David Coleman Headley’s disclosures to a court in Mumbai have only confirmed the findings of Indian intelligence agencies. Finer details notwithstanding, the importance of Headley’s revelations cannot be downplayed. For the very first time, a key member of the organsing team involved in carrying out the horrific 26/11 Mumbai terror attack has given direct evidence of the role played by the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment to an Indian court. In his two-day deposition to a Mumbai court, Headley uncovered the manner in which Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI, has consistently used “non-state” actors like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to undermine India’s sovereign interests and destabilise its internal security. Suffice to say, Headley’s revelations cannot be merely dismissed as a concoction. To the uninitiated, David Coleman Headley is an American terrorist of Pakistani origin, who conspired with the LeT and Pakistani intelligence officers in plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Headley is currently lodged in a US jail, where he is serving a 35-year prison sentence for his role in the Mumbai attack. Compared to Headley, the likes of Ajmal Kasab were merely foot soldiers. In his deposition to the court, Headley confessed to having visited terror training camps in Pakistan, during the course of which he met and interacted with LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Jamaat-Ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed. In response to public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam’s question on what “jihad” meant to Headley, the latter said that it meant fighting enemies of Islam. In these training camps, Headley was reportedly taught that India is the “enemy of Islam”. It is also clear that the erstwhile LeT operative still holds Saeed in great regard, often addressing him with the honorific “sahib”. Although these disclosures aren’t sensational in their own right, it nonetheless paints a vivid picture of Pakistan’s refusal to take action on masterminds of terror-related attacks at India. On the second day of his deposition, Headley told the Mumbai court how the LeT, Al Qaeda, JeM, Hizbul Mujahideen and other groups in Pakistan function under the “United Jihad Council”, with the sole aim of unleashing terror in India.
Headley’s disclosures will once again put the focus back on the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment’s use of non-state actors. The lack of concrete legal action against Saeed and Lakhvi before him has frustrated India’s attempts to bring the guilty to book. Until he was taken into “protective custody”, the JeM’s Maulana Masood Azhar—the alleged mastermind behind the Pathankot attack—also roamed around Pakistan a free man, preaching “jihad” across the country. As this column has repeatedly stated, the Pakistan must dismantle these terror groups for good. For far too long the steps that were undertaken by Pakistan to investigate home-grown terror have fallen apart. Islamabad’s best intentions cannot mask the fact that proponents of terror continue to roam free, spewing anti-India rhetoric. Despite immense international pressure on Pakistan to restrain the likes of Hafiz Saeed, he is allowed to move freely. Speaking at a public rally last week, Saeed had praised last month’s terror attack in Pathankot. Addressing a rally of around one thousand people in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Saeed reportedly said, “800,000 Indian troops are committing genocide on Kashmiris. Don’t they have a right to carry out Pathankot-style attacks for their defence?” Saeed also lauded Kashmiri militant leader Sayed Salahuddin, who heads the United Jihad Council (UJC) that has claimed responsibility for the attack. “You have only seen one attack on Pathankot. Matters could easily escalate.” We must remember that the United Nations had declared the JuD a terrorist organisation in December 2008 and Saeed a terrorist. Coming back to Headley, it is important that the Narendra Modi government use the former LeT operative’s deposition as an opportunity to gather further evidence of Pakistan’s continuing role in promoting cross-border terrorism against India. New Delhi must spread the word across international forums of Pakistan’s role. But will the Modi government, which has sought to fundamentally alter Indo-Pak relations, use these revelations to put Pakistan on the dock or let it off the hook? If New Delhi indeed wishes to let Pakistan off the hook, then many will construe it as a futile attempt at believing that senior Pakistani military officers have turned a corner on their India policy. Moreover, it is hard to believe that the horrors of home-grown terror have finally compelled the Pakistani military to stop using its terror proxies.
The sense of futility emerges from Headley’s revelations. Although these revelations are almost a decade old, the court was given a detailed insight into the dynamics at play. In what was probably the most damaging revelation, Headley said that the LeT and its sponsor, the ISI, had tried to conduct a 26/11-like operation twice, before succeeding a third time. The relentless pursuit by Pakistan’s military/intelligence establishment to destabilize India cannot be ignored. The United States, for its part, has cooperated in ensuring Headley gave evidence, albeit a few years late. But Pakistan will continue to shrug off these allegations, despite constant US pressure to abandon its present course of using terror to further its strategic interests. Worst of all, the Americans will not go beyond a point against Pakistan—a fact borne by history and the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. When 9/11 happened, the US started a war in Afghanistan. Forget extradition, the Americans went to the extent of illegally killing the dreaded Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil. But if there were other 9/11 masterminds on Pakistani soil, one can be sure that the US would have found a way to extradite them and try them on US soil. America’s double standards on the matter are pretty evident.
Finally, Islamabad’s contention that no evidence was found against Maulana Masood Azhar and JeM for their alleged role in the Pathankot only indicates Pakistan’s unwillingness to dismantle these terror networks. “The ball is, therefore, in Modi’s court. He may well give Pakistan more time, but it is doubtful if he will be able to show that his Pakistan policy has persuaded Pakistan to turn its back on terror,” writes Vivek Katju, a retired Indian diplomat and an old Pakistan hand. “Will he then proceed to engage Pakistan despite its calibrated use of terrorism? The Foreign Secretary hinted so though he did not elaborate on the nature of the engagement. More explicitly, can the proposed Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue go hand-in-hand with terrorism?” To conclude, Headley’s disclosures have only revealed how lacklustre Pakistan has been in bringing the likes Saeed, Lakhvi and Azhar to book. With these obstacles in the way, the Narendra Modi government has a tough road ahead in its pursuit of peace with Pakistan.