Malik adds sour note to visa pact

FP

India and Pakistan Friday operationalised a liberal visa system they had agreed upon in September but the occasion was overshadowed by a series of controversial statements by visiting Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, including one that seemed to equate the demolition of the Babri Masjid to the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, leaving the Indian establishment red-faced.

On a day the Supreme Court asked the government whether the International Court of Justice needed to be approached to secure justice for the family of Kargil martyr Saurabh Kalia, whose highly mutilated body was returned by Pakistan in 1999, Malik said it was not clear whether Kalia had "died of a Pakistan bullet or because of weather".

Official sources said the Indian side raised this issue during bilateral talks later in the evening and sought punishment for those responsible for torturing Kalia.

Malik, who arrived in the capital after a four-hour delay, promised reporters at the airport that he would get Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafeez Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai attack, "arrested" before he left India if New Delhi provided him with credible evidence.

A press conference scheduled after the new visa agreement was formally operationalised was cancelled, but speaking at the event, Malik reiterated Islamabad's position about how serious it is to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to justice. He also went on to mention the Mumbai attacks, the Samjhauta Express bomb blasts and the Babri Masjid demolition in the same breath.

"Terrorism is horrible. Ask us. Ask the victims of Mumbai attacks. Pakistan is suffering from terrorism daily...We do not want any 9/11, any Mumbai attacks, any Samjhauta or any Babri. We want peace, not just in India and Pakistan, but in the entire region," Malik said.

The interior minister then listed the legal hurdles in punishing those identified by Indian investigative agencies as the handlers of the Mumbai attackers.

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