The media in Pakistan and India have both found it difficult, given the emotionally charged atmosphere, to ask the hard questions or try and unravel the manifest contradictions in the accounts that appeared in the Indian and international media regarding the horrific carnage to which Mumbai was subjected.
The government of India has to date issued no official statement on what transpired and who was responsible beyond Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement less than 24 hours after the attacks, saying there were “external linkages” and the attacks were carried out by a group “based outside the country”. A couple of days later, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that elements from Pakistan were involved.
From the official statements issued on both sides, it appears that a list of names has been provided by India with the request that those of Indian nationality be transferred to India while the Pakistanis to be prosecuted in Pakistan under Pakistani law. It is made to sound extremely reasonable but in no case so far – as one can judge, again by official statements – has there been any evidence presented that any of these people were involved in the Mumbai tragedy. In fact, the Indian foreign minister stated that they were still completing the investigation and that once this was completed, information may be shared with Pakistan. This equivocal statement was accompanied by the complaint that in the past India had shared evidence but this had not produced results.
The burden of the Indian song has been that Pakistan’s President Musharraf and subsequently President Zardari had vowed to prevent the use of Pakistan’s territory for terrorist activity and that they were justified therefore in asking that Pakistan dismantle the terrorist network that they allege exists on Pakistan’s territory.
By their reckoning, it was unimportant to establish that this had a connection with the Mumbai carnage. What does not appear to have struck the Indians is that at this time, the focus must be not on an airing of old Indian grievances, no matter how justified they may be, but on providing the evidence that establishes the connection the attackers in Mumbai had with elements in Pakistan and that these elements were criminally responsible for the events in Mumbai.
While an unnecessary hysteria has been created in both countries, the media has set aside its primary task: asking the hard questions and getting the right information out to its readers and viewers so that the public makes informed judgements rather than rushing off blindly into condemnatory mode.
Some of the questions that need to be asked in India are:
How did the number of terrorists arrested shrink from the 9 mentioned by the Maharashtra chief minister on November 27, or the 3 mentioned by the knowledgeable Praveen Swami of the Hindu, to become 1 terrorist only. The Washington Post of November 28 says that according to Indian officials “several gunmen were captured”.
How was it that this hardened terrorist, presumably trained to remain silent, became so talkative that all details of his journey and his companions were revealed in the first few hours of his detention?
A truth serum can work wonders, but then why did it take him eight days to reveal that an explosive device had been planted at the railway station where he had wreaked havoc, and where he had almost seemed to pose for surveillance cameras to create the image that may well become the enduring icon for the tragedy? Surely the interrogators, having learnt that each of the attackers was carrying explosives, must have asked him where he had used them?
Some accounts suggest that the explosives Kasab and his colleague carried may have been exhausted since they were planted in taxis and at a place called Byculla. If Kasab did not plant the explosives at the railway station then who did?
Why is it that account after account in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other newspapers suggests that the number of attackers were far more than the 10 that current official accounts indicate? Even the Hindu’s account states that an estimated 12 people were in the boats/dinghies that arrived on Mumbai’s coast? Most reports relying on “eyewitnesses” assert that eight people got off the boat at the fishing village close to the Taj and conjecture that other members of the group had landed elsewhere.
Who were the people to whom Mukhtar, the Kashmir police undercover agent arrested in Kolkata, transferred the mobile phone SIMs he had acquired, which were allegedly used by the terrorists? Did he know how they got to the terrorists? Did he know the identity of the terrorists or their handlers, and if so, why did he not make this information available to the authorities in Mumbai?
How does one reconcile the home minister’s statement on the killing of Mumbai ATS chief Hemant Karkare, in which he states that the police vehicle in which Karkare was killed was snatched after killing Karkare and others from outside the Cama hospital, while earlier accounts say that after the firing at the railway station, the terrorists commandeered a police van but abandoned it when it got a flat tyre and then drove off in a Skoda? It was while they were in this Skoda, the BBC account says, that they fired at numerous targets including the Cama and Albless Hospital.
Why cannot the Pakistan authorities be informed, even while the investigation continues, about the list of Pakistani numbers that were called on the satellite phone that was found on the fishing boat or on the mobile phones that were used by the terrorists while they were in the Taj and Oberoi? This, after all, is supposed to be the corroboration to the “confession” extracted from Kasab. The Wall Street Journal reports that “Along with a confession from the one gunman captured in the attacks, officials cited phone calls intercepted by satellite during the attacks that connected the assailants to members of Lashkar-e Taiba in Pakistan, and the recovered satellite phone from the boat”.
Who among the people listed by India in the demarche presented to Pakistan were responsible for the Mumbai incident or is this the same list that has been presented to Pakistan before the Mumbai tragedy most recently at the meeting of the interior secretaries meeting in Islamabad hours before the Mumbai incident unfolded?
On the Pakistani side too, there are a number of questions that need to be addressed:
How did the people in the presidency allow the president to take a fake call from the Indian foreign minister?
Whose briefing did the president rely on when he said that the Indian violation of our airspace was “technical” and that the Indian military authorities, when they were contacted, were “apologetic”? The Indians maintain that there was no violation and, more importantly, that the first DGMO-to-DGMO contact took place three days after the violation.
On what briefings did our defence minister and our foreign minister base their statements about Masood Azhar that were subsequently found to be inaccurate?
The Director of Interpol made it clear that like Pakistan, he too had received no evidence from the Indians about the involvement of Pakistani elements in the Mumbai attack. Yet our friends, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, stated on our soil on December 14 with no uncertainty that Lashkar-e Tayba was responsible for the attack. Secretary Rice maintained after her visit to Pakistan on December 4 that Pakistan had been given “sufficient information” to take action against the organisers of last week’s attacks in Mumbai. Did Brown and Rice share with us the basis for their assertions, and if so, what is our position?
The befogging emotions that are so easily aroused in any Indo-Pak crisis make dispassionate investigative reporting difficult, and yet this is exactly the time when it is most needed.
Article originally published in Daily Times; reproduced with permission DT.
The writer is a former foreign secretary