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26/11: 'India has not answered all our questions'

April 13, 2009 11:32 IST

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, foreign minister of Pakistan, spoke to Karan Thapar on the CNN-IBN programme, Devil's Advocate, on issues ranging from the spread of Taliban to the investigations into the Mumbai terror attacks and the trust deficit between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Terrorist attacks in Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Chakwal, all within a few days, and now Baitullah Mehsud is threatening two attacks a week.

We are facing the challenge and we will confront them. My engagement with friends in India has been that 'please understand this is a common challenge, a common enemy'. We can only defeat this enemy collectively.

The Taliban is in virtual control of Swat and that's just 160 km from your capital.

The whole of Swat is neither under Taliban control, nor is being attacked by them. There are pockets and we will clear those pockets. We feel that dialogue is one of the options. People who are willing to lay down arms… we are going to engage with them… Yes there is a challenge, but Pakistan is not a few pockets (but) a strong, vibrant country.

One of the principal concerns is that elements of the ISI have links with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.

Without ISI's help, you could not have apprehended the 700 or so Al-Qaeda operatives. ISI has done more than any other organisation has done. Now we are in the process of restructuring ISI… The present leadership of ISI is very clear that this challenge is our challenge… if there are opinions that need to be expressed, they should not be done through the media. There are diplomatic channels available...The people operating on the ground have to be taken on board. If you are accusing them, who do you want to work with?

President Obama's Af-Pak strategy has proposed a contact group for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Is Pakistan happy for India to play a role?

India is a regional player and should play a positive role. What the Indians are forgetting is that this is a cancer.

It will grow, it has no borders, it sees no boundaries… We want a good friendly normal relationship with India… The challenge is not just India-Pakistan. It is a much larger challenge and I think we should all be on board… If we have to concentrate on the western border, we have to be comfortable on the eastern side. It is in our mutual interest that we remain focused on the western border.

President Zardari (has) forcefully argued for addressing the question of Kashmir.

We have outstanding issues and Kashmir is one. For normalisation, for good relations, we have to address them. We had in place a process, the Composite Dialogue. Unfortunately, the tragic Mumbai incident put that on hold. We were making incremental progress. If you block channels of communication, what are you doing? You are strengthening militancy, the hands of terror.

Last week, the Indian Prime Minister said the Composite Dialogue couldn't start until the Mumbai accused were brought to justice in Pakistan and secondly, until the infrastructure of terror was dismantled.

We would not accept conditions. But bringing the culprits of Mumbai to justice is in our mutual interest. We want to cooperate with you and we want to move ahead. We cannot do it alone. As for dismantling the terrorist network, we should do it in our own interest and Pakistan has taken very positive steps.

We have arrested some very high-profile people, proscribed some very important organisations, seized and frozen assets. We have taken a number of steps and this is an ongoing process. We have over 100,000 troops deployed on the western border, dealing with extremism and terrorism. These are all positive steps to dismantle and to challenge extremists and terrorists.

It's now almost a month since India handed over to you the answer to the 30 questions you had posed (on the Mumbai attacks). Are you satisfied?

Everything has not been answered, but we will proceed in a co-operative environment. If more is required, we will share it with you. Examination is going on in the Ministry of Interior. But what I want to tell you is that we are serious.

Rehman Malik, the Adviser in the Interior Ministry, has said that successful prosecution of people like Lakhvi and Zarar Shah depends on the information that you get from India. Have you got enough?

There is evidence and there is legally tenable evidence. We want to take a fool-proof case to court. We want to go ahead with this investigation in a sincere fashion.

What about Masood Azhar? Is it still your position that you do not know where he is?

I honestly do not know where he is.

Pakistan acknowledged that Ajmal Kasab is Pakistani. But not responded to his appeal for consular access, or asked for permission to question him.

We have to ask for some of the statements he has made to Indian authorities. We are not aware of them. We will (and), as I said, it is being examined.

Things are either being examined or you do not know.

These are very serious and delicate matters. We have to proceed very carefully. Now, if you keep suspecting us, then we will not be able to move forward. Let's drop the suspicion, join hands and work together in our interests.

The increasing vulnerability of Pakistan to terror has been so obvious. Here, they say, is this government in Islamabad strong enough? Or will they be deflected by their own problems and weaknesses?

We are fully committed to fight terror, whether an incident takes place in India or anywhere else. There is a complete consensus. All stakeholders in Pakistan are on board that we will not surrender to terrorism.

As your eastern neighbour, we are the first international victim of the terror that comes from Pakistan. You can only address that concern by cooperating with Pakistan and not accusing Pakistan. That negative policy will not be in your interest.

So, that in a sense, is the message you are sending the Indian people -- cooperate with us in your own interest?

Mutual interest.

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