Will India Take Lessons from the David Headley Case?

Kavita Krishnan

Partnership with the US will secure India from terrorism – this is the ‘wisdom’ peddled by the Vajpayee Government as well as by the Manmohan Singh governments. Much of the media too has parroted this notion, and much was made of the news that American spy agency FBI would be partnering Indian investigators in key cases. The NDA Government had allowed the FBI to have an office in India, and the UPA Government had virtually allowed the FBI to take over the Mumbai terror attack investigations. The National Investigative Agency (NIA) was set up – again to allow closer coordination with the FBI. The Mumbai terror attack itself was dubbed “26/11” to match the US’ ‘war on terror’ discourse of 9/11, and Indian PM timed his US visit to coincide with the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks.
Recent revelations in the Mumbai terror investigations, however, raise disturbing questions. In early November a team of Indian intelligence officials rushed to the US on hearing that two men with a key role in the Mumbai attack had been arrested in the US – David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana. But even after a week-long stay in the US, they returned empty handed, having been denied permission by the US to question the two.
It then emerged from some media reports in the US that Headley might be a US spy. Arrested for drug smuggling in 1997, he was released to work as an agent of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and probably also for the CIA in 1999, making repeated trips into South Asia, especially Pakistan, Afghanistan and, later, India. With the knowledge and collusion of the US agencies, he changed his named from Dawood Geelani to David Headley. In his many visits to India in 2008, Headley apparently had detailed knowledge of the impending Mumbai attacks – information which the FBI had access to but which was not shared with India. It is even indicated that Headley surveyed potential sites for terrorist strikes – including the crucial sites where the strikes actually took place. Headley even visited India in April 2009, months after the Mumbai attacks, but even then India was kept in the dark about his identity and his visit.
It is now being suggested that Headley had ‘gone rogue’ and had become a double agent for the Lashkar-e-Taiyyeba. There is also a strong possibility, however, that Headley is still a US agent, whose arrest has taken place precisely to prevent Indian investigators from questioning him, and who, after another sojourn in US jails, will again be released as he was earlier, to continue to operate undercover for the CIA.
The murky mist around David Headley’s identity and role may never be clear - we may never know the whole truth. We must remember that Osama bin Laden too was apparently once a CIA agent. Headley appears to be yet another such US agent who has played a key role in the Mumbai terror strikes which claimed so many innocent lives. The CIA has played a highly dubious role in many countries around the globe. We ought to reflect on these facts and its implications for India.
Whatever the whole truth, some things appear undeniable. A US spy, a former drug runner, had a major role in planning the Mumbai attacks. The FBI and the CIA had knowledge, both of his identity as well as of the impending attacks. But this information was not shared with India, and a tragedy was allowed to occur. And now, the US is actively preventing India from questioning this man, and drawing their independent conclusions about his role. Meanwhile the FBI has full access to anyone arrested in India – even reportedly taking a woman eyewitness away to the US for questioning! Clearly, the US spy agencies have actively jeopardised the safety of Indian citizens, and have proved completely untrustworthy and unreliable. Whatever information they choose to impart to India is bound to be selective, self-serving and not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Does it not seriously undermine India’s independence and jeopardise India’s safety to rely on, and continue in a strategic partnership with a country that has proved that it is willing to allow Indians to be terrorised and killed in order to serve its own shady interests, and that, moreover, is quite shameless about blocking India’s access to key information and suspects in terror cases? The example of Pakistan ought to have been enough to warn us of the consequences of being a US ally. Does it not stand proved – at tragic cost – that the US and global terrorism are inextricably linked, and allowing India to figure in US ‘strategy’ can only make India and Indians more insecure?