New Delhi, May 20: The Hindu on Friday published US diplomatic cables obtained from WikiLeaks to reveal that the U.S. tried hard to persuade Pakistan to stick to a November 28, 2008 decision to send the head of the ISI, Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, to India — but to no avail.
Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had announced on November 28, 2008 after a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Lt. Gen. Pasha would go to India at the earliest for “an exchange of information” about the attacks.
But the government hastily reversed its decision after the Pakistan Army made clear it was opposed to the idea of sending the top intelligence man to India.
The cables reveal that the U.S. directly told the Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, President Asif Ali Zardari and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi that Lt. Gen. Pasha should go to Delhi.
According to one cable dated November 30, 2008 (180619: secret), during a meeting with General Kayani and Lt. Gen. Pasha on November 30, Charge d'Affaires Gerald Feierstein “urged that Kayani send Pasha to India as a sign of GOP seriousness in cooperating with the Indian investigation.”
Ambassador Anne W. Patterson was away and was to return later that day. As the Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. Feierstein was the Acting Ambassador. The Regional Affairs Officer (RAO) at the U.S. Embassy accompanied him to the meeting.
The Army chief, Mr. Feierstein noted, was “critical of what he considered India's rush to judgment about the details of the case, and said that as a former intelligence chief he would never have suggested that he could offer up an analysis of the events so quickly after they concluded.” Even so, “Charge pressed him several times on sending Pasha to lead the ISI delegation to India as demonstration of Pakistani seriousness.” But “Kayani was, at best, non-committal.”
The U.S. officials gave the two top Pakistan Army officials information about a Lashkar-e-Taiba individual, who the U.S. said was linked to the Deccan Mujahideen, a previously unheard of group that had claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Kayani and Pasha claimed not to recognize the name. They asked the Acting RAO for additional information on the telephone numbers related to the individual,” Mr. Feierstein noted.
The cable did not reveal the identity of the individual, and it is unclear if he was among the five persons who are currently on trial in Pakistan for their alleged involvement in the attacks.
The same unnamed individual was mentioned by Mr. Feierstein during a November 29 meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, according to a cable dated November 29, 2008 (180604: secret). He “advised [the Minister] that the U.S. was passing to ISI November 29 the name of an individual in Pakistan who was associated with the attacks; he urged that Pakistan arrest this individual.”
Mr. Qureshi asked “if this information came from the U.S.” Mr. Feierstein “confirmed that it was independent information and that the individual was associated with the group responsible for the attacks.”
The U.S. official then brought up what he described as “the core issue” of whether the Government of Pakistan was directly implicated in the attacks. He told Mr. Qureshi the U.S. “had seen no direct evidence of this to date,” but that it would be “important for the GOP to investigate whether there was any linkage.”Noting that Pakistan had publicly accepted the Indian request to send the ISI Director to New Delhi, Mr. Feierstein told Mr. Qureshi it was important that Pasha go.
“ If Pasha goes to India, this will be seen as a sign of GOP seriousness to carry through on its pledges of cooperation; if not, it will be seen as a retreat and will send a very negative signal.”The U.S. official said Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice “will try to call [President Asif Ali] Zardari today and likely will deliver that same message.”
He mentioned that Ambassador Patterson had delivered a similar message to Mr. Zardari in a phone call the previous night.The Pakistan Foreign Minister said he too had received a call from Assistant Secretary Boucher the previous night.
In another Wikileaks cable, US diploamts were worried about the possibility that the top three Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants arrested by Pakistan in connection with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks could be acquitted and let free by the court for want of evidence.
They complained that New Delhi was at fault in this, as despite repeated interventions by the U.S. government at “several levels,” it had not shared “certified evidence” with Pakistan.
On May 12, 2009, the day Pakistan's Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Rawalpindi granted more time to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to file the final chargesheet against the five LeT suspects arrested for the Mumbai attacks, the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad sent a cable (206598: confidential) to the Secretary of State in Washington.
The cable, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, commended the FIA for its “diligent” investigation into the attacks and observed that it had “competently” built up a case against the LeT suspects.
However, it noted, while the case against two of the lower-level LeT operatives, Hammad Ammen Sadiq and Shahid Jamil Riaz, was strong, the FIA did not have “enough independent evidence” to successfully prosecute the senior LeT leaders — Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Mazhar Iqbal alias al Qama, and Abdul Wajid alias Zarrar Shah.
Important evidence that linked Lakhvi, Shah, and al Qama to the Mumbai attacks had to come from India.
Even proving the connection between the attacks and an LeT conspiracy in Pakistan, “heavily” depended on the evidence available with India, the cable remarked.
The FBI too cannot share the evidence in its possession with Pakistan without Indian approval, it said.
The two key pieces of evidence: the voice recordings of the LeT controllers, or a sworn testimony by suspects in Indian custody regarding the recordings, and “the set of two pink aluminum Improvised Explosive Device (IED) boxes,” one found at Karachi and the other at the site of the Mumbai attacks.
The Karachi box was sent to the FBI for a forensic analysis. However, for the connection between the two to be confirmed, India had to hand over samples of its pink box to the FBI.
India maintained it had passed on all relevant evidence to Pakistan. However, the cable remarked that none of the evidence that was passed on was judicially certified.
The U.S. officials cited the example of “blurry photocopies” of fingerprints of the Mumbai attackers passed on to the FIA.
Not only would these be inadmissible in court, they could not be used to match the fingerprint records that were with Pakistan, they said.
The U.S. officials tried to impress upon India the need to share the most important items of proof that the FIA and the FBI needed.
On May 6, 2009, Peter Burleigh, Charge d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Delhi, met Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and raised the issue of “evidentiary cooperation” with Pakistan.
Mr. Menon told Mr. Burleigh the government “had already requested court permission to send all the documents” requested by Pakistan, and explained that “the Indian judge would proceed at his own pace but that he thought the request was non-controversial and would be granted.”
Mr. Burleigh tried to point to “the urgency of the court deadline.” Mr. Menon “smiled,” and said he “knew of that, but that it was not true that introducing additional evidence after that period (when the charge sheet is submitted) was unusual or difficult.”
He added that “‘we have the same system and we know how their courts work'.”
In August 2009, the FIA arrested Jamil Ahmed, the sixth suspect in the Mumbai attacks, from his home in Battgram on a tip off from Saudi Arabia.A U.S. diplomatic cable sent two days after Ahmed's arrest (219934: confidential) noted that the FIA was “still waiting for a few items of evidence from India.”
However, as the cable mentioned, the FIA had “no expectation” that India would release the evidence in time for the trial and made its own plans to strengthen the evidence.
It decided to have one of its investigators testify on the voice recordings against al-Qama and Lakhvi. The U.S. did its bit by helping the FIA screen the fingerprint images to gain better visibility.