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Dismay in Delhi over America’s Pak blinkers

It was meant to be a swift and airtight investigative effort after India opened all doors of cooperation with US investigators.

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | New Delhi |
December 28, 2008 12:25:14 am

It was meant to be a swift and airtight investigative effort after India opened all doors of cooperation with US investigators. As it turns out, a convinced US did ask Pakistan for access to Lashkar-e-Toiba operations chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and communications in-charge Zarar Shah but has heard nothing positive on the request, leaving India frustrated and disappointed.

A concerned Bush Administration has rushed in to assure India that it is still serious about the effort. With Pakistan desperately waiting for the US to schedule a donor’s conference involving the Friends of Pakistan in January, Washington has signalled to New Delhi that it does retain leverage. India, however, remains sceptical given the nature of the US reliance on Pakistan in the war against terror and the extent to which Washington will hold out on Islamabad’s desperation.

New Delhi does have its reasons for the frustration. FBI investigators concluded their efforts in India and recovered a wealth of information from the communication equipment recovered from the 10 terrorists, all of which lead to Pakistan. In this context, Zarar Shah is one person US investigators singled out quite early and wanted to confront and interrogate.

In fact, it’s learnt that this was one name US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought up first when she visited India and Pakistan in the first week of this month. She is said to have made this clear to authorities in Islamabad too. Once the UN formally proscribed Jamaat-ud-Dawa in the subsequent days, Pakistan did say it detained Lakhvi and Shah.

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This is when the request was formally re-emphasized but Islamabad has shown no signs of cooperation thereafter and, instead, had diverted the issue by resorting to an orchestrated war propaganda. According to what US had told India, Lakhvi and Shah were just the beginning and the FBI wanted to move step-by-step with a thorough investigative effort that exposed the entire link which conceived, planned, controlled and executed the strike that killed over 180 people, including six US citizens.

While not doubting Washington’s sincerity in trying to locate the perpetrators, India feels there is a “fundamental disconnect” in expecting cooperation from the Pakistani government, particularly security elements, whose own role is clouded by several questions. However, officials concede that the deteriorating economic situation of Pakistan does allow US to apply the squeeze to quite an extent.

On November 17, at the meeting of the newly created Friends of Pakistan that includes US, UK, China, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, UAE among others, Pakistan asked for $60 billion to give an impetus to its entire economy including developmental projects in FATA and NWFP. While IMF did release $7.6 billion in November to Pakistan, the amount is not enough and Islamabad needs a massive bailout effort.

This explains India’s diplomatic efforts with Saudi Arabia and the upcoming visit of UAE Foreign Minister. A GCC meeting is also slated in January first week where the Mumbai attacks is likely to come up in the context of Pakistan.

Critical to the bailout are investments in the energy sector for which Washington has scheduled some expert meetings. Sources said Islamabad is expecting the Bush Administration to announce a large donor’s conference soon to approve some cash flow before its demits office. But there has been no announcement yet, which many say has Islamabad very nervous.

Despite all this, the broad consensus in India is that US will not be able to succeed if it continues to see Pakistan as an ally in the war and hence, a country which is entitled to these bailout packages. The strategic community here is veering to the view that India has to deliver a clear message to US that in the long run, the better option would be to work in partnership with Russia using supply routes from there than to depend on Pakistan.

This thinking, which is also gaining acceptability in official circles here, is that Pakistan Army’s duplicity must be exposed and in that sense, the route from the Caucasus and Russia would ensure greater success. This paradigm shift, sources said, is worth considering for the US while it weighs options on how far it can push Pakistan to deliver on the Mumbai attacks.

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