Mumbai Attacks 2008: Will Pakistan ever be forced to act?
Mumbai Attacks 2008: India has shared credible evidence, including audio clips, with the international community and Islamabad. However, despite global scrutiny, the trial of the 26/11 case in Islamabad has been at best a joke.
Mumbai Attacks 2008: It has been 14 years since the terrorists from Pakistan struck Mumbai. As India mourns those fallen to the bullets of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists during the four-day (26-29 November 2008) siege, the struggle to bring the key masterminds of the attack to justice continues without success. The unfortunate reality has been that Islamabad and its military establishment have used every means available to shield the accused terrorists. As External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar rightly stressed, “the task of bringing the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks remains “unfinished” and India will never give up on this objective.”
India has, since the outset, called out the main Lashkar conspirators, such as Hafiz Saeed, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hamas Sadie, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed, Younis Anjum, and Sajad Mir for planning and executing the Mumbai attacks from Pakistan. New Delhi has shared credible evidence, including audio clips, with the international community and Islamabad. However, despite global scrutiny which did force the Pakistani establishment to initiate an inquiry in 2009, the trial of the 26/11 case in Islamabad has been at best a joke.
Though the local court, at the lower level, booked Lakhvi, the LeT Operational Commander, along with six others in 2009, within five years, he was granted bail and eventually acquitted in 2015 with the prosecution failing to produce “credible evidence”. This was because Pakistan never intended to charge these men, used by its military establishment and ISI as assets to target the neighbouring countries, particularly India, and hence it has never accepted the evidence produced by New Delhi in the case as genuine. In fact, the ISI and Pakistani Army were accused of destroying the control room used by the LeT conspirators during the attack in Karachi. This in turn would have established patronage of terror by the Pakistani state and sanctions, the group received in carrying out the attacks.
Pakistan's track record has been that it would never take effective steps to curb terrorism, especially directed at other countries from its soil. Any action Islamabad takes against terrorists attacking the neighbours is often out of compulsion to get the country off the grey list of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) or to escape potential sanctions from the international community for shielding terrorists and terrorism. Pakistan's handling of the FATF highlights this fact very well. It is often forgotten that at the time of the Mumbai attacks, Islamabad was on the FATF grey list (since February 2008). Even then the grey list designation did not inhibit its spy agencies to go for a terrorist attack of such scale.
Quite naturally, the international community extended its support to India’s calls for bringing the 26/11 perpetrators to justice but it had little effect on Pakistan. It took symbolic action due to pressure exerted by the international community and used the sham trial to temporarily charge and imprison the seven LeT operatives led by Lakhvi. This strategy worked. Islamabad got itself delisted from the FATF grey list in 2010. Its bluff was soon called off within only two years and Pakistan was put on the grey list in 2012 for not taking enough measures to combat money laundering and combating terror financing.
Interesting to note here is the way the case against Lakhvi proceeded. As Pakistan secured its second FATF delisting in February 2015 for presumably having “established the legal and regulatory framework” to curb terror financing, Lakhvi was bailed out by the authorities within two months, in April 2015. The same month, on April 21, 2015, the Islamabad Sessions court acquitted the LeT operations commander for “lack of evidence.” With its continued nurturing of terrorism and because of “strategic deficiencies” to prevent terror financing and money laundering on its soil, Pakistan was greylisted by FATF again in June 2018.
As Islamabad scrambled to lobby for third delisting from the FATF grey list since 2018, it was again forced to take some piecemeal actions, choreographed stunts it has mastered over time, against some of the well-known terror figures being nurtured by the state agencies. After failing to convince the international community to delist Pakistan in October 2020, the Pakistani authorities were forced to take some action against Hafiz Saeed, the LeT founder, in November 2020, followed by the conviction of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi in a terror financing case in January 2021. Interestingly, this time round, Islamabad was forced to arrest Sajad Mir, the LeT operations manager, who was pronounced dead by the Pakistani authorities as recently as in December 2021.
This shows how successfully Pakistan has managed to fool the international community by shielding and nurturing the groups which are actively committing terrorism in the region, especially against India. Even in that case, if the global community could have persisted, Islamabad could have been pushed to take some precipitate action against the terrorists and forced their sponsors within the system to change their tack. The FATF example suggests that the international community could penalise Pakistan for not handing over the accused terrorists in the Mumbai Attacks to India or push it to join a joint judicial inquiry for a fair conclusion to the 26/11 trial, so that there could have been some progress on bringing the terrorists to justice.
Unfortunately, some major powers like China have to take much blame for blocking New Delhi's attempts to get some terrorists-- based in Pakistan and instrumental in waging sustained terror campaigns inside India-- listed at the international level and, importantly, in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and they could have been subjected to IN sanctions. It does not behove China, an aspiring global power, to shield forces of terror in the garb of extending its diplomatic umbrella to Pakistan. It amazes me how the Chinese could forget the role of Pakistan-based groups in fanning and fuelling extremism in their troubled Xinxiang region, through Afghanistan.
India has consistently called on Pakistan to join the judicial inquiry process and provide access to the people it deems important for bringing the perpetrators of terrorism to justice. Even as it maintained a charade of punitive action against some of the terrorists like Saeed and Lakhvi in December 2020-January 2021, Islamabad repeatedly ignored New Delhi’s attempts to seek access to the witnesses in the case, even through video conferencing, offering laughable excuses that the Indian authorities could intimidate the witnesses during the examination. This establishes the fact that Pakistan is not even remotely interested in fighting terrorism. Its piecemeal actions are nothing but farcical shows to fool the international community. It is very strange that having suffered much from its sponsorship of terror over three decades, Islamabad continues to hide behind diplomatic jargons to belittle India’s legitimate charges and evade its accountability and role.