Is Abu Jundal really singing or are we screwing up again?

Is India about to mess-up a god-given opportunity to get to the bottom of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai after the arrest of Abu Jundal, or Zabiuddin Ansari of Beed district in Maharashtra?

From the daily news leaks in the media on what Jundal may or may not have confessed to the Delhi Police during interrogation, it appears that his arrest is being used more as a political distraction by a beleaguered government rather than as a serious breakthrough in tackling terrorism.

Sure, the UPA government, which is on the ropes on everything from the handling of the economy to turning a blind eye to high-level corruption, could benefit from the Jundal distraction. But the price the country will pay for misusing the Jundal case as a political windfall will be high.

Home Minister P Chidambaram has gone on record to suggest that the Pakistani mentor of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Saeed, was at the control room when Abu Jundal was directing the terrorists of 26/11 on what to do. DNA newspaper quoted him as saying that Jundal had been given a “very safe haven” in Pakistan, and his interrogation had convinced him that the terror attack had “some kind of (Pakistani) state support.”

It appears that his arrest is being used more as a political distraction. PTI

Chidambaram confirmed that “many of the missing pieces of the 26/11 conspiracy are now known to us through the interrogation of Abu Jundal.”

The Times of India, quoting unnamed sources on the Jundal interrogation by the Delhi Police, says that Saeed was being protected by the ISI 24x7. Another report by the newspaper talked about how Pakistan used a 2005 cricket match – the so-called cricket diplomacy of Manmohan Singh — in Mohali to send in operatives to begin scouring sites in Delhi and Mumbai for terror attacks. Again, this information is sourced to the Jundal interrogation.

To be sure, none of these disclosures is startling in any way, for they fit in with what we always knew about ISI and Pakistan’s role in promoting terror.

However, what is worrisome is the extreme access the media seems to be having to every possible utterance of Abu Jundal in custody and the loquaciousness of a home minister who could have been more discreet about what is being said during interrogation.

The first task of any genuine investigation should be to ensure that no information leaks out till the police have a valid statement and confession that will hold in a court of law. Leaking all the details of the interrogation even while the custodial questioning is going on is simply unprofessional and damaging.

Contrast this with how the US handled the arrest of David Coleman Headley. They had the whole case wrapped up before the media even got to hear of it. In fact, the worst leaks on Headley – who played a crucial reconnaissance role for the 26/11 terrorists – happened when America agreed to share information on his interrogation and agreed to give Indian agencies access to him.

But soon after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) gave us access, every Indian newspaper had stories telling us what Headley is alleged to have told our intelligence agencies.

India is shooting itself in the foot by this kind of unprofessional conduct. Let’s remember that the Jundal extradition was not the result of great work by our own sleuths. Nor was it the result of our terrific diplomatic skills with Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have a far closer relationship with Pakistan than India, and the reason why they may have obliged us by deporting Jundal are related to American pressure. Even under American pressure, the Saudis made us run a lot before they gave us Jundal. According to The Indian Express, when the Saudis wouldn’t accept our DNA tests in the face of Pak pressure, we had to send blood samples of Jundal’s father twice to confirm Zabiuddin’s identity and it took us 14 months to convince the Saudis to hand him over.

It is highly unlikely that the Saudis did it all on their own. American pressure would have played an important role.

So why would the Americans go this far to help us?

Answer: The Americans are trying to pressure the Pakistanis on Afghanistan, and just as Pakistan uses leverage over Nato supply routes to extract economic and political concessions, the Americans use people with ISI links — Headley, Jundal and Ghulam Nabi Fai — to covertly send a message to Pakistan that they will help India if it doesn’t fall in line with the American policy on Afghanistan.

If this is the reality, it makes sense for India to use every such turn of good luck to our best advantage — by focusing on securing a conviction of Abu Jundal, and extracting every possible information on terror groups in India by silent professionalism rather than loud-mouthed, politically-driven disclosures on what Jundal said to the interrogators.

By doing the opposite, India may be sending the wrong message to the people who helped us with Jundal — the Saudis and the Americans, who may wonder if we know how to use their help discreetly.

One hopes our politicians and intelligence agencies don’t screw up once more.