On the eve of Foreign Secretary-level talks in Thimphu, Pakistan on Saturday came out with a provocative statement saying that India's handling of the Samjhauta Express train bombing case showed that it lacked "courage to unearth culpability of Hindu extremists". It appears that the Pakistanis are not too keen to see any improvement in ties that might lead to resumption of the talks that were stalled following the Mumbai carnage. Or this might be to check India from making too many demands on the progress or lack of it in the Mumbai blast trial that is taking place in Pakistan. But what are the facts on the ground?
Around midnight on February 18, 2007, bombs were set off on the Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express, a twice-a-week service. This happened a day before Mr. Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri was to arrive in India for talks. The incident occurred near Panipat in Haryana, 80 km north of Delhi. 68 persons were killed, 42 of them Pakistani civilians, besides some Indian citizens, and army jawans guarding the train.
The case was under investigation with the Haryana police who could not make any headway after their probe led to a tailor in Indore who had prepared the cover of the suitcase in which the bombs were planted. After over three years, the probe was handed over to the National Investigation Agency in the middle of 2010 by the Central government. At that time, there were reports that the Hindu right-wing groups that were involved in the Malegaon and Ajmer blasts were also involved in the Samjhauta Express blast. The Americans had in the meanwhile, in early 2009, identified a Pakistani, Asif Kasmani, of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, as involved in the Samjhauta Express blast, and moved the UN to declare him as an international terrorist. Americans generally do not make such claims easily. Did they have some clue, or evidence that the Indian investigators missed? The investigators had therefore to move carefully and look at unimpeachable evidence to come to any conclusion about the actual perpetrators.
But did India, or the Indian police, lack any courage in unearthing the culpability of extreme Hindu outfits in such terrorist acts? The Anti-Terrorist Squad of Maharashtra led the way in unearthing the complicity of Hindu right wing groups in the Malegaon blast of September 2008, and filed charge sheets against 11 accused, including a serving Army colonel and a Sadhvi, in January 2009. Their investigations continued even after that; and the Maharashtra ATS have made more arrests in the case. The harshest sections of law, including the dreaded Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act, were applied against the accused in this case. The Anti-Terrorist Squad of Rajasthan filed a charge sheet against a Hindu right wing group for the Ajmer blasts in October 2010. Does this show any lack of courage in dealing under law with the extreme right wing groups?
The Samjhauta Express case has also been broken open, this time by the National Investigation Agency, with the arrest of a Hindu ‘God’ man, and a recording of his confession by a magistrate. The NIA has proclaimed substantial rewards for information that have led to the arrest of three absconding accused. These investigations have compelled the Madhya Pradesh police, where the right wing BJP is in power, to go after the killers of one Sunil Joshi, a Hindu right wing activist, who had allegedly played an active role in all the three blasts and was allegedly killed by his own colleagues as he knew too much. This investigation had been closed as untraced, but was revived in the wake of the arrests made in the blast cases. The National Investigation Agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the ATS Units form Maharashtra and Rajasthan have been working closely to break open the blast cases. The investigators have to carefully collect all available evidence to bring the charges successfully against the perpetrators of these crimes. The investigation cannot be based solely on confessions, but will also have to look for independent evidence to corroborate material particulars. It is too early to share the result of the Samjhauta Express case with Pakistan, and the Indian Home Minister is on record that as soon as this becomes possible, India will be happy to share the details with Pakistan.
On the other hand, the trial in the 26/11 case is moving at snail’s pace in Pakistan. Hafiz Saeed, the main architect of the Mumbai attacks, is moving freely, and a couple of days back, was threatening war with India if we fail to vacate Kashmir. Our request for voice samples of some of the accused for purpose of comparison in the 26/11 case is still pending. So who is scared of unearthing the culpability of right wing terrorists, India or Pakistan?