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End of the Ufa Illusion

Only four days ago at Ufa in Russia, Pakistan and India signed an agreement to remove impediments to speed up the trial of the accused in the Mumbai terror case. The joint briefing of prime ministers of the two countries had triggered a new hope. The foreign secretaries said both sides will discuss all outstanding issues. But before the first flashes of euphoria could sink in Pakistan has returned to harp on its old tune: It will have no dialogue with India unless Kashmir is included in the agenda. So, we are back to square one. Instead of hoping that the Ufa talks were a good beginning to reduce tension we have to now pray that Pakistan does not make moves that would increase the tension.

Pakistan has not been co-operative on speeding up the 26/11 trial. For the past seven years India has been asking it to provide assistance in gathering evidence against the handlers of the terrorists who carried out the Mumbai attack, and Pakistan has been insisting on resuming dialogue on Kashmir and other outstanding issues. India first took the stand that there would be no dialogue without an agreement to provide assistance in speeding up 26/11 trial, but in the recent years New Delhi relented to restart talks without its pre-conditional linkage to the progress in the 26/11 trial. Pakistan also toned down on Kashmir.  In the first move to push the peace process after Nawaz Sharif took office as Pakistan Prime Minister in June 2013, Islamabad sent a schedule for the resumption of secretary-level talks. India’s ministry of external affairs was in the process of finalizing the dates but talks were stumped after Pakistani troops killed two Indian soldiers in a cross-border raid along the Line of Control in Kashmir taking away with them the head of one of the jawans.

Even though New Delhi relented about not making progress in the 26/11 trial a pre-condition to resumption of dialogue, India kept on pursuing it. When Pakistan’s special envoy visited New Delhi for back channel talks one month after Sharif took over office India raised the issue with him. So, it was like even though India did not set it as a precondition, it made it clear to Pakistan that for talks to be fruitful, progress in the Mumbai terror attack case was necessary. Pakistan was not helping the case to move faster. Although Sharif made the right diplomatic statements, his government failed to name the replacement for Zulfikar Ali, the prosecutor in the Mumbai terror-related case, who was shot dead a month before he took over as Prime Minister.

The whole Ufa ‘glasnost’ has turned out to be an illusion.  India is unlikely to get any co-operation from Pakistan on getting the 26/11 mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi’s voice samples which the country’s prosecutors so badly need to confirm before a court of law that he was the man who was directing the terrorists who attacked Mumbai on that day. Lakhvi’s lawyer Rizwan Abbasi says his client would not be giving his voice sample and that it cannot be forced out of him. “My client has refused in the past and will refuse again,” Abbasi said. Pakistan has been falsely maintaining that under the existing laws of the land, police are not allowed to take voice samples of an accused without his consent. In their response to Indian government’s demand for Lakhvi’s voice samples, Pakistan sticks to its old stance that it had filed a petition for taking the voice samples of Lakhvi before the anti-terrorism court but the court had rejected it. The question is, why did not the Pakistan government file a fresh petition in an anti-terrorism court requesting for obtaining voice samples of Lakhvi?

Legal experts say that the Pakistan government does have powers under a new law it has got passed to deal with terror cases after the Peshawar school massacre. Under this law the police can take steps to collect any relevant evidence against an accused. But even though the Pakistan government is ready to use the new powers under the new law in terror cases inside Pakistan they are refusing to use it to get the voice samples of Lakhvi and hand them over to India for speeding up the Mumbai terror trial. With Pakistan’s return to old posturing, we are going to hear more and more from Islamabad about Islamabad needing “more information and evidence” from India against Lakhvi and other accused in the Mumbai terror case.  Pakistan had blamed Lakhvi’s release by the anti-terrorism court on the lack of evidence from India!

It is getting apparent that India would have to use greater international pressure on Pakistan to co-operate on speeding up the 26/11 trial. Pakistan foiled India’s recent attempt to get UN to act to make Pakistan do so with the support of China. Nevertheless, India must continue mobilizing US and European support for its proposal. Because by dishonouring the Ufa agreement, Pakistan has left it with no other alternative.

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