Be ‘generous’ in statements on Pak: Rice

Hours after Pakistan announced a probe into the Mumbai terror attacks,pledging an all-out effort and endorsing the Indian dossier as having credible leads,the United States asked India to be “generous” in its interpretations and statements on Pakistan...

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | New Delhi | Published:January 19, 2009 3:42 am

Hours after Pakistan announced a probe into the Mumbai terror attacks,pledging an all-out effort and endorsing the Indian dossier as having credible leads,the United States asked India to be “generous” in its interpretations and statements on Pakistan.

It is learnt that on Friday evening,outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conveyed this to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in a pre-scheduled farewell phone call meant to also thank him for the association the two have enjoyed in the past few years.

Also on Friday,Mukherjee made a statement clarifying that India had not given up its demand for extraditing those behind the November 26-29 terrorist attacks. However,sources said the call from Rice was not linked to that statement.

Earlier that day,the Pakistan Foreign Office announced an official inquiry into the attacks.

On Saturday,Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that the evidence given to Pakistan by India contained “leads and good clues”.

And on Sunday,wire agencies quoted him as announcing that the Pakistani probe would be over in 10 days,and that Indian investigators would be “more than welcomed” if they chose to offer help to Pakistan. “All the culprits must be apprehended. Who will support such acts?” Malik was quoted as telling reporters in Lahore after meeting the PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif about Pakistan’s probe.

Rice is said to have underscored to Mukherjee the efforts Washington has been making with Islamabad,and urged India to view the changing line from Pakistan as a result of the international pressure on it to not dismiss off-hand the body of evidence provided to it. The understanding in Washington is that the harder the statements from India,the more difficult it becomes politically for Pakistan to act,especially since Islamabad has begun to show signs of doing something.

Coming a mere four days before Barack Obama takes over as President,Rice’s request,sources said,lays the ground for the Obama Administration to fashion its approach. Rice has,in fact,been briefing Obama regularly to avoid contradictions in the US line once the new administration takes over.

While recognizing that any big terror attack on the US is likely to emanate from Pakistan,the Obama team has been suggesting a more accommodating role from India so as to empower the Pakistan civilian administration. The new US Administration plans to finalise a huge aid package for Pakistan,which is likely to contain conditions on limiting military influence and strengthening democracy.

Seen in this context,Washington’s latest could in ways worsen India’s predicament. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband,who has rubbed India the wrong way with his annoying instructive diplomacy asking it to “incentivise Pakistan” by pushing forward on the Kashmir issue,has left India wondering if reverse pressure is being built to aid Western objectives in Afghanistan.

The predicament here is that while India would be inclined to oblige US on its request,there is sufficient internal pressure to not dilute the approach on Pakistan. Miliband’s remarks have invited angry objections from both the Congress and BJP. A section of Indian diplomats assess that the new US Administration could link the Mumbai attacks with Kashmir,which would then leave little space for India to manoeuvre.

On the other hand,Western pressure is India’s only hope for some credible results on bringing those behind the Mumbai attacks to justice. The US was to send an FBI team to Pakistan but has not done so,and is said to have used it as a way to pressure Islamabad into setting up its own probe.

The close understanding between New Delhi and the Bush Administration had built a trust,which sources said,allowed India to play along with Washington. However,India will move with more caution after Tuesday — while also hoping for a better understanding from the Obama team than what has been conveyed through interlocutors like Miliband who have claimed to speak what the “Obama people” have in mind for this region.

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