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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Admiral Noman Bashir muddies Mumbai probe waters

There are two ways of interpreting Friday’s claim by Pakistani naval chief Noman Bashir that Ajmal Amir Iman ‘Kasab’ – the lone surviving gunman from last November’s terrorist attack on Mumbai – did not use the “sea route” to arrive in India.

The statement is astonishing mostly because it runs totally counter to what the government of Pakistan formally put out in a press conference held by its Interior Adviser Rehman Malik on February 1. At the time, Mr. Malik not only acknowledged that a part of the Mumbai terror conspiracy had been hatched in Pakistan but also confirmed the use of the “sea route” and provided details about the use of boats by the terrorists that India was not even aware of.

The first and most benign explanation for this flip-flop is that the admiral is seeking to deflect any criticism of the Pakistani Navy and Coast Guard for having failed to detect or stop the terrorists from launching their attack on Mumbai. His observation that the Indian Navy was “10 times bigger” than Pakistan’s and that the Pakistanis could not be blamed for failing to prevent the attack when the Indians themselves proved unable to do so suggests the Navy Chief was not contesting the reality of the sea voyage so much as protecting his service from the charge of incompetence or even collusion.

A second – and more ominous — possibility could be that the Pakistani military is taking advantage of the political turmoil into which the country has now plunged following the do-or-die struggle between President Asif Ali Zardari and Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif to flex its own muscles.


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