Malik adds sour note to visa pact

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.

"There has been lot of talk about 26/11. We have got calls, letters and information from Indian government regarding this case. It is not that we have not taken any action. We have arrested seven people. Twenty have been declared proclaimed offenders. Our intention is to punish everyone responsible. But the problem is law. The legal process does not see information as evidence. I have brought here and will share with the Indian home minister three court judgments on Hafeez Saeed," he said.

"When Ajmal Kasab was hanged, I was the first one to come on television and say that we respect the judgments of Indian courts. Similarly when the trial is going on in Pakistan, it has to be respected. We have already put the trials on fast track. It is in this connection that a judicial commission from Pakistan is required to come to India. The moment it comes and cross-examines witnesses under CrPC 153, which is mandatory in such trials, I can assure you that we will not leave any stone unturned in bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks to justice," he said.

"And I can assure from the government of Pakistan that the day is not far when we will see convictions. Justice will not only be done but will be seen to be done," he said.

Indian Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde responded to Malik's comments after apparently being prodded by Home Secretary R K Singh. "I thank you for these assurances right at the outset of the talks. Because in the past such promises have not been kept," Shinde said.

Later, after the bilateral talks, Malik met the sister of Sarabjit Singh, who is in jail in Pakistan after being convicted for a bomb blast there. He invited her and her family to visit Pakistan as his personal guest and assured a long-term visa for them.

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