By Seema Guha
If India is under the illusion that the questioning of David Coleman Headley, the American national involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack will help nail Pakistan, it is sadly mistaken. Headley is merely corroborating what is already known, and the entire tamasha involved in his video deposition is fluff for public consumption.
The FBI had already briefed Indian authorities after questioning Headley, soon after it was disclosed that he was involved in the Mumbai suicide attacks and had been to the city to gather details of the locations that were on the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s radar. In December last year, he was pardoned by the Mumbai court after he turned approver or a prosecution witness. Headley, who was sentenced in 2013 by a Chicago court to 35 years in a US prison for his role in the atrocity, said that two previous attempts were made in September and October but they were unsuccessful.
A Pakistan-born US citizen, he is said to have been sent out by the American intelligence to befriend the terror groups and get to know their mind in an attempt to take action against likely terror attacks. However, Headley became a double agent. He joined the LeT in 2002 and took what he described as a "course"’ with them at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Headley said what everyone already knows — that the LeT chief is Hafiz Saeed and identified him in a photograph shown by the Indian prosecutors.
Nevertheless, Indian authorities are pleased that Headley was allowed by the US to answer questions on video. "This is the first time perhaps in the world's legal history, that a terrorist will tender live evidence in a foreign country. Headley will likely divulge the larger aspect of the criminal conspiracy behind the 26/11 terror attacks. This would strengthen the present trial pending against Indian nationals. The US government has supported the endeavour taking into consideration the global challenge of terrorism," special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said.
But to what end ?
Much of this information is already known. Headley identifying Hafiz Saeed will not make any difference. The Pakistani authorities are afraid to take any action against Saeed. Headley’s testimony to the Mumbai court will also not affect the trial of the seven Pakistani terrorists including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, arrested soon after the Mumbai attacks. The case has not moved forward, as the courts have not found enough evidence against the terror suspects.
So what is the big deal here? "The government possibly wants to tell a gullible people that it is doing its best to get justice for the victims of the Mumbai attacks. But in real terms, the Headley
deposition is of no use. All facts of the case are known. But who will persuade Pakistan to take action?" asked Ajai Sahni, director of the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management. "Naming and shaming Pakistan has been of no use as the world has discovered. So Headley pointing a finger at Pakistan makes no difference,’’ he added.
What has Headley told the Mumbai Court:
1. Before the November 2008 terror attack, the LeT had made two unsuccessful attacks in September and October to carry out multiple suicide attacks. The same 10 key men were involved.
2. Sajid Mir was Headley’s main contact in the LeT in Pakistan. He persuaded him to change his name from Daood Gilani to David Coleman Headley to make it easier for him to travel to India without suspicion. He visited India nine times, without raising any suspicion. LeT asked him to make a general video of Mumbai. Mir planned to have Headley settle in India.
3. Headley identified Hafiz Saeed in a photograph shown to him in court saying, "Yes, that is Mr Hafiz Saeed" and said Saeed lectured him and other recruits about jihad against India.
4. Headley said LeT has carried out terror attacks all over India and said it "assists the people of Kashmir to fight the Indian Army."
Headley’s testimony may possibly help to get one of the domestic terror "handlers" Zabihuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, convicted. He is currently the only person being tried in the case. Ajmal Kasab the only terrorist caught alive had earlier identified Jundal as his handler.
With focus back on the Mumbai attacks, with Headley’s testimony, chances of India-Pakistan peace talks have receded further. Pakistan is said to have rejected India’s charge that the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists were behind the Pathankot terror attacks and refused to act against its chief Masood Azhar for lack of evidence.
Headley’s testimony together with the latest turnaround has clearly signalled another period of freeze in India-Pakistan ties.