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Year 2009

Pranab, NSA sing different tune on Pakistan probe

The Hindu, Wednesday the 4th February, 2009

Pranab Mukherjee

New Delhi: Two days after National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan said Pakistan had "reverted to us and asked a number of questions" on the Mumbai terrorist attacks dossier, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee reiterated that India had received no "official communication" from Islamabad "about the progress of the investigations conducted by them" into the November 26-29 events.

Asked on Tuesday about Mr. Narayanan's assertions to the contrary, the Minister said, "That he has stated in his own way." India had been informed by Pakistan about the receipt of the dossier, he said, but "thereafter" there had been no word.

Earlier, on Saturday, Mr. Mukherjee had stressed the same point. "I would like to underline that we have so far not received any official Pakistani response to the Indian dossier or official information on the outcome of their investigations. These are awaited," a formal statement issued by him said.

Apart from disagreeing with each other on a point of fact, the government's top two officials dealing with Pakistan also appeared to differ in their assessment of the seriousness with which the Pakistani authorities are investigating the matter, "Certainly they appear to be taking things seriously and at least they are proceeding in a manner that one would expect an investigative agency to proceed, asking queries and not taking everything that is given at face value," Mr. Narayanan told CNN-IBN on Saturday.

"So as far as we are concerned, we believe that Pakistan is making an attempt to arrive at the truth," he said, adding, "Whether after all this, they would still accept the truth that will kind of hit them in the face, that I don't know." In contrast, by repeatedly saying that Pakistan had not yet responded when two interim sets of questions had been received and when Islamabad itself had said it was going to hand over the results of its preliminary investigation soon, Mr. Mukherjee has painted a picture of non-cooperation from the Pakistani side that is at variance with Mr. Narayanan's more generous characterisation.

On Tuesday, South Block officials scrambled to reconcile these two viewpoints, with some suggesting the Minister and the NSA were playing a 'bad cop, good cop' routine. Multiple assessments keep Pakistan guessing about what India's next move would be and could encourage more cooperation from the Pakistani authorities in the terrorist investigation, they said. In this telling, Mr. Mukherjee was reiterating New Delhi's traditionally negative expectations while Mr. Narayanan's comments were aimed at signaling to Islamabad that there could be a positive pay-off to genuine cooperation.

M.K. Narayanan

But even so, officials had no explanation for why India would seek to confuse its own public on the question of whether there has been any interim official response from Pakistan to the Mumbai dossier or not.

"The factual position is what the Minister has said," a senior foreign office Hindu on condition of anonymity. "The MEA statement on official told The Saturday is categorical." Asked about Mr. Narayanan's comments, the official claimed he had "not seen" the interview.

One clue to resolving this factual dissonance might lie in Mr. Mukherjee's use of the phrase 'official communication' when he said Pakistan was yet to respond to India. According to a report on Tuesday in the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, India was channelling its communication to Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency through the U.S. FBI, whose investigators are also probing the Mumbai case. If Pakistan was also routing its queries on the Indian dossier through the FBI, the External Affairs Minister would be correct in saying India had received no official word from Pakistan, but only in a strictly literal sense. Or it could also mean the Indian intelligence agencies - which report to the NSA - are handling the probe and any technical queries springing from it on their own steam without reference to the MEA.

However, an MEA official termed as "far-fetched" all reports that India was communicating with Pakistan through the FBI. "We communicate directly, and that is what we did when we handed over the dossier. Since then, we have heard nothing."

Asked why Mr. Mukherjee was saying every day that India had not yet received Pakistan's findings into the Mumbai probe when the Pakistani side itself had said it was still finalising it, South Block officials said the Minister was barracked by TV cameras outside his office and the only question they had was about the dossier. "Until Pakistan actually sends its reply, I'm afraid this media silly season will continue."

According to Dawn, FIA investigators are "closing in" on a "Bangladesh connection" to the Mumbai attacks and suspect the involvement of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami Bangladesh (HUJI-B) as well as people in Dubai and elements in India and are likely to "build the case for regional anti-terror cooperation." "The keenly awaited report is likely to say that the Mumbai attack was the handiwork of an 'international network of Muslim fundamentalists' present in South Asia and spreading all the way to Middle East," the newspaper said. Asked for his assessment of the news report, a senior Indian official said it wouldn't surprise him if the FIA were to conclude the planning for Mumbai was by an international network which just happened to be "everywhere but Pakistan."

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