‘A crime of this scale and size cannot be committed without active state help’https://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/a-crime-of-this-scale-and-size-cannot-be-committed-without-active-state-help/

‘A crime of this scale and size cannot be committed without active state help’

The new Home Minister will soon visit the US to present evidence of Pakistan’s role in the Mumbai terror attacks. In this interaction with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta,on NDTV 24x7’s Walk the Talk,P Chidambaram talks about India’s response to the terror threat,how it is gathering the international community on its side and how it wants to expose Pakistan’s nefarious designs

•Hello and welcome to Walk the Talk. My guest today on this very cold afternoon in Delhi is P Chidambaram,who has made North Block his home. You move 50 yards from left to right,or right to left depending on where the crisis seems to be bigger.

Well,I was in this office 22 years ago.

•Yes,yes. In fact,that’s when I first met you. You had your office this side as a minister for internal security.

And now,of course,it’s déjà vu,in a sense.

•In fact,I first met you when you were setting up the NSG.

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Yes,NSG,SPG,and now we are setting up another organisation,the NIA.

•Am I right in saying — I mean at a time when the economy was facing such challenges globally — if the Government,if the Prime Minister has seen it fit to move you from the stewardship of the Finance Ministry to Home. It shows you are needed where the sense of crisis is stronger.

Well,in the minds of the people security ranks higher than prospects. Fear,I think,is a bigger emotion than anything else.

•But fear is justified?

Fear is justified. If you take a historical view of what has happened since 1999. Clearly,there has been a rising trend in violence of three kinds: one is terrorist-induced,the other is Left-wing extremism,and the third is perpetrated by Indian insurgent groups.

•Right,like the ULFA.

ULFA,NDFB — the whole lot. And,when there is a rising trend in all three,fear is widely prevalent,and I think it saps the energy of the nation.

•Also,affects the nation’s self-respect — anybody can come and do anything to you,and you can do nothing about it.

Well,I think the tipping point was Mumbai. Ten guys held the whole country hostage for about 60 hours.

•It was a humiliation.

It was a very sad development and no democratically-elected Government can then say “business as usual”. We have to respond and I think that’s the response.

•And the response is adequate so far?

Well,we have made some beginnings. I gave a report to the nation on December 31 about what we have done. There’s still a long way to go. Each of these three kinds of violence has to be dealt with differently. Cross-border terrorism,or terrorism launched from sources beyond India’s borders,have to be dealt with differently,and that’s what we are trying to do. We have set up the NIA; we have amended the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. We have mounted a major diplomatic offensive against Pakistan; we have earned a lot of international support and in the next few days,we will present the evidence to the world.

•What kind of evidence?

It’s overwhelming! I have looked at it as a lawyer.

•I mean it will be like a dossier?

Yes,it will be a dossier with annexures,and supported by electronically-recorded evidence.

•But is it interrogation reports? Or is it more?

It’s more than that. We have interrogated only one chap.

•Right,and obviously,yes.

Others are Indians who are eyewitnesses. Interrogation reports,transcripts,intercepts — I think the evidence is unanswerable.

•And when you say present it to the world,would it be at a diplomatic level,or will it be made public?

No,I think the idea is it to present it to the governments of the countries,and then as we go along,we’ll see whether we need to publicise it more. But if you present it to a large number of governments,much of it will come out in the public domain.

•So,when do we see this happening? Do we see this happening within this week or…?

This,I think,it’s being done,beginning this week.

•And will this be evidence only to do with this attack,or with many,or with a series?

No,we are now focusing on this attack.

•And on this attack,you would say that the evidence now is 1,2,3. It’s a straight line?

It’s unanswerable. No one in his right mind can give an answer to this evidence.

•And the evidence leads to what conclusion?

Evidence leads to the conclusion that the plot was hatched,launched in Pakistan and as the operation was on in Mumbai,it was masterminded and controlled from Pakistan. Controlled,as in handlers were in Pakistan and the wherewithal was provided by Pakistani sources. Now when I say Pakistan,I am talking about Pakistan territory.

•You have taken away my question as a good lawyer.

Yeah,I think one has to be accurate in this manner. One should not overstate the matter… now in Pakistan territory,whether there were others behind the handlers and controllers is something which can only be investigated in Pakistan.

•When you say others,you mean the ISI,or the Army,or any state actors?

Any state actors… and just as we have given access — say,in this case to the FBI — to the evidence that can be assembled in India,I think it’s only fair that Pakistan gives access to the FBI. 

•You mean state actors in Pakistan — the Army,ISI,whatever we call them?

I don’t wish to name anyone,but whether behind these so-called non-state actors there were any other actors can only be investigated in Pakistan. See,we have given access in this case,as an exception,to the FBI to look at the evidence that is available with India.

•We haven’t done that before in the past.

Not to my knowledge,but perhaps there have been one or two cases,I can’t say.

•But not a case like this?

No,in this case,I think since we will never be allowed to investigate in Pakistan,the next best thing is to get somebody to help us in Pakistan,and I think the FBI has asked Pakistan Government to allow access to a couple of places and some people in Pakistan.

•Well,they seem to have gone to this terrorist’s village.

Not quite,I think.

•He is popularly called Kasab but I think his name is Iman.

That’s a newspaper report. I don’t think they have gone there yet… but they want to go there. See,today we have Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab in our custody. His DNA is available; now there is a person in Pakistan in Faridkot village,who says I am his father. His DNA is available in Pakistan… so,if somebody matches the DNA,we’ll know who is right and who is wrong.

•Just needs a strand of hair,or a drop of blood.

Strand of hair,a drop of blood,saliva,whatever.

•So,has the FBI been given his DNA?

Not yet,I am told. They have asked for it but not yet.

•Because those are legal processes?

Well,the FBI by American law is obliged to investigate where an American citizen is killed. Six Americans were killed in the Mumbai attacks. Therefore,the FBI is obliged to investigate and report to the US Congress. But I think the FBI has asked for access to Pakistan.

•Right. So what’s your sense of the kind of co-operation they are getting from the Pakistanis yet?

Not much so far,but I think they are confident of making a breakthrough.

•But this is innovative on India’s part,even diplomatically because we are a bit shy of doing this.

This is the right thing to do. The enormity of the crime requires — extraordinary nature of the crime requires — that we adopt an innovative method. Since we will never be allowed to investigate on Pakistan soil,the next best thing is to ask whether they will allow the FBI to investigate for us.

•Because Pakistanis will turn around and say “we always offered joint investigations”.

That’s a meaningless offer. You see Pakistan is one among 180 countries. If Pakistan’s offer of a joint investigation is relevant,it is only when Pakistan admits that Kasab is a Pakistani citizen,Kasab’s handlers were Pakistanis,Kasab’s controllers were Pakistanis. They have never admitted that.

•So,unless they come clean on that,you are saying it makes no sense to say joint investigations.

It’s a very meaningless offer. Why do you want to jointly investigate something with which you say your citizens have no connection at all? Does Mongolia make this offer,does Bulgaria make this offer?

•Is that what you meant when you said that Pakistan is in denial? Is it deliberate denial,is it denial in embarrassment,or is it denial from ignorance?

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No,no,Pakistan is completely embarrassed. Pakistan knows the kind of evidence we have. If Kasab is in my custody and Pakistan knows that Kasab is a Pakistani citizen,Pakistani intelligence and Pakistani investigators would know what I could have got out of Kasab. So,Pakistan is in total denial because it knows it will be completely embarrassed if the truth comes out. And the truth will come out whether Pakistan likes it or not.

•How will it come out if they block everything?

Well,when the evidence is presented to the whole world,somebody in the world will ask Pakistan. In fact,many will ask Pakistan. 

•As we can see,their denials are getting more and more qualified now.

Denials are getting weaker and denials are becoming too hollow now.

•Nuanced in a funny way. You know I will not comment on this,let’s see; we are making progress. Would you advise them a course of action? They have political compulsions.  

See,the right thing for Pakistan to do is to say that we will fully co-operate and we will identify the perpetrators of this crime. That will at least show to the world that Pakistan is a civilised state willing to live by the rules of the world. And then,Pakistan should promise us that they will never allow their soil to be used again for a repetition of this kind of thing.

•They have made that commitment in the past. General Musharraf made that commitment,first in that speech,I think,on January 12,2002.

You know,that is simply a posture.

•He said from our territory,or any territory controlled by us. So,he also included PoK.

That is a posture. Now,what we want is cast-iron guarantees that no — to use their words — non-state actor,or state actor will ever be allowed to use Pakistani soil,or Pakistani sources to launch an attack on India.

•No,it’s a very funny usage: non-state actor.

Well,I am not using the word non-state actor. In fact,as a non-state actor is a citizen of Pakistan,so he is not a state-less actor. A non-state actor is also a citizen.

•So now,I see a curious new usage: para-state actors.

Unless you say he is not my citizen,which is what they are saying now. Which is rubbish.

•No,they are not saying that. They are saying we are not sure.

No,no,they said we have no record of Kasab.

•Somebody said that,yes.

On some ground,like he is not on the national register. It’s like the guy who goes to vote and finds that his name is not there on the voter’s list in India. Does he cease to be a citizen?

•So,now let me go back to the beginning of this conversation. Are you now generally accepting,or do you generally believe that these were non-state actors — people who were carrying this out,people who were controlling them?

No,not at all. In fact,I will presume that they are state actors,or state-assisted actors,until the contrary is proved. No non-state actor can mount this attack without any kind of state help. It’s too enormous a crime,required very elaborate preparations and very elaborate communications network and financial support and equipment.

•And lots of operations on high seas?

No,there is more than that. There are VOIP telephones,there are servers,there are mobile telephones which are being used. It’s a very,very sophisticated operation.

•Would you say it’s like an intelligence commando operation,of a very high degree of planning and sophistication?

Well,let me put it this way. Somebody who is familiar with intelligence and somebody who is familiar with commando operations has directed this operation. And that cannot be entirely a non-state actor.

•The voices at the other end of the phones are those of identified terrorist leaders,or some of those could be not of non-state actors?

Well,what we have today clearly points to known leaders of banned organisations.

•Is this Lakhvi and Zarar Shah?

Well,I don’t want to take names here. But known leaders of banned organisations. That only further investigations will show whether they were controlled,or they were helped by other people. That investigation will only take place in Pakistan.

•But your presumption now is that they were.

Yes. As I said,in a crime of this size and scale,I will presume that it was state-assisted until the contrary is proved. I will draw an adverse inference until the contrary is proved.

•You will be a tough prosecution lawyer,I can see.

We will have to present this in a very legal way,so that the world is convinced that we have not made up this evidence.

•Are you reasonably satisfied with the international reaction to this as yet?

So far. Many,of course,have extended words of sympathy. Today,I had a Malaysian minister who said he understands our situation because that is a plural state,and,therefore,they would never allow this kind of thing to happen again. They have put down terrorism very strongly.

•Yes,in those countries to possess a gun gets you a death sentence.

The US has been very helpful,Britain has been very helpful.

•They are not getting into the usual nuances and qualifications.

No,not at all.

•You don’t get the sense that they are not putting their interest above ours.

Not at the moment,I am sure they have interests. But I think there is a common interest in putting down this terror.

•Because you know there has been an impression in the past that the US also thinks that if the crunch comes,if I can trade co-operation for myself in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) with some little bit of levy to Pakistan’s west,it’s okay.

I don’t get that impression. So far,they have been fully co-operating and,therefore,we have co-operated with their request for participating in the investigations,and I intend to visit the US in the next few days.

•With evidence?

Certainly,I will carry the evidence.

•Have they been helpful in terms of technology?

Yes.

•So,we have collaborated with them in these investigations?

They have certain equipment which we don’t have. Therefore,we have asked for help and that help has been given.

•But during the attack,or after the attack?

No,… well,after (the attack). During the attack,it was only us.

•And,you don’t see them pulling back anymore.

I think they have made a commitment to go to the root of this matter. That commitment has been made so strongly,I doubt they will pull back. There is no reason why they should pull back. And I have their word that not only the present administration but the corresponding person in the incoming administration is also fully in the picture.

•So,say five weeks after the attack,can you now sit back and say “look everything that needed to be done in these five weeks has generally been done”?

As far as this crime is concerned,oh yes. Of course,the Mumbai Police is putting together other pieces of the story like eyewitness in this place or that place,the taxi driver who drove the taxi — those are just to fill in the gaps. But the main story is constructed.

•Now,we talk about Pakistanis having done it,some Pakistanis have done it. You said something very significant just now. You said: one,they have to co-operate fully in this investigation to get to the root of it. And,secondly,they have to make cast-iron commitments that this will not happen again,that their soil will not be used for this. Two questions arise: one,are they capable of giving that guarantee,or honouring that guarantee,given the confusion in that country right now?

Oh,the guarantee has to come from those who are the real power centres in Pakistan. We cannot accept guarantee from anyone. Guarantees have to come from those who control the levers of power,and that means the elected civilian Government,plus the Army.

•And,if the Pakistanis turn around and say “no,no,this is a constitutional system. We have a President,a Prime Minister. We decide,the chief reports to us”.

Well,as I said these are not guarantees that you can execute on a piece of paper. These are guarantees that have to be given to the international community.

•But secondly,are they capable of honouring those guarantees,given the mess in Pakistan?

I think so,if all the power centres of Pakistan genuinely get together and guarantee that this will not be repeated. See,the price they will pay if this is repeated,I think,will be enormous.

•You want to elaborate on that?

No,I don’t. I want to make a distinction between punishing the perpetrators of this crime and repeating this crime.

•If the crime is repeated,then the punishment would be…?

The price will be enormous.

•That Pakistan will pay?

Anyone who does such a heinous dastardly attack on another country.

•But if you get into the mind of a terrorist leader sitting wherever — Bahawalpur,Multan,Muzaffarabad — he’ll say this is my opportunity. I just have to carry out one more strike,and then India goes to war with Pakistan. Everything is in a mess.

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Well,I don’t think we are talking about war now. I think war is not a word I used. I don’t know what the mind of a terrorist is,but as I said,a crime of this scale and size cannot be committed without active help. I am entitled to presume that… and,therefore,a repetition of a crime of this size and scale means that aid and help continues to flow from the state. 

(Second part of the interview will appear next week)

Transcript prepared by Rinita Singh