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Please do mind the gaps

If India wants to put up a foolproof list of terrorists, it must improve its documentation process, writes B Raman.

india Updated: May 24, 2011 22:00 IST
B Raman

In March, India gave Pakistan the names of 50 terrorists who were suspected to have been involved in acts of terror in India, with the request to hand them over to India. New Delhi have been giving such lists to Islamabad ever since Khalistani terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines aircraft to Pakistan in the 1980s. Initially, the lists included names of Pakistan-based Khalistani terrorists. The lists were expanded in the 1990s to include terrorists from Jammu and Kashmir and the absconding accused of the 1993 blasts in Mumbai, including Dawood Ibrahim and his associates.

Till about 2004, the list had 20 names. It has since expanded to 50 due to the search for the accused involved in post-2004 jihadi terror acts. Pakistan, however,

has always denied the presence of any Indian in its territory. As for Pakistani nationals on that list, it is said that India had no evidence regarding their involvement in terror acts.

This exercise went on for nearly 30 years without Pakistan taking any action to trace those wanted by India. Earlier, before handing them over to Pakistan, the lists were vetted by a joint committee comprising officers of all agencies and the state police. A senior officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) used to chair this committee. The representatives of the state police were required to confirm that the lists were correct. In the past so many years, no errors were found in these lists thanks to this systematic vetting by all agencies.

This procedure, it seems, wasn’t followed in the case of the latest list of 50 wanted terrorists. As a result, the names of at least two suspects who were arrested in India and hence were not absconding, were found on the list of terrorists hiding in Pakistan.

The US’s Abbottabad raid on May 2 has given rise to considerable criticism in the US regarding the alleged role of Pakistan in sheltering terrorists. Presumably to capitalise on this growing public criticism of Pakistan and also highlight its non-cooperation, the Indian home ministry decided to make the latest list public.

But the media exposé has embarrassed the government. Though there was no mala fide intention on the part of the home ministry; its failure to detect these errors before the list was handed over to Pakistan indicates a certain casualness in the maintenance of such important records. The usual process of vetting the list was apparently not followed. This professional and diplomatic faux pas is likely to damage the reliability of our professional standards regarding investigation and documentation. The episode will also enable Pakistan to reinforce its argument that Indian allegations of Pakistani support to terrorism are motivated propaganda and, hence, cannot be relied upon.

Three corrective steps are required to avoid such a mistake: first, punish the officers responsible for the faux pas; second, revamp the list preparation process, and, third, don’t take the media route to embarrass Pakistan.

If India wants to convince the international community of the veracity of our allegations against Pakistan, it must develop its confidence in the reliability of our documentation and in our due diligence process in preparing such dossiers.

( B Raman is former additional secretary, Government of India )

The views expressed by the authors are personal