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Karan Thapar interviews P Chidambaram
The text of an interview with Home Minister P Chidambaram, done by Karan Thapar for the programme ĎDevilís Advocateí, to be broadcast by CNN-IBN on March 22 at 8-30 p.m.:
Karan Thapar: Home Minister, letís start with your response to Pakistanís 30 questions which were related to the Mumbai terror strike. According to The Hindu, barring Ajmal Kasabís confessional statement, Pakistanís investigators have been given every primary investigative document available with the Mumbai police. Is The Hindu correct?
P. Chidambaram: Thatís correct.†
Which means you have actually given the Pakistanis far more than they had asked for?
They asked questions. And if I was asking that question, I would expect a complete answer. So we gave complete answers which would have satisfied me if I was the questioner.†
Pakistanís papers, The Daily Times in particular, quotes Pakistani officials as saying that the information given is irrelevant and away from the target. How do you respond to that?
These are sources which do not want attribution. These are, I think, not very responsible people. I think anyone who sees that 401-page document ó any lawyer ó will know that everything Pakistan wants to take the investigation forward is there.†
The one thing that hasnít been given, according to the papers, is Ajmal Kasabís confessional document. Why has that been withheld?
That is a confession before a judicial magistrate. And therefore they want a certified copy of that document. A certified copy of that document can only be given if it is certified and given to us by the court. We have applied to the court and once the court gives us a certified copy, we will pass it on.†
So in due course that confession will be passed on?
Itís a public document, except that they wanted a certified copy.†
The Hindu claims you have given the Pakistanis CDs containing all the conversations recorded between the terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan. How many hours of conversation is this, and what sort of details do they reveal?
I canít tell you offhand the number of minutes, but it runs to several hundred minutes. Each mobile telephone has been used for quite a long time. I think one of them kept it open for several minutes at a time.†
And you have given the actual voice rather than just transcripts?
Weíve given them both.†
So that they can match voices and so that they have no hesitation in saying that the information is complete?
Thereís nothing incomplete. Whatever has been recorded has been given. When the phone was not used, of course, thereís no transcript. Whenever the phone was used and that was monitored at our end that is being given.†
Do you believe that you have evidence that is either conclusive or very suggestive, that points a finger towards official organisations or official agencies in Pakistan?
That I cannot say now. That will require investigation on Pakistan soil. It will require going to the controllers, the handlers, and then interrogating them. And finding out whether they had masters of their own. That access has not been given to us.†
So at the moment, you may suspect that official agencies are involved but you donít have evidence to prove it?
No, I will put is this way. Given the overwhelming evidence that we have, I am entitled to presume that official agencies were involved. That presumption, of course, is a rebuttable presumption, but that can be rebutted only if evidence to the contrary is available in the investigation.†
Who is Colonel Saddatullah? Do you believe that he is a member of the Pakistani government, or is he a retired official?
I donít know. All that we know is that there is a name that appears in the conversation. So, we need to go there to investigate. Pakistan has not allowed India to investigate. Pakistan has not given the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the right to investigate. Please remember, a few Americans were killed, and the FBI, by American law, is obliged to investigate. FBI asked [for] access that has been denied. And if Pakistan is also unwilling to investigate, now where do we go from here?†
It is believed that Colonel Saddatullah is a member of what is called the Special Communications Organisation (SCO); this has got close links with the Corps of Signals of the Pakistani Army. If thatís established, would that then prove that official agencies were involved?
And do youhave reason to believe that these links that I am talking about could be established?
I donít know. Unless someone is allowed to investigate.†
So it all hinges upon the access, and the investigation that follows thereafter?
The FBI is completely neutral, so why doesnít Pakistan let the FBI investigate?†
If the Pakistanis were now to come to you and say that they want access to Ajmal Kasab to question him, would you give them that access?
No. Ajmal has asked for consular access. We have passed on that request to Pakistan. Pakistan, to the best of my knowledge, has not responded to that request. So Pakistan would have to first admit that Kasab is a Pakistani citizen and they will therefore provide him consular access. We have now stopped at the very threshold.†
So, until they can accept that he is Pakistani, there is no question of them being given access to question?
No. First theyíll have to respond to his request for consular access. Without responding to your citizenís request for consular access, where is the question of asking another government permission to interrogate Kasab. That doesnít arise.†
Speaking not just as Home Minister, but as an eminent lawyer, which you also are, do you believe you have given them enough so they can press charges, particularly against people like Lakhvi and Zarar Shah [Laskar-e-Toiba leaders]?
They have enough information to interrogate Lakhvi and others. Of course, it has to be completed with further investigation on Pakistani soil and interrogating the suspects.†
Thereís a certain amount of confusion on Indiaís position [on] extradition. Is this a demand that you are insisting on, or is your position that you would be happy if the Pakistanis choose to prosecute and punish the accused on their soil?
Actually, itís either way. If crimes have been committed on Pakistani soil, for example a crime of conspiracy, Pakistani law would oblige Pakistan to prosecute a criminal in Pakistan. We understand that. But if they do not wish to prosecute the criminal in their country, we would be quite happy if they hand them over to India for prosecution and punishment. That is one set of accused. There is another set ó fugitives from Indian law. They have to be handed over to us.†
On the question of the fugitives, they have to be handed over?
Yes, because they are fugitives from Indian law.†
Letís talk about the steps that Pakistan has taken within the country itself. Have they made available to you any information that they have got from interrogation of the people they have detained?
None so far.
Complete silence from Pakistan?
Iíve not seen any material given by Pakistan about their investigation.†
Have we requested anything from them as yet?
Will you be doing so?
Thatís a matter on which I will take a call later. I do not want to prejudice the trial in Mumbai.†
Letís come to Hafeez Mohammed Saeed [the Lashkar founder]. As you know, recently his detention [period] was increased by two months but have any charges been pressed against him?
Not to my knowledge.
What about Masood Azhar? The Pakistanis claim that they donít know where he is. They say he may not even be in Pakistan.
Which is laughable, isnít it?
So to the best of your knowledge, you believe Masood Azhar is in Pakistan?
Thatís what my people and my Intelligence tell me. He is in Pakistan.
This also suggests the Pakistani government knows where he is, but they are simply putting up a wall?
I think so.
Do you believe that in the present circumstances of political turmoil, the Pakistani government has either the time or the inclination to pursue the Mumbai terror prosecution, or do you think inevitably they will set it aside?
Itíll be sad if they have neither the time nor the inclination, but Iím not going to take my eyes off the ball. Weíre going to remain focussed on this matter. We will apply pressure. We will use coercive diplomacy. We will insist that the criminals are brought to trial.
Up till now you had substantial support from Washington and London, who have a vested stake in ensuring that the accused are brought to justice. Will you get that same support, or might they now, sensing the turmoil in Pakistan, ease off a little?
No, I donít get that impression. In fact, all our visitors from the U.S. have assured us that they will stand by us and help us in applying pressure on Pakistan to bring the criminals to trial.
One of the issues raised by Pakistan which many people in India too would like to hear you answer is, how did the terrorists get access to Indian SIM cards. What is your answer?
Indian SIM cards are available in the Indian market. Someone buys the SIM card and smuggles it across the border, goes via the Nepal route. Itís not a difficult thing to do.
What Iím hinting at is this: would there have been some level of Indian or local involvement in the Mumbai terror attack?
The Mumbai investigation does not reveal any such involvement, except two Indians who prepared the maps.
Faheem Ansari and Salahuddin Ahmed?
Those were accessories before the fact ó that is not directly linked to the terrorists but their maps apparently were passed on to the 10 terrorists.
Just as you believe you have a deniable presumption that something like this could not have happened without the involvement of official agencies in Pakistan, might not the Pakistanis believe that they too have the right to presume that something of this size and scale could not have happened without any local involvement in India?
So what? They can make the presumption. It still doesnít make anyone responsible for any crime in Pakistan. It is still a crime in India.
But your position is that with the exception of Faheem Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed, we donít know of any involvement of locals so far.
I can only report to you what the investigation has revealed. I have no personal knowledge of the matter. The Mumbai police, which investigated the matter thoroughly, tells me, and the charge sheet says this ó only two Indians were involved.
Moving beyond the issue of bringing the accused to justice, has Pakistan done enough to actually dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on their soil?
None, to the best of knowledge.
Well, they claimed on January 15 that they had ended five LeT training camps, that they dismantled the wire network of the organisation and its website. Are you saying that this is not true?
These training camps, Karan, are not permanent structures. These are training camps which mushroomed in villages with kutcha structures. So they can be dismantled and they can be erected elsewhere. Weíve enough intelligence to believe that the controllers and handlers are still active. Theyíre still attempting to infiltrate people across the border and across the LoC. Thereís still a lot of communication between handlers and cadres in Kashmir. Therefore we have put our forces on a high alert between now and the elections.
Youíre also suggesting in fact that the people Pakistan may have detained may not be either sufficient, or they may not even be the right people, because communication between handlers and perpetrators has been continuing and you still have communication coming across the border that worries you?
Thereíre not only one or two handlers. They may have restrained or put under house arrest a couple of handlers but I think thereíre many more.
So in fact the network of terror that exists in Pakistan is almost unaffected by the steps that Pakistan has taken?
And therefore the quantum of threat that India faces remains virtually undiminished, too?
Thatís right, too.
Youíve two major events starting in less than 30 days time, the general elections and possibly the IPL cricket matches. How much threat do you face as a result of this continued undiminished terror network in Pakistan?
Itís quite high, but we are prepared. Our level of preparedness today, I think, is much higher than what it was a few months ago. We are on alert, and the elections will pass off peacefully. Weíve mobilised a large amount of security forces. The elections will take place in five phases and pass off peacefully. People should come out and vote. That is our fundamental right, instead of saying itís our fundamental duty. As far as the IPL is concerned, Iíve no comment as of now.
I know you have wisely restrained yourself from commenting on the IPL. I want to ask you a different question. Given that the IPL would provide easy, soft targets for the terrorists to strike ó large audiences, captive in stadiums ó do you think in such circumstances it would be better not to hold the IPL because that could be simply offering a temptation to terrorists?
The security for the IPL must be provided by the State governments. Because every IPL match takes place in one or other city in a State. Therefore we have asked the State governments to take a call on whether they can provide the security. My obligation is to provide the intelligence now and in the days ahead, which I will. But I made it clear that I cannot exempt any State government from giving to the Election Commission forces which they promised. Iíve also made it clear that I cannot spare any Central paramilitary forces.†
In fact the elections are the first priority undeniably?
And therefore any State that canít provide security to the IPL because it has to first provide it for the elections means that State canít really hold the IPL?
Itís not only security in that State. If an election is taking place in a neighbouring State, or just across the State border, if you have an IPL match in a State, there could be problems.
Youíre, in a sense, facing a dilemma. As Home Minister it is your duty to assure people that India is safe and matches can be held safely. But as an intelligent person whoís worried about the threat to security, particularly because of the turmoil in Pakistan, you must at one level say I do wish the organisers themselves could understand the situation and not put pressure and back off?
Let me make one thing clear. Iíve said and Iíll say it again, when cricket matches are held in India they are completely safe. Every cricket player will be safe; every cricket match will be conducted safely. The point is, because the two schedules [elections and IPL] virtually overlap it is difficult to give that assurance only for this time period of about 45 days. Before and after, there is no doubt in my mind that the State and Central governments can provide foolproof security to cricket matches or football matches or anything else.
Which means the organisers should read what youíre saying carefully and understand, and not let the IPL clash with the elections. And if the clash is inevitable, then the IPL should simply opt out?
I think the organisers are responsible people and patriotic Indians and I think theyíll take a call on it.
And they will come to this conclusion?
I donít know.
But you hope so?
Theyíre in touch with my officers and what is presented to me is the result of the discussions. The last time it was brought to my notice we issued a statement saying this schedule is not acceptable and they have to go back to the drawing board. They have come back with another schedule but the States have not come back with their response.
How quickly do you think thisíll be resolved?†
It depends upon when the States respond.
So it could take a while?
It could take a few days.
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