NEW DELHI: In a shocking expose, it has been revealed that the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs officials, who were in Pakistan for the talks on November 25, 2008, were made to extend their trip.
Though it’s well-known that the 26/11 attack was launched just as India-Pakistan home-secretary level talks ended in Islamabad on November 26, 2008, it has now come to light that then home secretary Madhukar Gupta and some senior officials were persuaded by the hosts to extend their stay by a day at the picturesque hill retreat of Murree.
The revelation is surprising, not just because it took seven-and-a-half years for the overnight stay at Murree to come to light, but also because there does not seem to be any convincing explanation as to why senior home ministry officials chose to remain in Pakistan.
The apparent reason offered by the Pakistanis was that the delegation should meet the interior minister, who was then travelling. “It does raise questions as to why the Pakistanis insisted on the Indian delegation staying back an extra day after the home secretary-level talks had already concluded. Gupta was told on November 26 that he could call on the interior minister only on November 27, 2008, as the latter was travelling,” said a former official who was in the home ministry at the time.
Both the request as well as the decision of the Indian officials to stay in Pakistan seems puzzling in the light of the unfolding mayhem in Mumbai. “Though we had been staying in Islamabad for two days, the host country made special plans to shift us to a nearby hill resort in Murree. In retrospect, it leads us to suspect if the real motive was to delay or weaken the response of Indian security brass to the 26/11 strikes,” said a former bureaucrat.
Apart from possible Pakistani motives, the decision to accept the proposal shows the Indian delegation in poor light as 10 Lashker-e-Taiba terrorists, duly guided by handlers who included serving officers of Pakistan’s ISI, hitting multiple targets in Mumbai the same night is not seen as a coincidence.
Gupta, along with additional secretary (border management) Anwar Ahsan Ahmad, a last-minute addition to the delegation, joint secretary (internal security) Diptivilasa and other officers of the Indian internal security establishment spent the fateful night at Murree, which a former home ministry official now claims had weak phone signals.
The 10 terrorists struck between 8pm and 9pm on November 26 and the home ministry got into action around 9.40pm. According to an ex-bureaucrat, Gupta, on learning of the Mumbai strikes from a private person, called up special secretary (internal security) in the home ministry M L Kumawat, who was managing the initial response as per instructions of then home minister Shivraj Patil, around 11pm.
However, he was advised not to discuss any details of the response due to fears that the Pakistani agencies may be listening in.
So it was left for Kumawat to pilot the initial counter-response and ask NSG to rush to Mumbai. This, while then joint secretary (north-east) Naveen Verma and under-secretary (internal security) R V S Mani reportedly manned the home ministry control room that night.
When contacted, Mani recalled how he and Verma spent tense hours in the control room, trying to gather details of the gunfight raging in Mumbai. “In the first few hours itself, ATS chief Hemant Karkare was killed. So we were trying to get updates from two top officers of the Mumbai police – commissioner Hassan Gafoor (on Taj attack) and joint CP (law and order) K L Prasad (on the encounter at Trident),” he told TOI.
By the morning of November 27, the security brass led by then NSA M K Narayanan had taken charge of things. Sources said Gupta finished off his engagement with Pakistan interior secretary and was back in Delhi on November 27 afternoon, having advanced his scheduled departure from Islamabad by a few hours. Agencies
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