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ISI hand less than ?clinching?

INDIA HAS "pretty good" but probably not "clinching" evidence of the involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Mumbai train blasts of July 11, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan has said.

india Updated: Oct 23, 2006 14:43 IST

INDIA HAS "pretty good" but probably not "clinching" evidence of the involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Mumbai train blasts of July 11, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan has said.

"I would hesitate to say we have clinching evidence but we have pretty good evidence," Narayanan said on the programme Devil's Advocate on CNN-IBN. This is the first time any Indian official has spoken about the quality of the evidence against the Pakistani spy agency's role in the Mumbai blasts.

"I think it is as good evidence as we can possibly get in terrorist cases," said Narayanan. "Whether it is clinching, is for the courts (to decide). We have connectivity, linkages, confessions. We have a number of arrests which are pretty good but there are pieces of the puzzle that are not available."

Not everyone is pleased with Narayanan's candour. Former Indian envoy to Pakistan G. Parathasarathy said it was a serious mistake to say India did not have clinching evidence. "This only strengthens Pakistan's claim that India is making unsubstantiated allegations about the ISI's role," he said.

"The probe is still on and you do not need clinching evidence under our laws. You only need evidence to show the links between the bombers, and those in Pakistan who are behind such acts of terrorism."

Security expert B. Raman said, "Unlike in the Mumbai blasts of 1993, where we managed to get material evidence of Pakistan's role, what the police have obtained this time is oral evidence. They have statements. Oral evidence is good enough with corroboration. I am sure the police is working to get more evidence."

In Mumbai, the police commissioner and ATS chief could not be contacted on Narayanan's statement. DGP P.S. Pasricha refused to comment.

Narayanan said the evidence of the ISI's involvement in the Mumbai blasts would be shared with Pakistan after "certain legal issues" were clarified, and hoped this would be done before the countries' foreign secretaries meet in New Delhi from November 13 to 15.

The national security adviser, however, made it clear that New Delhi would call off the Indo-Pak joint mechanism to deal with terrorism if Islamabad persistently refused to cooperate in terror cases, including the Mumbai blasts.

To begin with, India will give Pakistan information on Pakistan-based terrorist groups active in India and ask Pakistan to get back with a report of the action taken against them. "If every time we give them information, we get a negative answer, we will know the mechanism is not working and we will have to see what we can do," said Narayanan. "Once we feel the mechanism is not working, we will call it off."

He said the joint mechanism was aimed at putting Pakistan "on the spot". Pakistan would be given a "fair opportunity" before India decided whether the mechanism was working or not. India hoped to give Pakistan "specific" locations, names and telephone numbers. "If Pakistan delivers on some, even if not all, then at least we will feel the mechanism is reasonably successful," Narayanan said.

He added that Pakistan had "always told us if you give us the evidence, we will help you with the investigation. Now we are giving them an opportunity to prove in deeds what they have said in words. From our point of view, we see it as an opportunity."

He said sharing intelligence with Pakistan on terror groups was not on the cards, at least for now. "That (sharing intelligence) is our ultimate hope. But that is at a much later stage," he said.

Narayanan also said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was "neither naive nor weak" as projected by some people in the country following his remark that Pakistan was also a victim of terrorism.

"It was not as if he was equating the levels of violence and the levels of terrorist activities," said Narayanan. "What the prime minister said was a fact -- the fact that there have been terrorist incidents in Pakistan and that General Musharraf has been a target... What he (Singh) does not want is to get into a huge slanging match and the rather unseemly spectacle of the prime minister of India and the president of Pakistan exchanging words through the media, outside the media, across the globe."
siyer@hindustantimes.com