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New Delhi warns of ‘hard-hitting’ response

December 17, 2001

NEW DELHI, Dec 16: Indian officials squarely blamed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies on Sunday for last week’s audacious armed attack on Delhi’s Parliament House and Home Minister Lal Krishan Advani said New Delhi was considering an as yet unspecified but a decidedly hard-hitting response which did not exclude a hot pursuit of militant targets across the border.

The more or less clear hint to the road ahead came from Advani himself, who said: “During the Kargil war, world leaders who used words like restraint and patience to nudge and shape India’s approach to the crisis have dropped the words since Thursday. That is significant.”

Advani, seen as an anti-Pakistan hawk in the ruling coalition, told the popular Aaj Tak news channel that the Indian people wanted hard action against the culprits of Thursday and the government understood their anxiety. He said India was not waiting for any response from Pakistan to its Friday’s demarche and would take any suitable action at its own convenience without consulting any other country.

Advani’s remarks came as Delhi Police Commissioner Ajai Raj Sharma said that the attack on Parliament House was carried out by “members of the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-i-Mohammed at the behest of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).”

Sharma told a news conference that four persons — Mohammed Afzal, Shaukat, Shaukat’s wife and Abdul Rehman Geelani, a professor at the Zakir Hussain College of Delhi University, — had been arrested in connection with the attack.

Afzal and Shaukat — commission agents and residents of Sopore in Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla district — were the brains behind the conspiracy, he said.

They were being motivated by Ghazi Baba, described as a top commander of the Jaish in Kashmir, to carry out the attack, he said.

The Jaish is headed by Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the militants released in exchange for Indian Airlines plane hijacked to Kandahar in December 1999.

In some very significant ways Sharma’s story was at stark variance with the brief on the attack given to the media by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee among others.

Vajpayee had told journalists at a media seminar on Friday that the terrorists were well prepared and had been trained for months to carry out the attack on the Parliament House. He said their motive was to kill MPs and to take hostages to press for some unspecified demands.

Sharma said that Geelani and Shaukat’s wife had revealed that the conspiracy was hatched at Shaukat’s residence in Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar recently. But perhaps even more significantly, he said: “These people went to the airport first, but later changed their mind and headed towards Parliament.”

The move to switch their target from the airport to the British-built Parliament House obviously could not have been part of any well-trained or rehearsed attack on the parliament, or the heart of Indian democracy that Vajpayee spoke of, analysts said.

Sharma said that though the ISI had told the Jaish and Lashkar-i-Tayiba to carry out the attack, the actual attack was carried out by members of the Jaish. Before the attack took place, the leader of the suicide attack squad — Mohammed — had called up Shaukat and told him to watch television and tell them which of the prominent parliamentarians were present in the House, he said. However, when Shaukat did not call back, the terrorists decided to go ahead with the attack, he said.