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A blip, if that, in Pak ties
A ‘pawn’ for his country, not a ‘catch’ for India

New Delhi, Nov. 21: This will be a passing blip, if that, in the jagged course of India-Pakistan ties. Ajmal Kasab was a trifling in the 26/11 terror project, his extermination is unlikely to either create new bilateral frictions or close unaddressed grievances New Delhi has with Islamabad.

It might seem an irony that the hanging of the man who became the emblem of the most audacious peacetime assault on India will weigh minimally on the long-term consequences of his bloody assignment. But there are good reasons for it.

Pakistan was quick to disown Kasab despite his well-recorded origins. Father’s name: Amir Shahban Kasab. Mother’s name: Noor Illahi. Domicile: Village Faridkot in Okara district of Pakistani Punjab. These clues vanished swiftly after Pakistani media teams traced Kasab’s roots, and the denial of any association with him lasted to the very end.

An official offer that his body be claimed went abegging in Pakistan. India’s deputy high commissioner in Islamabad, Gopal Baglay, met his counterpart in the Pakistan foreign office yesterday to hand over a communication with a copy of the letter from the Maharashtra government addressed to the next of kin of Kasab informing them about his impending hanging. The Indian foreign office said the Pakistan government “refused to accept” the communication, after which it was faxed without any acknowledgement. Kasab had to be buried on the premises of Pune’s Yerwada jail.

Despite not moving credibly against alleged plotters of the Mumbai attack, the Pakistani establishment has, of late, displayed a keenness to distance itself from key actors India has accused. In an interview coinciding with former external affairs minister S.M. Krishna’s Pakistan visit in September, his counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar had said: “We have no love lost for (Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader) Hafiz Saeed and his kind…he is not a crony of the Pakistan government.”

In a later, and significant, interview arranged with a US television network, Saeed himself seemed to repudiate the Mumbai attack. “I condemn this attack and innocent lives that have been lost no matter which country they are from... I don’t support this attack or any violence of this kind, they are giving mujahedeen and jehad a bad name,” Saeed told CNN last month.

Tears were never likely to be shed for Kasab in his native country, at least publicly or officially; not much relating to him will stain the bilateral table.

To the Indian government, Kasab’s hanging brought closure to an act of crime, no more. The conspiracy behind that crime, in its books, remains to be reconciled with the demands of justice and roadblocks not merely trust but also substantive movement in relations.

“Kasab was merely a pawn in that horrible terror game,” said a senior official who has been on the ringside of Indo-Pak exchanges post 26/11. “The machinery that despatched and remote-controlled him is still functional in Pakistan and that is what we want dismantled, what we call the terror infrastructure. Kasab's hanging means we have done what we could in terms of delivering justice, Pakistan’s bit is outstanding and that is the real issue.”

Pakistan has foregrounded “due process” and “law of the land” pleas every time India has raised the issue of acting against those it alleges to have been behind 26/11 — Saeed, LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and publicly unnamed Pakistani army officials, in the main.

The Indian perception is that Pakistan is unwilling to act for a variety of reasons, which include a veto on any movement by the powerful military-intelligence complex. “They have been furnished enough evidence by us over time and repeatedly,” said the official.

“We can only conclude, sadly, that so far they have shown no or little interest in proceeding on it. It is probably an error to say they are in denial. They know exactly who is responsible and therefore they will not do anything about it.”

A hubbub of speculation re-surfaced this morning in the wake of the stunning news from Yerwada jail on whether this would impact Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s shelved visit to Pakistan this way or that. Official word on it remains cautious and mindfully untethered to Kasab’s denouement.

“These are not matters that can be undertaken in haste, nor are they only matters of courtesy,” an official source said. “We know there is a great desire in Pakistan for our Prime Minister to visit but we owe something to this country, to people who have suffered. We have not yet reached a level where we can say there has been adequate delivery (from the Pakistani side), we need specific delivery.”

Asked if Kasab’s hanging was not a kind of closure, the source said: “The hanging is part of that process, those are measures we have taken according to the due process of the law. Closure means steps taken on both sides, it cannot be unilateral.”

Responding to another question on whether a Pakistan visit was on the Prime Minister’s agenda, the source said: “This is a decision the Prime Minister will take in consultation, it is difficult to predict now. But there are constraints. Even if delivery (on the Pakistani side) takes place, there are constraints. There are election schedules to be looked at on both sides, they are going into elections earlier, we will be in election mode six to eight months before they are scheduled, we do not have a very big window.”

Bluntly put: the issues that will dictate the Prime Minister’s decision on travelling to Pakistan are much more complex than Kasab’s hanging. But it has impacted one trip. Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik was due here for talks today. The turn of the noose at Yerwada this morning meant they are having to rework dates.