Chill is real, India-Pakistan composite dialogue “on hold”

December 5th, 2008 - 3:29 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 5 (IANS) With Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari saying no to returning fugitives from Indian law and little sign of cooperation coming from Islamabad in the wake of Mumbai’s terror attacks, India has decided to put its bilateral dialogue “on hold” till its concerns are addressed.”The talks are on hold till the atmosphere is conducive for such an engagement. It’s not possible to carry on the dialogue in this atmosphere,” highly-placed sources told IANS, indicating New Delhi’s exasperation with the lack of an adequate response from Islamabad to its demarche.

“If the atmosphere it not right, how can we carry on the dialogue. The atmosphere has been vitiated,” sources added.

The decision to suspend what is called the composite dialogue process has come after more damning evidence emerged, linking not just Pakistan-based elements but its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), to the Mumbai blasts. New Delhi is convinced “without a shadow of doubt” about Pakistan’s spy agency ISI’s involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks and is readying to present to Islamabad “a list of ISI handlers” who allegedly masterminded the terror strikes, reliable sources said.

The first casualty of the chill in India-Pakistan ties in the aftermath of Mumbai carnage has been trade talks - an area in which the new civilian government in Islamabad has shown great enthusiasm, echoing India’s long-standing position on improving relations through trade ties.

India has called off a trip by a Planning Commission team which was going to Islamabad to lay the groundwork and finalise the dates for a visit by Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Ahluwalia was to return a visit by his Pakistani counterpart Salman Faruqui who came here earlier this month and explored the possibility of cooperation in building Metro and in renewable energy.

India and Pakistan launched the fifth round of composite dialogue in July in the shadow of the bombings outside the Indian mission in Kabul. New Delhi blamed the ISI for the blasts, which put the dialogue process under strain.

In less than two weeks it’s a dramatic U-turn in India-Pakistan relations. On the fateful night of Nov 26, less than an hour before the Mumbai mayhem started, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi were talking confidently about boosting trade, people-to-people contacts and combating terrorism. India was also seriously considering sending Indian cricket team to Pakistan after a stringent security review.

But three days later, India was accusing Pakistan-based elements of fomenting terror attacks in Mumbai and speculation was rife about troops build-up on the border.

In the demarche served Dec 1, India made it clear that the perpetrators of Mumbai terror attacks came from Pakistan and asked Islamabad to take “strong action” against those elements New Delhi suspects to be behind the blasts. India also asked Pakistan to hand over most wanted fugitives from Indian law and to proscribe militant outfits. The most wanted list includes Laskhar-e-Taiba leader Mohammad Hafeez Saeed, ex-Mumbai crimeboss Dawood Ibrahim and Jaish-e-Mohammad outfit’s chief Masood Azhar.

In response, Zardari offered a joint investigation team, which has been cold-shouldered by India. Subsequently, Zardari rejected the demand for handing over of fugitives asking India to produce evidence so that they can be prosecuted in Pakistani courts. India claims it has provided strong evidence in the past - the list of India’s 20 most wanted dates back to 2002 in the aftermath of the Dec 13, 2001 attack on Indian parliament and will decide on its next step after a formal response from Pakistan on this issue.

There is also a growing perception among the US security and intelligence establishment about the involvement of the ISI and LeT in the Mumbai attacks.

With these disclosures as a backdrop, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has sent a tough, no-nonsense message to Pakistan, asking it to cooperate “urgently and transparently” with India in tracking the perpetrators of the Mumbai mayhem that killed 172 people, including six Americans.

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