Scarcely three months after the Mumbai terror attacks, senior Indian officials expressed appreciation for the “remarkable” progress achieved with Pakistan in the context of the ensuing investigation.
The positive assessment of Pakistan’s contribution to the investigation, made by erstwhile Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to the incoming United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrook, was revealed by the WikiLeaks whistleblower website. WikiLeaks began publicly publishing over 250,000 private State Department cables since the weekend.
Meeting with Mr. Holbrooke shortly after he assumed his role in January, Mr. Menon also sought to dispel reports of growing concerns in India that Mr. Holbrooke’s mandate included the Kashmir question. According to the cable Mr. Menon said the Indian government was aware of the “suspicions the media had created”, in this regard and he emphasised that “India has a huge stake” in Mr. Holbrooke’s success and promised to say so publicly.
On Pakistan’s role in investigating the Mumbai attacks, Mr. Menon had said at a media briefing in early January 2009, “Nobody has told us [about persons arrested in the case] officially yet from Pakistan... We have seen a similar thing when [Lashkar-e-Taiba] was declared a terrorist organisation after the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. And within three months, they were back in business... So, frankly, what we have seen so far does not impress us.”
However, in the meeting with Mr. Holbrooke, described in a U.S. embassy cable addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and dated February 17, 2009, Mr. Menon described it as being on a “positive track” and said, “We haven’t reached the point of no return yet” for the Pakistani government to positively conclude the investigation.
He did note that Pakistan had further to go to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice, speculating, for example, that many of the “30 questions” submitted by Pakistan were added post-investigation in response to domestic pressures. He also cautioned Mr. Holbrooke about the possibility that, similar to the Daniel Pearl case, the investigation could “recede when public pressure wanes.”
Using the opportunity to press the U.S. to exercise its influence, “"where it matters most”, Mr. Menon argued that most of the problems in Pakistan could be traced to the capacity and intentions of Pakistan’s military. These ought to be redirected from east to west and the military must also “cut its links to jihadi organisations” that had gone global over the past five years, he said.
Indian role in Afghanistan
In the conversation described by the cable, it was clear that Mr. Menon drew attention to India’s role in Afghanistan, in particular confiding in Mr. Holbrooke that India planned to tell Afghan Lower House Speaker Mohammad Yunis Qanuni, who was then in New Delhi, that wrangling over an exact date for the election should not be allowed “to bring the house down”.
To do so would only be in the Taliban’s interest, Mr. Menon added, and in reply, Mr. Holbrooke urged Mr. Menon to tell Mr. Qanuni to accept the August 20 election date. Mr. Menon also hinted that Iran ought to be included in a Core Group of countries consulting on Afghanistan. He further added that Iran had been “signalling to India” for four months that it was not interested in having China participate in such a group.
During their meeting Mr. Menon also debriefed Mr. Holbrooke on his attempts, during his time as Pakistan High Commissioner, to explain to President Pervez Musharraf exactly what India was doing in Afghanistan; but Pakistani officials, “not just Musharraf — have avoided it in every way,” Mr. Menon said.