Britain on Saturday called on Pakistan to see through in “a full way” the trial of seven suspects arrested in connection with the Mumbai attacks and to punish them if they are found guilty.
“I think the fact that seven people are now on trial is significant and important,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said during a joint news conference with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
“That trial needs to be seen through in a full way. And if people are found guilty, they obviously need to be then punished,” he said.
He said there was “no point in denying that the Mumbai attacks were a very significant setback for all of us who hoped for closer cooperation between India and Pakistan“.
Mr. Miliband believed there is a “strong commitment” on the part of the governments of both countries to pursue better relations.
The Foreign Secretary averted several pointed questions from the Pakistani media about pressure purportedly being applied on Islamabad by New Delhi by allegedly cutting off river waters and talk of a “war under a nuclear overhang“.
He recalled that when he visited Pakistan in January 2009 in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, he had said that “Pakistani authorities needed to move farther and faster in tackling the roots of those attacks because they were not just murderous in themselves but they were a grave danger to the cooperation between India and Pakistan”.
Seven suspects – Lashker-e-Taiba operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Zarar Shah, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Abu al-Qama, Shahid Jamil Riaz, Younas Anjum and Jamil Ahmed - were last year charged by an anti-terrorism court for planning and helping execute the assault on India’s financial hub in November 2008.
Last week, the court rejected their application for acquittal.
In response to another question, Mr. Miliband said a civilian democratic government is the “best kind of government for Pakistan” and this had been shown by the Pakistan People’s Party-led administration established two years ago.
“I think that it’s very important that all friends of Pakistan support a civilian government here because it’s a vital basis for any kind of progress. The unity that now exists between the people and government is evidence of that,” he said.
The unity in Pakistan in the counter-terrorism field is “extremely striking”, Mr. Miliband said.
“The people and the government and security forces of Pakistan recognise the shared threat that exists internally and the need to unite (against it). That has given significant confidence to the international community,” he added.
Britain is committed to providing Pakistan development aid of 665 million pounds over four years and political and security cooperation between the two sides is “deep”, he said.
At the same time, Mr. Miliband acknowledged that if the world community did not begin delivering on its pledges for aid, it would breed “distrust, cynicism and scepticism“.
The International Monetary Fund package for Pakistan too “is necessary but difficult and challenging” and several upcoming meetings involving the world community will help address such issues, he said.
On his arrival in Islamabad, Mr. Miliband said Britain and Pakistan are linked by shared political commitments to stability in South Asia and democracy.
“The reasons for my visit are, first of all, to hear from Pakistan’s leaders not just in Islamabad but elsewhere in the country about the political, economic and security challenges that Pakistan faces and how it’s going about meeting them,” he added.
Pakistan’s armed forces and civilians had “suffered greatly not least over the last year from terrorist violence and they are showing great sacrifice in taking on the internal terrorist threat that I believe is the greatest threat to the future of Pakistan,” he said.
Besides Qureshi, Miliband will also hold talks with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
Among other issues, he will discuss the London conference on Afghanistan to be held on January 28. The meet will bring together over 60 countries to discuss how the world community can support the Afghan government.