The blame game for the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks is following a predictable pathway. Islamabad, as signalled by early statements about the attack’s “third country” origins and media reports about Bangladeshi, Dubai and Indian Muslim involvement, is seeking to diffuse the role of its homegrown organisations. Pakistan’s intent is to push the focus away from itself and otherwise internationalise what is an overwhelmingly bilateral issue. India, as evinced by official statements about the responsibility of “clients and creations of the Inter-Services Intelligence” for 26/11, is seeking to ensure the world’s eyes are on Pakistan and its military establishment.
What New Delhi should try to ensure, through whatever diplomatic levers it can, is that Pakistan’s investigative report has some acceptance of the role of individuals linked to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. A lot of other asides are inevitable, but it is this admission that the rest of the world will take notice of. In the immediate aftermath of 26/11, Pakistan tried very hard to persuade the world that terrorism was less of an issue than the possibility of a subcontinental war. This posture became untenable thanks to both India’s restraint and the foreigners who had been killed. Since then, New Delhi has sought to make Islamabad admit that 26/11 originated in Pakistan, and therefore it must investigate and take action against those it admits had a role. Islamabad has, unsurprisingly, sought to wriggle out of this prosecutorial trap without making its denials wholly unbelievable to the world community.
The question is, what will India do if Islamabad decides to brazen it out and ensures that the expected investigation report is a tissue of lies absolving Pakistan of even a tangential role? Both the attention of the world and even the Indian public has already begun drifting away from the Mumbai attacks. New Delhi cannot afford to let Pakistan off the investigative hook at this point – which was why the muddle of messages at the official level in India was so damaging. Otherwise, once again, India will have to talk about keeping all options on the table.