Washington, Jan. 22: If hopes are rising in New Delhi about extraditing Abu Salem, one of those wanted for the 1993 Bombay serial bomb blasts, it is because Washington has been working with India towards that objective.
US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has been “fully engaged” in the case, Robert Blackwill, US ambassador to India, told the Indian American Forum for Political Education here last night.
Answering questions at a dinner hosted by the forum, Blackwill recalled that he was in Agra when word reached him that Salem had been detained in Lisbon along with his companion and small-time Bollywood actress Monica Bedi and Syed Haider, an associate.
Soon Kamal Pande, then Union home secretary, got in touch with Blackwill on behalf of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.
The ambassador, in turn, got in touch with Washington, where it was decided that Armitage will get involved in the case.
The deputy secretary has been engaged in the matter since then, Blackwill told the audience, which included defence and state department officials, Congressional staff and businessmen.
About 10 days ago, the Union Cabinet formally gave a “solemn sovereign assurance” to Portugal that Salem will not be sentenced to death or jailed for more than 25 years if he is extradited to face trial in India.
Such an assurance was necessary to proceed with the formalities of Salem’s extradition since the European Union, of which Portugal is part, disapproves of the death penalty or imprisonment till death, which is common in the US.
The assurance is now being examined by Lisbon’s chief prosecutor for further action. Portugese authorities have already revoked work permits of both Salem and Bedi because they were found to have been obtained with documents which falsely showed that the two Indians had married Portugese nationals.
Blackwill described US efforts in this case as a “subsidiary role”, but said Salem’s extradition was symbolically important for India which is trying to bring criminals and terrorists to justice.
He said it was also important for the pattern of cooperation which Washington and New Delhi are now trying to establish.
The way the two sides went about coordinating their responses to Salem’s detention in Lisbon showed the “new standard operating procedures” between India and the US.
The US ambassador said Washington has not been successful in persuading Pakistan to part with anyone in the list of 20 criminals, whom India wants extradited from its western neighbour.
Blackwill said the Pakistani government makes its own decisions, but added that the war against terrorism could not be considered as victorious as long as India has to cope with terror.