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Delhi stiffens at ISI U-turn - Shadow falls on Pak ties, talks may come under strain

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By JAYANTH JACOB AND SUJAN DUTTA WITH INPUTS FROM NASIR JAFFRY in Delhi
  • Published 29.11.08
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New Delhi, Nov. 29: Pakistan’s decision to send a junior official to India instead of the ISI chief has led to a hardening in Delhi’s stand and sources said ties between the neighbours looked set to plummet.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began taking stock of the situation with military leaders as the first of several meetings, planned at both the administrative and political levels, took place today.

Government sources said if there was no “decisive response” from Pakistan on its “intent” to act against elements behind the terror attack, the ties and the composite dialogue would come “under strain”.

“The domestic pressure in Pakistan, which includes the opinion of the army, could have forced them to change the decision to send the ISI chief. Had the DG of the ISI come, it could have been a new beginning in the fight against terrorism,” said former diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had accepted Singh’s request to send ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha to India but the decision was reversed as President Zardari met Gilani and army chief General Kiyani.

Sources in Pakistan said top political parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and the All Parties Democratic Movement, opposed the decision to send Pasha and called the move “inappropriate”.

After the 2001 attack on Parliament, the then NDA government had begun dismantling institutions of bilateral relations, before mobilising the armed forces on the border for a stand-off that lasted more than a year.

In the hours since the last shot was fired in Mumbai’s Taj Mahal hotel this morning, there has not been any such move from the government. But a two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the Prime Minister with key defence and home officials was held alongside a meeting of the National Security Advisory Board.

The board, whose job is to give “out of government” advice to the National Security Council and the Centre, is understood to have conveyed its “dismay” and “sense of outrage” over the attacks and urged the Centre to address these public perceptions. The government has called an all-party meeting tomorrow.

At the meeting of defence and home officials, the Prime Minister was apparently briefed on the operations in Mumbai and given an assessment of threat perceptions. Defence minister A.K. Antony was at the meeting but home minister Shivraj Patil was absent.

Among those present were defence secretary Vijay Singh, navy chief and chairman of the chiefs of staff committee Admiral Sureesh Mehta, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major, vice-chief of the army Lt Gen. M.L. Naidu (the army chief is out of the country) and Intelligence Bureau boss P.C. Haldar.

Although India has not blamed Pakistan for the attacks, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee blamed “elements” in that country.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi returned to Islamabad this morning, hours after Mukherjee told him India expected Pakistan to “take immediate action with regard to the terrorist attacks on Mumbai”.

Asked how Pakistan would react to the “worst” situation that might arise in the wake of attacks, Qureshi said Pakistan stood for peace but its armed forces were ready to defend the country.