This is the first time in India that any court will be conducting the prosecution of a high-profile international terrorist via video-conferencing. But the deposition of David Coleman Headley in a Mumbai court on Monday will be more optics than substance.
Headley, who played a critical role in facilitating the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, has already been pardoned by the Indian court on the plea that he would reveal all about the role of his Pakistani handlers — particularly ISI officials, the operational commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and his chief Hafeez Mohammed Saeed. Legally, Headley’s deposition is aimed at nailing Pakistani’s prevarication and lies in the Mumbai attack.
In legal terms, Headley’s confession in the crime and his dealings with Pakistan’s ISI operatives along with terrorists in Pakistani soil would provide incontrovertible evidence against Pakistan’s claim of the involvement of non-state actors in the Mumbai attack. His deposition will also provide 'prosecutable' evidence against not only Saeed or Lakhvi, but also top officers of the ISI acting as handlers of Headley.
But will it change the ground reality in relation to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism or Pakistan itself?
It seems unlikely.
There is neither any assurance from the US nor Pakistan that the deposition of Headley will result in any change in their approach to terrorism. “The deposition is nothing more than a legal illusion,” said an intelligence official dealing with the Mumbai terror attacks and Headley’s case.
Those dealing with the security scenario feel that Pakistan is unlikely to roll back its policies on the basis of Headley’s evidence. And there is a history behind it which makes Indian intelligence agencies quite wary of “excessive optimism” on the issue.
In fact, the not-so-little-known story about Headley is that he enjoys US protection because of his multiple roles as an agent of US and Pakistani intelligence agencies and the LeT. Just before the Mumbai attacks, US intelligence agencies supplied vague information about the impending attack on Mumbai. But they avoided giving specific details as it would blow Headley’s cover. This is the precise reason why Indian intelligence agencies were never given direct access to Headley for interrogation. The access to him was always facilitated through an intermediary — a sleuth of the US agencies.
Indian intelligence agencies still believe that in Mumbai attacks, the intelligence input from US agencies had concealed more than it revealed.
Since Headley was regarded as a “prized asset” by US agencies, they avoided revealing his name till they realised that they had been double-crossed by Headley. His deposition on video-conferencing may prove Pakistan’s complicity in the crime and nail its lies, but will keep under wraps the dubious role of the US intelligence agencies.
At the end of the deposition, Headley is sure to have the last laugh as he will be exonerated of his crimes after revealing only half-truths and lies.