Home Minister P. Chidambaram speaks to Karan Thapar for the programme Devil's Advocate, telecast on CNN-IBN. Edited excerpts.
Has the revelation that at least two of the 30-odd Indians who you believed were fugitives from justice hiding in Pakistan, are living in Mumbai, embarrassed the Home Ministry?
Obviously, it embarrasses the Ministry of Home Affairs. We rely on lists given by the CBI, which is the Interpol's National crime division. They maintain the list of most wanted [persons] against whom red corner notices are given. Please remember, both mistakes occurred in one part of the list, namely the red corner notices, and that is a list prepared by the CBI. It is embarrassing, it is regrettable. Since the list was handed over formally by the Home Secretary, we have taken, what I would call constructive responsibility.
Reports suggest there is a third person on that list given to Pakistan, a certain C.N. Bashir, who is not in Pakistan, but in Sharjah, and there are TV channels saying that the CBI has a different list of most wanted where three people are dead and their red corner notices have not been withdrawn. Overall, looking at the government as a whole, not just the Home Ministry, all the agencies, people say this is incompetence.
Well, that's a very harsh word. It's a mistake, or two mistakes. Now Bashir, that's speculation. He may have been in Pakistan. He may have moved out of Pakistan. These fugitives don't stay in one place. They move from country to country... The mistakes have occurred in the red corner notices list and the CBI has owned up the mistake and the MHA has accepted constructive responsi bility. Now if you want to raise it to the level of incompetence, that's your call.
So many of these lapses originate with the Interpol division of the CBI. What does the government propose to do about the CBI?
I don't know. That's under the Ministry of Personnel and I'm sure that the Ministry of State for Personnel, sort of directly oversees: and I'll use the word carefully because CBI has large degree of autonomy and I'm sure they will take steps to tone up the Interpol division. The Director of CBI has already said he has asked a Special Director to look into the Interpol division and thoroughly overall the division.
One of the questions that has arisen following the American special operation in Abbottabad is: does India have the ability and the capacity to carry out similar operations in Pakistan?
I think this question is asked by people, who, naturally, are not aware of the special relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, and the special position which U.S. security forces have already established in Pakistan. It's that special relationship, the special position, which the U.S. security forces enjoy in Pakistan, it's the special privilege that is given to them that allowed them to carry out this exercise which, in every way was a brilliant exercise. We do not have those special privileges. Therefore, if the question is a theoretical question, can Indian forces carry out a special operation in a country, under certain circumstances, that's the way the question should be framed. I would say we've some capacity, but we've many constraints too.
You suggested that in the absence of the special facilities America has in Pakistan, and given that India is not America, and Pakistan is likely to retaliate, we may have the theoretical capacity, but we would have to think very carefully and sagaciously before we order a special operation in Pakistan.
My statement was not in the context of Pakistan, I said, a country if you ask me theoretically, do we have the capacity to do it in ‘a' country. So I was not talking about Pakistan at all. I think on Pakistan, the Prime Minister's statement, although cryptic, encompasses everything. We're not the U.S.
We're not the U.S… Can I ask you to spell that out? What you're really suggesting is that Pakistan would retaliate if we took action in a way in which it is unable to retaliate against the U.S. and that retaliation could lead to something further, and that would be a cause of concern. Is that the correct spelling?
I would not say ‘yes' or ‘no' to that, but theoretically, all that you said would be relevant considerations.
And, therefore, theoretically all this would weigh on the mind of the government, were you ever in a position to consider such operations?
Theoretically, again, yes.
Bin Laden had been living, undetected, in a garrison town, in the centre of urban Pakistan, for five years or maybe more. It's possible that beyond that he spent two further years, in a village in northern Pakistan. What does that reveal about Pakistan?
It reveals that there are several power structures in Pakistan, that the civilian government is not in total control of neither information nor intelligence. And within the civilian government, perhaps there are people with asymmetric knowledge of what's going on in the country.
In your eyes, does the fact that bin Laden was able to live in Abbottabad for five years without being detected, suggest Pakistani complicity on terror, or incompetence in tackling terror?
No, I don't think [the question of] incompetence comes here. I think there is a certain degree of collaboration between certain power centres in Pakistan, which allowed Osama bin Laden to find a sanctuary in Pakistan. I'd say I suspect collaboration.
Has it changed the security perception of Pakistan that you have as Home Minister?
Well, it has, to some extent. That if they can shelter someone so notorious as Osama bin Laden, then it confirms our suspicions that they are sheltering many more…And therefore, we have to be constantly on alert. We cannot afford to lower our vision. Therefore, we have to be prepared to face a situation where many other potential terrorists have found potential sanctuary in Pakistan. That's the worry.