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‘Pakistan blocked UK bid to catch suspects in Indian diplomat’s murder’

Posted in India’s consulate in Birmingham, Ravindra Mhatre was kidnapped by elements owing allegiance to a Kashmir-based militant group on February 3 and body was found in nearby Leicestershire two days later.

world Updated: Jul 31, 2017 14:54 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre,Pakistan,India’s consulate in Birmingham
‘The declassified file on the Ravindra Mhatre case.(HT Photo)

Three suspects in the February 1984 murder of Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre had fled to Pakistan but Islamabad repeatedly denied their presence or cited difficulties in tracing them to British authorities seeking their extradition, newly declassified files show.

Posted in India’s consulate in Birmingham, Mhatre, 48, was kidnapped by elements owing allegiance to a Kashmir-based militant group on February 3 and body was found in nearby Leicestershire two days later.

Three people were convicted and jailed in Britain.

Documents released by Britain’s national archives reveal that the West Midlands police had provided locations of the three suspects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, but officials in Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) stonewalled UK efforts to apprehend them.

In August 1984, Britain requested the Pakistan government, then headed by Gen Zia-ul-Haq, to initiate extradition proceedings against the three. The documents state that the government agreed to the request “should it be established that the accused are in Pakistan”.

British ambassador Richard Fyjis-Walker wrote to the foreign office on January 17, 1985: “(Pakistan’s additional foreign secretary for European affairs) Dr Haider told me today that President Zia has accepted the MFA’s recommendation that extradition proceedings should be started.

“However, the first step was to establish whether the three men are in Pakistan. This involved police action which was being initiated. Only if it is established that the men were in the country could the lengthy extradition process start.

“I am not sure how seriously the Pakistanis will try to find and apprehend the men.”

Letter sent to Ravindra Mhatre’s brother Avinash by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s office. (HT Photo)

In another dispatch to London on March 4, 1985, Fyjis-Walker wrote: “Dr Haider, on knowing that I was about to raise the subject, rehearsed me to the difficulties the Pakistan authorities were having in finding the men.

“The government did not know if they were in Pakistan at all. The indications we had given the government of the whereabouts of the men might or might not be the result of disinformation.

“I again offered our help in tracing the men, saying that we would indeed be grateful for confirmation of whether or not the information we had passed on to the Pakistan government about the whereabouts of the men turned out to be true or false. It was presumably very easy to check whether they had been at the addresses we had provided...we shall need to keep up the pressure on the Pakistanis.”

The envoy repeated his pessimism to London on March 12, 1985: “I repeated our offer of a visit by the West Midlands police. She (Dr Haider) said Pakistan authorities were aware of this...I am not sure when I shall hear anything more or how satisfactory it will be.”

KEY DATES IN RAVINDRA MHATRE’S MURDER
  • February 3, 1984: Mhatre kidnapped in Birmingham
  • February 4, 1984: Ransom note demands £1 million and release of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front co-founder Maqbool Butt and others jailed in India
  • February 5, 1984: Mhatre’s body found in Leicestershire
  • February 11, 1984: Maqbool Butt hanged in Tihar jail, Delhi

According to a “teleletter” to London by official SG Falconer on May 30, 1985, MFA official Shafkat Saeed had virtually admitted to him that PoK is not part of Pakistan: “He repeated that the problem was that the three suspects were in Kashmir, which legally is not part of Pakistan.

“Negotiations were proceeding with the Kashmir government and we could be assured that if the Pakistani authorities could lay their hands legally on the three suspects, they would immediately be arrested and arrangements made for their return to the UK. He implied clearly, however, that this was a big ‘if’.”

The declassified file includes references to documents that have not been released as well as documents with some parts redacted. The file includes a letter to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by Avinash Mhatre, the brother of the slain diplomat, and her response.

A mention of the case in the Lok Sabha was favourably reported by the British high commission in New Delhi.

MS Runacres, an official posted in New Delhi, wrote to London on March 25, 1985: “I thought you might be interested to know of a crumb of Parliamentary comfort which was tossed our way in the Lok Sabha last week during a debate about the murder of the Soviet diplomat in Delhi.”

“A DMKP (Dalit Mazdoor Kisan Party) MP called Mohunta made a very worthwhile reference to the Mhatre case. He pointed out that ‘the British police were very quick in apprehending the murderers of Mr Ravindra Mhatre…However, the Indian security forces had failed to solve the cases relating to murders of foreign diplomats in India in the recent past’. Well done Mr Mohunta!”

First Published: Jul 31, 2017 07:12 IST