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After Rice, Negroponte headed for India

Keeping up the high-level Indo-US diplomatic engagement following the Mumbai terror attacks, US is sending Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte later this week for consultations with Indian leaders and officials after Pakistan’s attempt to put together a response to India’s demarche.

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | New Delhi |
December 10, 2008 12:54:19 am

Keeping up the high-level Indo-US diplomatic engagement following the Mumbai terror attacks, US is sending Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte later this week for consultations with Indian leaders and officials after Pakistan’s attempt to put together a response to India’s demarche.

It’s learnt that Negroponte is expected here on Friday for a brief one-day visit and is even likely to travel to Pakistan though his final itinerary is yet to be firmed up. His visit comes just over a week after that of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who rushed here to extend all support after the worst-ever terror attack on India.

Both countries have maintained close contact through this entire period with Washington stepping up the pressure on Pakistan to act against those responsible for these attacks. As the first head of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI), the apex intelligence body created in US after the 9/11 report, Negroponte will also discuss US assistance in strengthening Indian intelligence and security systems. The current head of DNI Mike McConnell is also expected here next week.

While Rice was here in the first week of December, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon was in Washington meeting Negroponte to discuss the fallout of the Mumbai attacks and put together the initial plan for the next course of action including bilateral technical assistance. Negrponte is now expected to take forward the conversation with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram and NSA M K Narayanan.

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His visit, sources said, comes just as Washington is also preparing for its regular strategic dialogue with China which again is headed by Negroponte on the US side. Given Beijing’s “technical hold” on proscribing the LeT leadership in the UN, Washington could ask for cooperation to raise this issue afresh and secure the ban under UN Resolution 1267. On a broader plane, Chinese support would be vital for mounting pressure on Pakistan Army besides greater cooperation in financial institutions approving aid packages for Pakistan.

On the Pakistan front, New Delhi had demanded specific action from Islamabad on Jamaat-ud Dawa, its banning, and arrest of the top leadership including Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed who should be handed over to India.

Similar demands were made for Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar, who according to reports from Pakistan was put under arrest on Tuesday. It may be recalled that Azhar was placed under house arrest after the December 2001 attack on Parliament but after few months, he was allowed to move around freely and operate within Pakistan. On Monday, Pakistani officials confirmed a crackdown on camps occupied by groups operating in Kashmir as well as the arrest of LeT Operations chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. India, however, is still not confirming these claims and continues to remain skeptical, sending out clear signals that these actions were not enough.

Part of the reason, sources said, was the similarity of response now and 2001. At that time too, then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf banned LeT and placed some most wanted terror faces under arrest. However, that proved ineffective in the long run given the increasing scale of operations of these groups.

This time, Pakistan has also offered a joint investigative commission, which it says could be headed by the two National Security Advisors to specifically inquire into the Mumbai attacks. While expressing inability to hand over people like Lakhvi and Azhar citing absence of an extradition treaty between both countries, Islamabad has indicated that proposed commission could meet the persons under arrest.

India, however, continues to remain unimpressed with Pakistani actions and is likely to wait for independent US confirmation. In any case, India wants an elaborate exercise from Pakistan that identifies the planners of this attack in state organs like the ISI and the Pakistan Army.

Washington, meanwhile, has also a script quite similar to 2001. Then, too, Colin Powell and his Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made trips to India and Pakistan, pushing Musharraf to act against LeT. Armitage, for instance, is said to have even brought out a map pointing out location of camps across the LoC.

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