ISLAMABAD, Nov 28: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday surprised his Indian counterpart when within hours of his request to send the head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to Delhi for the purpose of sharing evidence of Pakistan’s possible link with the Mumbai terror attack, the government in Islamabad agreed to send the ISI chief to India to establish beyond doubt that there was no direct or indirect involvement of Pakistan in the incident.
The decision to send Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of Pakistan’s premier intelligence service, to New Delhi was announced by the prime minister’s office after Mr Gilani held a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari and the two leaders discussed the issue and its various aspects with other important players, including the heads of the security establishment.
No date has been fixed for the unprecedented trip, but the PM’s office statement said modalities of the visit were being worked out. Earlier in the day Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to Prime Minister Gilani on telephone and besides exchanging views on the mysterious and agonising developments in India’s commercial hub of Mumbai, requested him to send the intelligence chief to look at what he described as “evidence” which New Delhi thought linked Pakistan with the terror attack.
The situation had become tense earlier in the day when Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee took a step forward in the finger-pointing game by declaring that suspects of the Mumbai carnage might have links with Pakistan. Though this was the first direct attack on Pakistan, a section of the Indian media had already accused Islamabad of being in complicity in the affair, with a few of them referring to the “Punjabi accent” of a couple of terrorists as proof of Pakistan’s involvement.
As the Pakistan-bashing continued in a section of the Indian electronic and print media, some of Pakistani television channels launched an anti-India tirade, with a few indirectly blaming the Mumbai carnage on the Indian establishment.
Official sources said that as the tension started to mount between the two countries, the Pakistani leadership considered that there was a need to look for an out-of-box action to defuse the situation.“Since we had nothing to hide, we thought there was no harm in calling the Indian bluff by agreeing to the request to send the ISI chief to Delhi,” a senior official privy to the developments told Dawn. So, within hours of the telephonic conversion between the two prime ministers, Mr Gilani and President Zardari had a closed-door meeting, which was later joined by other leaders and officials. And as Delhi maintained an eerie silence over the content of the two prime ministers’ talks, Islamabad announced its decision to send the ISI chief to Delhi to discuss the issues with the Indian authorities.
“Mr Gilani has accepted the offer and now the two sides will work out modalities for the visit of the ISI Director General, Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha, which is expected to take place soon,” prime minister’s spokesman Zahid Bashir told Dawn.
However, no exact date of the visit has been fixed, and a senior official said that for reasons of agreeing on the modalities of such an unusual visit, it might not be possible for the ISI chief to travel to Delhi before early next week.
If this visit at all takes place, the recently appointed director general of the agency will be the first head of the premier intelligence service to visit India in connection with the investigation of a terror attack in India.
The prime minister’s spokesman said the Indian prime minister had made a request to Mr Gilani, asking him to send the ISI chief to India to “cooperate in the investigation of the Mumbai attacks and for sharing certain information”. President Zardari also talked to Mr Singh and offered full cooperation from Pakistan in investigating the carnage. “Our government will cooperate with India in exposing and apprehending the culprits and the masterminds,” he said.
Mr Zardari said non-state actors wanted to force upon the governments their own agenda but they must not be allowed to succeed. “We should not fall into the trap of the militants,” he said.
Sources in the government were quick to describe it as a bold move to defuse the tension before the blame game took an alarming turn and started to derail the peace process. “It was an important and bold gesture as the government believes there was nothing to hide,” one of the officials said.
However, some opposition parties and a few former security officials were not impressed. The opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N’s spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said the government had not taken their party into confidence before taking the decision. “Although we are committed to extending full cooperation in the investigations, it should be done through established diplomatic channels and norms,” he said.
Mr Ahsan said the PML-N strongly condemned the terrorist acts in Mumbai and termed it an absolute brutality against the humanity.
“Pakistan is a peaceful country with peace-loving people who believe in co-existence with all countries and especially with India being our closest neighbour. We have considered view that the regional peace of the entire subcontinent solely depends on the peaceful and friendly relationship between India and Pakistan. Both the countries being nuclear powers are supposed to show their great sense of responsibility,” he concluded.
When contacted, former ISI chief Lt-Gen (retd) Hameed Gul opposed the government’s decision saying it was tantamount to summoning top security officials of the country by the Indian government. “Will India ever send RAW’s chief if he is called by Pakistan in case of any terrorist activity in the country?,” he asked.
He said it was happening for the first time in the history of the country that the chief of the premier intelligence agency was being sent to India on its demand amid accusations that terrorists involved in the Mumbai attack had links with Pakistan.
Gen Gul said India had made a demand of disbanding the ISI after it accused the agency of being involved in the Indian Embassy blast in Kabul this year.
Another former chief of the ISI, Lt-Gen Asad Durrani, refused to offer any comment on the issue.