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Pakistan Seeks Unified Response To Mounting Indian Pressure

Pakistani students march as they shout anti-Indian slogans in Lahore.
Facing mounting pressure from India in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks, Pakistani political leaders gathered in Islamabad behind closed doors on December 2 to decide on a unified course of action.

A main topic of discussion was India's request that Islamabad hand over some 20 most-wanted "fugitives" it believes are hiding in Pakistan.

Speaking to journalists, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee shed light on demands handed to the Pakistani ambassador on December 1.

"[We have asked] for the arrest and handover of those persons who are settled in Pakistan and who are fugitives of Indian law," Mukherjee said. "Therefore, there is a list of about 20 persons -- lists are sometimes altered -- and this exercise is going on, and we have renewed it in our demarche [to Pakistan], and we will await the response from Pakistan."

Reportedly at the top of the list is Daud Ibrahim, a reputed former Mumbai mafia don who is now the most-wanted man in India.

Also on the list is Maulana Masood Azhar, leader of the banned Pakistani militant group Jaish-e Mohammed (Army of Muhammad). Azhar was released from an Indian prison in December 1999 as part of a ransom payment in exchange for a hijacked Indian passenger jet. The airliner was subsequently flown to the Taliban-controlled southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman told reporters that Islamabad will respond after receiving the list and looking at it "formally."

Scrambling For A Response

The fresh demands and India's posturing have led Pakistan's government to scramble to formulate a unified response.

In Islamabad, leaders of all political parties met on December 2 in a government-sponsored National Security Conference.

"Today, the prime minister of Pakistan has invited all the political leaders and notables to [participate in a meeting] in Islamabad. So we can seek their guidance, we can consult them," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in a televised statement. "And this way we can decide on a common national strategy."

Qureshi maintained that Pakistan has offered its traditional archrival India "all possible assistance and cooperation" to investigate the Mumbai attacks.

"The government of Pakistan has offered India to form a joint investigating mechanism and a joint commission that can help them get to the bottom of this whole thing," he said.

'No Need For Worrying'

But anti-Pakistan sentiments are already on the rise in Indian media and public opinion, leaving many Pakistanis fearing the issue could lead to war between the two neighbors.

Qureshi tried to calm such fears. "I want to tell our nation that there is no need for worrying," he said. "The government of Pakistan and the Pakistani Army are united. And they are fully capable of defending Pakistan's borders, Pakistan's geography, and Pakistan's ideology."

However, Nawaz Sharif, leader of one of Pakistan's major political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Group), said India was not blaming the Pakistani government for the Mumbai attacks. Sharif's comments were made to journalists after his meeting with the Indian ambassador in Islamabad earlier in the day.

"He told me that they are not blaming Pakistan. They haven't blamed the government of Pakistan, they haven't blamed any Pakistani institution, which is working under the government," Sharif said. "So, therefore, they are trying to identify the culprits.

"I said, 'Well, if you have any concrete evidence against any Pakistani who was involved, please let us know.' "
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.

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