Tribunal for terrorists

Our view: Let an international court try the suspected mastermind of the Mumbai attacks

December 09, 2008

Pakistan took its first concrete step toward making good on its promise to cooperate fully in prosecuting those responsible for last month's terrorist attack in Mumbai. Yesterday, Pakistani troops raided a training camp run by the Islamist extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba and arrested Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, whom India accuses of having masterminded the attacks.

With the suspected militant in custody, however, Pakistan now faces the problem of what to do with him. India wants to put him on trial, though the countries have no extradition treaty and handing him over could provoke a backlash at home against Pakistan's fragile democratic government. Yet keeping him in Pakistan risks sharply escalating tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals that have fought three wars since 1947. A military confrontation would be disastrous for both with unforeseen consequences for the region. Moreover, it's unlikely the outcome of a trial held either in India or Pakistan would be viewed as legitimate by the other. That's why Pakistan's best bet might be to turn the accused terrorist over for trial to a body such as the International Criminal Court, which has prosecuted accused war criminals. But terrorism has been excluded from the ICC's jurisdiction. Instead, the U.N. Security Council would have to create an ad hoc international criminal tribunal similar to those set up to deal with the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Russia and China, which have strong ties to India and Pakistan, respectively, have no compelling reasons to play a spoiler's role in setting up such a court, even if the U.S. supports it, which it should. An international tribunal to prosecute the Mumbai suspects - and possibly others like them - would signal a worldwide commitment to fighting terrorism, which isn't restricted to a single country, continent or region. Most important, it could keep Pakistan and India talking at a time when they need to figure out how to work together, not against each other. That's a dialogue every Security Council member should want to see succeed.

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