3 Dec : President Asif Ali Zardari has rejected India’s demand to hand over LeT chief Hafiz Mohd Sayeed and other fugitives in the wake of Mumbai terror attacks and doubted whether the arrested terrorist is a Pakistani national.
Two days after New Delhi’s demarche (protest note) demanding the handing over of 20 fugitives, Zardari made known Pakistan’s reluctance to part with them.
"If we had proof, we would try them in our courts. We would try them in our land and we would sentence them," he said appearing on a news programme on Tuesday night.India’s list of 20 most wanted criminals given to Pakistan included underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar.
India is awaiting Pakistan’s response before deciding on the options it could exercise.
New Delhi’s outrage was voiced by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who said the country has every right to protect its territorial integrity and will take "appropriate action" as it feels necessary to deal with the terror strikes emanating from Pakistan.
The minister also did not rule out military strikes against terror camps in Pakistan.
Zardari said that he also doubted India’s claim that the sole surviving gunman, who was captured by Indian security forces, was a Pakistani national.
"We have not been given any tangible proof to say that he is definitely a Pakistani. I very much doubt that he’s a Pakistani," he said.
Zardari denied Pakistan’s involvement in the attacks, saying the terror strikes were executed by the "Stateless actors" who wanted to hold the "entire world hostage."
"These (terrorists) are stateless actors who have been operating throughout the region. They include gunmen and the planners and are holding the entire world hostage," he said."State of Pakistan is not responsible for the attacks in Mumbai… even the White House and the US intelligence agency CIA have said so," he said.
The President ruled out any possibility of Pakistan and India going to war, saying "democracies do not go to war".The three wars, India and Pakistan have fought, took place during dictatorships in Pakistan, he said.
Zardari said this is time to come together, do a joint investigation and look at the problem in the larger context."The threat is in the region and just not to Bombay or to India. The threat (also is) to the State of Pakistan. There’s a threat to Afghanistan, It’s a threat throughout region. So that would be counterproductive," he added.
"I’m a victim. The state of Pakistan is a victim. We are the victims of this war, and I am sorry for the Indians, and I feel sorry for them. I’ve seen this pain. I feel this pain every time I see my children. I can see it in their eyes. This pain lives with me because of my wife and what we are going through in Pakistan," he said.
Asked whether Lashkar-e-Taiba was involved in the attacks, he replied that it is a banned organisation around the world. "If indeed they are involved, we would not know."
These are the people who operate outside the system like al-Qaeda but Pakistan has offered full cooperation to India in investigating the incident and "We intend to do so."
"We cannot rule anything out at the moment," he said when asked whether al-Qaeda might be involved. But it is too premature to reach any conclusion.
To a question as to what Islamabad would do if India produces evidence of complicity of any Pakistani group in the attacks, Zardari said he would take action against them.
The Pakistani government, he said, committed to fighting terrorism per se and is fighting it every day.
Asked whether Pakistan is actively working at finding out who attacked Mumbai, Zardari said we are looking into the allegations "thrown at us from across the border."
Defending Pakistan’s intelligence agencies which are accused of providing support to the militants, Zardari said in the past, lots of mistakes have been made, but the present government does not support any such action.
"I can assure the world from my side, from my Army’s side, from my parliament’s side and the people of Pakistan that we are not helping any such activity," he added.
Asked whether Pakistan would ever think of making a pre-emptive strikes with nuclear weapons, Zardari replied that he is on record having said that it has no intention of ever being "perpetrator" of first use.
He replied in the affirmative to question whether he is in favour of ban on all nuclear weapons, saying he had invited Indians to join in."I have asked the Indians to join us in a nuclear-free South Asia. And we are willing – I am willing to assure the world, on behalf of my parliament, that if India comes with us, we can together jointly sign a nuclear-free South Asia," he added.
Asked whether it would happen, Zardari replied, "We can definitely stand on the possibility of that to happen." Pakistan hopes to improve relations with India and other democracies in the world, the President added.
Asked whether it would become tough for him if Indians vehemently call for a crackdown on militants, Zardari said politics has never been easy in a place like Pakistan and it was "not easy to inherit from a dictator".
The Pakistani President said he was "looking forward" to India and Pakistan living in peace and said "..I am hoping that I will be the catalyst that makes India and Pakistan live in peace forever."
Stressing that India with its one billion plus people is a market and an opportunity for Pakistan, Zardari said, "I am looking forward to making it a regional economical zone. I am looking forward to working in all walks of life together."