They had faced the cameras, separately, just four hours ago. But when Home Minister P. Chidambaram and his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik suddenly announced an unscheduled media briefing late on Saturday evening, it was clear Delhi and Islamabad had been able to narrow their differences. They did not disappoint.
Malik and Chidambaram stood side-by-side, shook hands for the cameras and drove home the point over the next few minutes that they had agreed on more than just politically-correct statements.
The two ministers spoke in one voice about agreeing upon a course of action against terrorism and setting certain “tangible outcomes” as goals.
“Rigorous investigations and follow-ups into leads about Mumbai suspects and ensuring that terrorists do not have a free run in India or Pakistan are among the outcomes,” said Chidambaram, with Malik by his side.
“Based on new information we will pursue the terrorists and criminals responsible for Mumbai. We have agreed upon several things, but cannot disclose them all now,” Malik said.
The outcome of the first ministerial visit to Pakistan will give the two countries more elbow room to negotiate when Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna travels to Pakistan on July 15.
The latest round of meetings were held in the shadow of Mumbai terror attacks that have continued to stalk Indo-Pak relations.
Both countries held several rounds of formal and informal discussions over two days on the sidelines of the SAARC home ministers’ conference.
The clincher seems to have come during the meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari in the evening. The unexpectedly announced joint press conference came soon afterwards.
“I am returning with the confidence that the outcome of our exchanges would lead to outcomes that are good for both countries,” said Chidambaram, who is scheduled to return on Sunday morning.
The Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 was planned and launched from Pakistan. Both countries returned to talks in February 2010, after a break of 14 months, but the bilateral relations haven’t improved given Pakistan’s inadequate measures against the perpetrators of the attack.
“There are many more to be investigated and prosecuted. This point has been made to Pakistan,” said Chidambaram. Before the breakthrough, Chidambaram had only spoken of “hopes” that Pakistan would take action against the real brains behind 26/11 before the SAARC foreign ministers’ meet in July.
India has been asking Pakistan for voice samples of suspects to match with the recordings of conversations the Mumbai terrorists had with their handlers in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, India’s articulation that there are many people who were involved in the training, handling and facilitation of 26/11 and action should be taken against all of them, expands the scope of any Pakistani action beyond Hafiz Saeed, chief of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the organisation that sponsored the attacks. Pakistan has been pleading that there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute Saeed.
Though India has given Islamabad several dossiers , Pakistan has taken a position that the evidence was not sufficient to prosecute any, while India maintain that Pakistan must investigate the cases based on the leads and find proof.
Lakhvi trial delayed
The trial of seven suspects accused of involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks was adjourned for a week on Saturday apparently due to concerns among Pakistani authorities that any adverse developments in the proceedings could impact ongoing talks with India.
When lawyers defending the suspects, including Lashker-e-Tayyeba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, reached Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, where the trial is being conducted, they were informed that Judge Malik Muhammad Akram Awan was on leave.They were also informed that the next hearing was scheduled for July 3.