New Delhi, Oct. 1: Islamabad has promised to allow Indian investigators access to 26/11 evidence and the accused lodged in Pakistani jails, apparently to try and clear the decks for an ice-breaking visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, sources said.
Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik apparently gave the “verbal assurance” to Sushil Kumar Shinde on the sidelines of the Saarc home ministers’ conference in the Maldives last week.
The understanding is that India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) would be allowed to see the evidence collected by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency relating to the November 2008 Mumbai attack.
It will also get to question the dozen-odd suspects Pakistan has arrested, including Lashkar-e-Toiba operative and alleged 26/11 mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the sources said.
Indian agencies, however, feel Islamabad is unlikely to provide access to Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and Lashkar founder Hafiz Sayeed, who is free in Pakistan.
So far, Pakistan had been unwilling to share any evidence, especially the voice samples of the suspected terrorist handlers that India wants to match with its own records.
Government sources said there were still some concerns over whether the Pakistani judiciary would clear Indian investigators’ access to the jailed accused. Efforts are on, however, to have the NIA visit take place soon, the sources added.
Islamabad’s latest move appears to be a response to talks between Prime Minister Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Tehran last month. Singh had later told reporters he was “keen to visit Pakistan” and was grateful to Zardari for inviting him.
“But I also mentioned to him that we have to create a proper atmosphere. There must be a general feeling that Pakistan is doing all that it could do to deal with terrorism directed against India from Pakistani soil,” he had said.
“And in this context, the court trial of those who have been charged with this heinous crime of the Mumbai massacre, I think, is a crucial test of Pakistan’s sincerity to bring the perpetrators of these horrible crimes to book.”
If Singh’s Pakistan visit materialises, it would be the first such trip by an Indian Prime Minister since Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s meeting in 2004 with then President Pervez Musharraf.
If the Prime Minister’s trip is to be scheduled in November, the NIA will need to visit Pakistan this month, sources added. “We are trying (for an NIA visit this month),” a government source told The Telegraph.
The external affairs ministry will soon follow up on Malik’s “verbal assurance” to Shinde, sending a formal request to Islamabad to provide the NIA access to the evidence and the accused, sources said.
Any future assessment of Shinde’s success as home minister will depend crucially on how Islamabad lives up to its assurance and removes a major hurdle to normality in ties by punishing those behind the Mumbai attack.