Two public officials – the Navy chief and a deputy attorney general – together have destroyed Rehman Malik’s case of ‘admission of guilt’ in Mumbai attacks. The government has fired the deputy attorney general for taking a stand, but no one in the Pakistani media noticed since it is busy in the latest Pakistani political circus. But it is this story that could unravel this staunchly pro-U.S. setup.
By AHMED QURAISHI
Saturday, 28 February 2009.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Two developments in Pakistan have thwarted the deliberate effort of Pakistan’s pro-U.S. government to take the Mumbai investigations on a path that leads to placing the blame on the Pakistani military and intelligence.
Figure 1: Mr. Malik, with a broad smile, triumphantly declaring Pakistan’s responsibility in Mumbai attacks.
The two developments, one by a public prosecutor and the other by the Pakistani military, confirms that the Zardari government, and especially his confidant and interior adviser Rehman Malik, deliberately led Pakistan into acquiescence to American and Indian demands by accepting partial responsibility for Mumbai attacks without verifiable evidence. It also raises questions about the motives of this government.
The first development took place on Feb. 18, when Zardari government’s special public prosecutor in the Mumbai attacks Sardar Mohammad Ghazi issued a statement saying Islamabad is formally requesting India to extradite Ajmal Kassab, the alleged lone survivor of the Mumbai attacks. This was a surprising statement considering how the Zardari government unilaterally accepted – on behalf of Pakistan – every single piece of questionable Indian and American ‘evidence’ linking the attacks to elements with past links to Pakistani intelligence.
Sardar’s statement shook the Indians and the Americans, who lobbied hard to ensure Pakistan accepted some responsibility for the attacks as a prelude to implicating Pakistan’s ISI.
Pakistani investigators have yet to independently confirm that Kassab is indeed a Pakistani citizen, or that the person in Indian custody is indeed Ajmal Kassab.
Taking advantage of the political turmoil inside the country, President Zardari on Friday, Feb. 27, quietly fired Sardar from his job as the Deputy Attorney General. Zardari’s move was shrewd. No one in the Pakistani media paid attention.
Sardar created a hole in the investigations led by Rehman Malik, the de facto interior minister. But the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Noman Bashir, bulldozed Malik’s case in its entirety, coming out on the same day when the special prosecutor was fired to say that he has seen no evidence that shows Kassab went to Indian from Pakistan in a boat, as India says and as the Zardari government says.
Rehman Keeps ISI Out
Malik had ensured that the ISI stayed away from the investigations. He assigned a civilian department, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), to conduct the probe. On Jan. 16, an excited Malik came to a press conference and with broad smiles flashed a photograph of a boat he said that Kassab and his colleagues used to travel from Karachi to Mumbai. This was supposed to be the smoking gun that confirmed that Pakistanis did use Pakistani soil to attack India. The indirect message was supposed to be this: that the country’s military or intelligence is involved, since Pakistan has been supporting anti-India groups in Kashmir.
Malik’s revelations were stunning because he couldn’t show any progress in 12 months in resolving the murder mystery of Benazir Bhutto but here he was ‘successfully’ resolving in a few days a complex case that transcends borders.
Adm. Bashir’s salvo came on the same day that President Zardari quietly fired the public prosecutor who challenged his government’s admission of guilt on Mumbai.
Adm. Bashir said he has seen no evidence that Kassab traveled by boat from Karachi to India. He said there was no way anyone could escape Pakistani naval intelligence. And even if it happened, he added, where was the Indian navy that claims to be preparing itself for a global role?
The Navy chief’s statement basically confirmed that, unlike Mr. Malik’s admission of guilt and acceptance of Indian ‘evidence’ without challenge, Pakistani investigators want to confirm how Kassab reached Indian soil by sea penetrating the security parameters of the Indian navy. This breach is ironic considering how the Indian navy never ceases to boast that its readiness matches its ‘mission’ to police the entire Indian Ocean along with U.S., Britain and Australia.
Pakistani suspicions are also legitimate because India’s own investigations leave many important questions unanswered, especially regarding the inside help that Mumbai terrorists received to achieve their objective. Pakistanis have reason to believe that India’s intelligence services posing as diplomats in countries surrounding India have been reported to have kidnapped unassuming Pakistani citizens to use them to stage terrorist acts and blame them on Pakistan.
Why Elected Govt. Keen To Capitulate?
This brings us to the question: Why is the Zardari government so keen on seeing Pakistan take responsibility for Mumbai attacks?
The Zardari government is an elected government. But its election and the arrangement to bring it to power were manipulated by Washington, which weakened the previous military government through terrorism from Afghanistan and through direct secret contacts with Pakistani politicians, forcing a beleaguered Pervez Musharraf to cut a deal brokered by U.S. State Department to ease Benazir Bhutto, ANP and MQM into power.
Zardari’s corruption cases and those of other politicians in power were withdrawn thanks to this U.S.-brokered deal. Not to mention that the personal wealth and assets of President Zardari, Mr. Rehman Malik, Ambassador Haqqani and other stalwarts of his government, are based in either the United States or Britain. They have no interest in antagonizing Washington or London.
But why is Washington so keen to see Islamabad accept responsibility for Mumbai attacks?
Why U.S. Wants To Target Pak Military?
At a time when U.S. is in trouble in Afghanistan and wants to put more pressure on Pakistan, the Mumbai attacks are a blessing. The attacks allow Washington to exert pressure on Pakistani military, and especially blackmail ISI. If Pakistan accepts that Kashmiri groups were behind the attacks, it would mean that Pakistani military bears some responsibility and its case of supporting Kashmiri freedom groups in Indian occupied Kashmir is discredited. Overall, Mumbai attacks provide a perfect opportunity to threaten the Pakistani military and intelligence from Pakistan’s eastern borders even as U.S. keep the pressure from the west, through U.S.-inspired insurgencies emanating from Afghanistan. Washington wants an emasculated Pakistani military, capable of holding Pakistan together but without the ability to defend Pakistani national security interests.
How Pakistan Benefits From Adm. Bashir’s Statement?
A fickle and shortsighted Pakistani media was busy in the local political circus to take note of the internal revolt against Zardari government’s Mumbai investigations. This is the time to highlight these discrepancies and discredit the positions of the Zardari and the Indian governments.
The firing of the deputy attorney general by President Zardari must be highlighted in the media. And both Mr. Zardari and his interior minister Mr. Malik must not be allowed to get away with their soft position on India’s failure so far to answer the list of 30 questions that Pakistani investigators posed to Indian authorities regarding Mumbai attacks. New Delhi is procrastinating on this request. Mr. Zardari and Mr. Malik must not be allowed to provide India a safe exit.
The opening salvos by the Pakistani naval chief and the ex-public prosecutor are a good start.