India puts Pakistan to Masood Azhar test

December 22nd, 2008 - 9:17 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 22 (IANS) With Pakistan in denial after the Mumbai terror attacks, India has put Islamabad to a “sincerity test” by asking it to hand over Maulana Masood Azhar, the mastermind in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament who New Delhi freed after a hijacking eight years ago. “There is absolutely no reason why Azhar cannot be handed over to us,” an official source said here Monday. “Pakistan has an obligation under international law to hand him over to us.”

The source went on: “The lack of an extradition treaty is no excuse. It is a matter of principles. They can do so under the previous British acts of parliament.”

Maulana Azhar was freed with two other Islamist leaders jailed in India after an Indian Airline aircraft was hijacked by gunmen from Nepal to Kandahar in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in December 1999. The hijackers were Pakistanis, India says. Islamabad denies this.

Indian investigators say Azhar, who later moved to Pakistan and addressed public meetings there, founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed group, which carried out the audacious attack on Indian parliament in December 2001.

The storming of parliament left 14 people dead, including all five terrorists who India says were also Pakistanis. The incident almost led to a war between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan has cited the lack of an extradition treaty, among other reasons, for refusing to hand over 40 fugitives from Indian law who New Delhi says are involved in terrorist and criminal activities. Those in the list include Laskhar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohamed Saeed, who has been linked to the Mumbai terror carnage, and Indian crime boss Dawood Ibrahim.

The source brushed aside Pakistani claims that India had not provided proof against those it seeks.

“They have enough evidence for everything. It’s for them to prove their sincerity,” the source said, pointing to flip-flops by Pakistan over concerns about the involvement of Pakistanis in the Nov 26-29 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

“We have done our investigation. We will make evidence available to them. But they have not done anything with the evidence given in the past,” said the source. “We want perpetrators of (terror) attacks and other incidents to face Indian justice.”

Since the Mumbai savagery that killed over 170 people, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has also referred to Azhar while speaking about fugitives India is seeking.

Although he has not been linked to Mumbai, India feels that Pakistan’s
stance on Azhar reveals its duplicity in taking “meaningful and concrete” action against terrorists.

Mukherjee has stated that since Pakistan denies any involvement in the 1999 hijacking, it has no right to host Azhar — one of those India freed to save the Indian Airlines passengers and crew.

New Delhi feels that Islamabad could be pressured to deliver Azhar to India - a step that could go a long way to ease tensions between India and Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Azhar’s name figured in the demarche India sent to Pakistan five days after the Mumbai mayhem. Under pressure from the international community, Pakistan Defence Minister Chaudhary Ahmad Mukhtar said last week that the militant was under house arrest.

A day later, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said: “We are awaiting the latest reports about Maulana Azhar.”

Pakistan’s envoy to India Shahid Malik complicated the picture when he told a TV news channel that Pakistan had not detained Azhar. He insisted that Azhar was not even in Pakistan.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Dawn TV Dec 17 that Azhar was in custody but a few hours later the state-run APP news agency quoted him as saying: “Maulana Azhar is wanted by the government of Pakistan but he is at large.”

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said that India has not closed any option, including a military strike, in a bid to shut down the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan.

But New Delhi realises that its options are complicated by the lack of a strong government in Islamabad and the “multiplicity of centres of power” in that country.

“We are dealing with a fragmented Pakistan where formal authority is separated by real power. We don’t know who runs Pakistan,” a source said.

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