response to Pakistans oft-repeated statement that it could not comply with Indias demand for action without evidence. But when the dossier was handed over, Pakistan claimed that the evidence given was legally flawed. In this context, Manmohan Singh stated at the Chief Ministers conference that the Mumbai terrorist attacks must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan.
The next day Antony expressed dismay at the fact that Pakistan was not ready to address seriously the concrete facts placed before it. Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a meeting of the Kendriya Sainik Board, he pointed out that Pakistan was persisting with its unwillingness to take concrete measures on the evidence provided by India and act decisively against the terrorist outfits operating from its soil.
However, commenting on the happenings in Pakistan later during the day, a senior Home Ministry official told Frontline that the latest developments could well be the beginning of some steps to address Indias concerns on the terror outfits. The developments he referred to include the first-ever formal admission by Pakistan that Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman, also known as Kasab, the terrorist captured alive during the Mumbai attacks, is indeed a Pakistani national.
They have been forced to admit this after a relatively long period of obfuscation. Given the pressures of Pakistani politics, there could be many more flip-flops on this and related matters, but we will have to see it as the first tangible result of the incessant pressure that India has built up both bilaterally as well as through the international community following the Mumbai attacks. The initiatives relating to this are based on a clear policy that stresses on methodical collation of facts on the attacks as well as the background of the players involved in them, the forceful presentation of the same before the international community and the communication of strong political messages to Pakistan on the basis of this. In doing so, the countrys political leadership has taken care not to fall for adventurist urges too, said the official.
However, a day after these developments in Pakistan, it was still not clear whether the leadership of the UPA government or even the security establishment as a whole shared the view that Pakistans admission on Kasab signalled a turnaround in that countrys approach to terror outfits targeting India. But it was clear that the leadership of the ruling coalition as a whole agreed with the policy parameters being followed in the investigation of the Mumbai attacks and the manner in which Pakistan was being confronted on the issue.
Talking to Frontline, a senior Minister belonging to a non-Congress party in the UPA said: The involvement of elements stationed in Pakistan in the Mumbai attacks has emerged clearly out of the investigations. The dimensions of the attacks also point towards the backing the attackers could have received from certain official agencies in that country. This context had given rise to impassioned calls, including from sections of the political class and the media, to go in for military action against Pakistan or at least in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir [POK]. It is to the credit of the UPA government that it has not fallen for such misplaced jingoism, which could ultimately be self-defeating.
The Minister also pointed out that Pakistans reactions to Indian initiatives relating to the investigations had escalated the situation at least on two occasions in December, but India was able to keep things under control.
A senior Home Ministry official corroborated the Ministers view. According to the official, Indias primary objective in the context of the investigations into the Mumbai attacks was to expose Pakistans Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for its role in organising terrorist strikes in India.
The Minister pointed out that the ISI had an important role in evolving and putting into operation a military policy to use jehadi terror to subvert not only India but also legitimate political forces within Pakistan. Such an expose of the ISI would benefit not only India and other countries in the subcontinent but also the legitimate political forces in Pakistan, he said. But the present democratic government in Pakistan has shown that it is more susceptible to political pressures of a jehadi variety than to its own democratic credentials.
The Minister sees Manmohan Singhs assertion of January 6 that the Mumbai terrorist attacks must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan essentially as a manoeuvre to force the Pakistan government out of these internal pressures. In his view, this tactic would compel Pakistan to investigate properly the material provided by India, follow the evidence wherever it may lead, share the results with India, and help the natural course of justice.
Even as these manoeuvres are appreciated and hopes expressed on their basis, it remains to be seen how far they will be successful. And above all, the UPA leadership needs to guard against the adventurist streak it has identified in sections of the media and the political class.