The Indian reaction to Osama bin Laden’s killing in the heart of Pakistan on May 2 has ranged from balanced to furious. The soft, measured response came from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has time and again shown a penchant for improving bilateral relations with Pakistan.
In a single paragraph, softly worded statement on the development, Singh said: ‘I welcome it as a significant step forward and hope that it will deal a decisive blow to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The international community and Pakistan in particular must work comprehensively to end the activities of all such groups who threaten civilized behaviour and kill innocent men, women and children.’
Actually, Singh had no need to haul Pakistan over the coals over its complicity with terror outfits and for providing sanctuaries to them in Pakistan as two Cabinet colleagues had already done that, namely Home Minister P Chidambaram and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna. Significantly, Singh refrained from accusing Pakistan of harbouring terrorists, as the death of bin Laden strongly suggests it has been doing. But his measured reaction may trigger a political storm, and his bête noire, BJP leader L K Advani, may once again target him for being soft on Pakistan.
Chidambaram, for his part, said the US government informed the Indian government earlier in the day that Osama bin Laden had been killed by security forces somewhere ‘deep inside Pakistan’, adding that ‘after the September 11, 2001 terror attack, the US had reason to seek Osama Bin Laden and bring him and his accomplices to justice.’ With this remark, Chidambaram was effectively saying that an aggrieved foreign power was well within its rights to take military action in a foreign land if its enemies are hiding there – a pregnant remark considering that India’s most wanted terrorists, including Zaki ul Rehman Lakvi, Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed and Dawood Ibrahim, are based in Pakistan.
Brilliant lawyer that he is, Chidambaram drove home the similarity between threats from terrorists based in Pakistan to the United States and India. He said: ‘We take note with grave concern that part of the statement in which President Obama said that the fire fight in which Osama Bin Laden was killed took place in Abbotabad “deep inside Pakistan.” This fact underlines our concern that terrorists belonging to different organisations find sanctuary in Pakistan. We believe that the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack, including the controllers and handlers of the terrorists who actually carried out the attack, continue to be sheltered in Pakistan.’
Chidambaram also used this opportunity to underscore India’s demands of Pakistan in this context when he said: ‘We once again call upon the government of Pakistan to arrest the persons whose names have been handed over to the interior minister of Pakistan as well as provide voice samples of certain persons who are suspected to be among the controllers and handlers of the terrorists.’
Krishna was gentler in his statement, and described the killing of bin Laden as ‘a historic development and victorious milestone in the global war against the forces of terrorism.’ He also asked the international community to overcome terrorism and eliminate the safe havens and sanctuaries ‘that have been provided to terrorists in our own neighbourhood.’