India Angered By Pakistan Move To Dredge Up 50-Year-Old Charges

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - The tense military standoff in South Asia has taken a new twist, with reports that Pakistani authorities may seek the extradition of a senior Indian government minister over his alleged role in the attempted assassination of the founder of the Islamic nation more than half a century ago.

Pakistan national daily The News broke the story that prosecutors were re-examining a case against Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, in connection with the attempted assassination of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and other Muslim leaders in 1947.

The report may have been shrugged off, but what raised hackles in New Delhi was the Pakistan Foreign Office's refusal to rubbish the allegation immediately. Instead a spokesman said comment would be made after the facts had been ascertained.

Many here see the move as a retaliatory one, after India provided its neighbor with a list of 20 terrorist suspects it wants extradited to face trial. They see it as no coincidence that Advani has spearheaded India's demands that Pakistan act against anti-India terrorists.

India says most of the 20 suspects are of Indian origin and were involved in terrorist activities in the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir and elsewhere. Pakistan has refused so far.

The newspaper report refers to a report first lodged with police months after Britain split its Indian colony into Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan.

Advani was a resident of Karachi in Pakistan before he moved to India during the 1950s.

He was among a group of 18 Hindu hard-liners charged with trying to assassinate Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the man known as the founding father of Pakistan, as well as other leaders. Police only managed to arrest six of the alleged plotters. The case against the remaining 12, Advani included, remained dormant, the report said.

Jinnah led demands by Muslims in pre-partition India for a separate homeland.

Once partition was agreed to, India gave Muslim citizens the option of going to Pakistan, but at the same time declared a secular constitution under which all religions were to be treated equally. India today has the world's second largest population of Muslims, after Indonesia.

India has reacted strongly to the incident.

"If true, such reports are suggestive of little more than juvenile posturing by Pakistan," an External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said in response to queries.

The spokesperson pointed out that Advani has been a guest of the Pakistan government in the past. In the late 1970s he visited Pakistan while he was information and broadcasting minister.

Defense Minister George Fernandes called the report "a joke" and called on Islamabad to "behave in a serious manner" by handing over the 20 suspects to prove it was sincere about fighting terrorism.

Political analyst T. Ramachandran said Pakistan was no doubt targeting Advani as he was seen as the most hawkish among India's leaders, and in favor of taking direct action against terrorists operating from Pakistan soil.

A senior official in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party warned that the Pakistani move could agitate Hindu nationalists who owe their allegiance to Advani. Calls from such quarters for an attack against Pakistan could gain ground in the coming days, he added.

More than a million India and Pakistani troops have been deployed at the border amid rising tensions following a terrorist attack on India's Parliament last month.

Blaming the attack on two Pakistan-based groups fighting Indian rule in divided Kashmir, India imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions, and demanded that Islamabad act against the terrorists.

Pakistan has taken some steps, including banning the two groups, but India wants more done, including a handover of the 20 suspects.

E-mail a news tip to the Foreign Desk.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.