26/11 attacks: India asked Pak foreign minister to leave, reveals Pranab book | india news | Hindustan Times
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26/11 attacks: India asked Pak foreign minister to leave, reveals Pranab book

Former president Pranab Mukherjee, who released his autobiography — The Coalition Years 1996-2012 — on Friday, said he had interrupted the press conference of visiting Pak foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and asked him to leave immediately amidst high tension in the country over 2008 terror strikes in Mumbai, which killed at least 162.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2017 13:17 IST
DK Singh
DK Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists executed terror strikes in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Taj Mahal Hotel was one of the 12 places attacked by the terrorists.
Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists executed terror strikes in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Taj Mahal Hotel was one of the 12 places attacked by the terrorists. (HT File Photo)

Outraged by the 2008 Mumbai terror strike, India called visiting Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi out of a press conference and asked him to “leave immediately”, then external affairs minister and former president Pranab Mukherjee has revealed.

Mukherjee even offered an aircraft to take Qureshi home, the former president has written in the third volume of his autobiography, The Coalition Years 1996-2012, which was released on Friday.

At least 162 people were killed and more than 300 injured in the four-day siege of India’s financial capital by a group of terrorists from Pakistan-based outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba. One of the militants, Ajmal Kasab, was captured alive and hanged on November 21, 2012.

On the morning after the siege began on November 26, Mukherjee was informed that his Pakistani counterpart was at a press meet. Mukherjee interrupted the press conference through a journalist he knew and asked her to inform Qureshi that he wanted to talk to him urgently.

When Qureshi came on line, Mukherjee read out a note prepared by the foreign secretary.

“Mr Minister, no purpose will be served by your continuing to stay in India in these circumstances. I advise you to leave immediately. My official aircraft is available to take you back home. But it would be desirable if a decision is taken as quickly as possible,” Mukherjee told the minister.

The BJP, then in the opposition, had blamed the UPA government’s alleged soft stance towards Pakistan for the attacks though Islamabad denied any knowledge of the terror strike.

Mukherjee said the Pakistani high commission later informed him that Qureshi had expressed gratitude for the offer and that a Pakistani air force aircraft would take him back home.

Qureshi had excused himself from a dinner with Mukherjee on the evening the terror strike began “as he had scheduled an engagement with his country’s high commissioner”.

The Indian government, he said, had evidence that the terrorists came from Karachi port in a small vessel. They were dropped mid-sea where they captured an Indian fishing vessel and killed the crew before reaching the Mumbai coast.

Giving details of the aftermath of the attack, Mukherjee said the first call from a foreign country came from then US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who was concerned about the fallout.

“The situation is grave. I do not believe in romanticising relations or indulging in any sort of adventurism but there is a limit to one’s patience,” Mukherjee told her.

Over the next three days, he spoke on phone to more than 100 foreign ministers across different time zones. “I didn’t seek support from Israel since it carried the risk of isolating 54 Islamic countries that backed India,” Mukherjee disclosed in the book.

He also shed light on the political developments post-26/11.

On 29 November, a Congress Working Committee meeting was held to discuss the post-attack scenario.

At the meeting, P Chidambaram was “stridently vocal” against then home minister, Shivraj Patil, and wanted him to be replaced. Two days later, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Mukherjee to his office and informed that Patil had resigned.

Singh said Congress president Sonia Gandhi had suggested Mukherjee’s name as Patil’s replacement but the PM advised her against it as the external affairs minister was handling a “warlike situation”.

It was decided that Chidambaram would replace Patil.