‘Not nipping Taliban in the bud was a big mistake’

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Pakistan Interior minister Rehman Malik tells Kunal Majumder that even the United States has failed to provide any evidence against Hafiz Saeed regarding his role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks

Excerpts From An Interview

Rehman Malik
Rehman Malik

Why did you take exception to Defence Minister AK Antony’s statement on the Indian Army’s preparedness to fight the Taliban?
He used the word ‘Taliban’ in his statement. So we would like him to clarify if he meant Taliban in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) in Pakistan or is there a Taliban in India now? Extremism exists in almost all countries, including India. So if the Indians are facing a challenge from the Taliban, we are ready to help. We have suffered. We don’t want others to undergo the same trauma. Three years ago, I had told your leadership that I foresee an increase in extremism in India. We made a mistake by not nipping the Taliban in the bud and created a monster.

Did you warn India about this possible danger?
Yes. When P Chidambaram was here, I spoke to him about this. I have spoken to the media as well. When I meet the Indian defence minister, I would like to ask him what he means by ‘Taliban’. Our concept of Taliban is those extremists who are fighting against us. I don’t know if your minister is speaking about internal Talibanisation or external.

But India has already sought your help on the issue of Hafiz Saeed.
The issue of Hafiz Saeed has moved beyond India and Pakistan. America is involved now. The US has better investigative agencies and skills. First, they declared him most-wanted and announced a $10 million bounty. When we asked for evidence, they said the bounty was for information leading to his arrest. If America doesn’t have any evidence and India still claims to have evidence, it should be shared with us.

But India claims to have provided evidence on Saeed.
What India has given can’t be called evidence. There is a difference between information and evidence.

Has there been pressure on Pakistan after the American announcement of bounty on Hafiz Saeed?
America first announced a bounty on his head, which means that anybody could have arrested him or done anything with him. But when we asked them for evidence, we came to know that there was none. That is when they said that the bounty was fixed for information leading up to his conviction. This proves that even the Americans don’t have any evidence.

On the issue of Major Iqbal in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case, Pakistan has always claimed that it could be the name of anybody. But now your own security agencies claim that Iqbal was a former military man living abroad and was a classmate of David Headley. Should this be seen as an acceptance of Iqbal’s existence in the Pakistani establishment?
Why Major Iqbal? You can call him General Iqbal if you want. How does it matter? The question here is, there are many Iqbals. If you are sure about him, give me his photograph. We will have it checked from our records. But simply saying that there is a Major Iqbal will not help. There are many such names in Pakistan. There are a lot of non-military people in Pakistan who masquerade as armymen. Simply sending a red-corner notice to Lyon and mentioning he’s a citizen of Pakistan is no evidence.

But your own security agencies say that Major Iqbal was a classmate of Headley at Cadet College, Hasan Abdal.
Just because somebody is someone’s classmate is not enough. We cannot take this matter to court just by alleging that somebody is someone’s classmate. I think what is important is, if Headley had met Major Iqbal, he should give full information. Nothing has come on record, this is just hearsay.

Is Pakistan planning to seek extradition of the accused in the Samjhauta Express blast?
It is still in the initial stages. The families of those killed in the Samjhauta blast have been putting pressure on us to lodge an FIR against the accused in Pakistan. They want to bring the accused to Pakistan for prosecution. We have to examine if there are provisions in the law to do so. We are cooperating completely with India on the Mumbai attacks. Similarly, we expect India’s support on the Samjhauta blast case.

Kunal Majumder is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
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