CROSS-BORDER SPARKS FLY OVER OMAR 

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By FROM PRANAY SHARMA AND AGENCIES
  • Published 19.02.02
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New Delhi, Feb. 19 :    New Delhi, Feb. 19:  Omar Sheikh, the key suspect in the Daniel Pearl kidnapping case, is fast becoming India's "most wanted" criminal in Pakistan. It is not clear whether Delhi will make a formal request to Islamabad for his handover, but South Block today signalled that it would, for the moment, focus on Omar, who has claimed a role in a series of high-profile strikes here. Omar does not figure on India's list of 20 that has been submitted to Islamabad. However, Delhi today stepped up diplomatic pressure by asking Islamabad to share information on him. But India hinted that it was not willing to reciprocate by sharing its intelligence on Omar, which effectively left the door ajar for Pakistan to turn down the request. "Why should we share information with them?" a Pakistani government official told Reuters. "We have been asking (India) to share information on so many things which they never shared. Why should we share now?" South Block summoned the deputy high commissioner of Pakistan, Jalil Abbas Jilani, this afternoon to convey the request. Arun Singh, joint secretary (Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan) in the foreign ministry, told Jilani that Islamabad should provide relevant information on the involvement of Omar in the attacks on Parliament and the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. Jilani was told that Pakistan should comply with India's request on the basis of international law and the global consensus to fight terror. Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao later told reporters: "Chapter 7 of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 mandates for all states to cooperate and provide the greatest level of assistance on criminal investigations and proceedings relating to terrorist acts, including assistance in obtaining information in their possession." Rao said India was seeking disclosures made by Omar on the basis of media reports in Pakistan as well as its own independent sources. Sources in the foreign ministry said India has already factored in Pakistan's "predictable" rejection of the request to share information. Delhi's current move appears to be aimed at exposing Pakistan's "duplicity" before the world. Asked what India expects from Pakistan as it has so far refused to hand over any suspect on the list, Rao shot back: "Does that mean we should give up on that?" She said Omar, who was released in exchange for the hijack hostages in 1999, had taken shelter in Pakistan with the full knowledge of officials there. But Pakistan added another twist by claiming that Omar as well as Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masood Azhar were "double agents". President Pervez Musharraf said he expects de-escalation on the border by May-June "with the help of US facilitation".