Today, and in the coming days, the confessions of David Headley, one of the alleged co-conspirators behind the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, before an Indian court, will raise considerable heat and enrage a lot of Indians when he repeatedly names Pakistan. It will also earn a lot of brownie points for the Modi government, and will further strengthen the legend of its National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who in less than two years has emerged as some sort of a desi James Bond playing conventional and unconventional spy games for his country.
Three things are absolutely certain: Pakistan and its ISI will be implicated; Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, his Pakistan military and ISI interlocutors will be named, and the details of the conspiracy and its roll-out will be spelled out. To summarise, Headley’s deposition from his US jail, where he is serving a 35 year term, will clearly establish that it was indeed Pakistan, and not some non-State rogues, that had unleashed terror in Mumbai. But beyond that?
At best, Lakhvi and his associates may be sent back to jail for a few more years and then released for want of sentence-worthy evidence, and the rest of Headley revelations will be dismissed as unreliable testimony by a discredited man. After all, in Pakistan’s eyes, he was a criminal who became a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent of the US, and his participation in an ISI-hatched conspiracy, if at all it existed, couldn’t have been missed by the CIA. So did CIA also conspire by keeping quiet and letting Headley do his considerable bit for the terror?
For Pakistan, it won’t make a water-tight case for two reasons: one, politically and militarily, it cannot accede to its neighbour’s charges and demands because enmity to India is its raison d’être. Ant-India terrorists are its strategic-assets that they have nurtured over time. In fact, Pakistan will worry more about losing them than anything else. All that it can do and will do, in the face of new, post-Headley demands from India, will be to isolate the last mile operators and send them to jail with a case that can be easily dismissed by the country’s courts.
Even the courts will be lenient to the alleged perpetrators because they too cannot go against majority national sentiment. So, in the best case scenario, a few of the operational pawns, that will probably include Lakhvi and no ISI and military men, will go to a facility like the Adyala jail in Rawalpindi, from where they will continue to run the command-and-control centre of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and after a few years, the courts will release them.
It’s not lack of evidence that is preventing Pakistan from acting against the anti-India terrorists on its soil, but its inability to rewrite its geo-political and military strategy. Causing harm to India is encoded into its DNA and every national institution has to religiously protect that genetic purity. A small section of reasonable Pakistanis might question their military and its dubious ways, but most of the population worship it because that’s the only functioning institution in the country. Everything else in Pakistan has failed or is prone to failure, but not its military. Had Pakistan been serious about Mumbai terror attacks, wasn’t there enough direct and circumstantial evidence to unearth the entire chain of command and the operational networks and people, particularly from the military and the ISI.
Wasn’t there enough evidence in the past to sentence Lakhvi? Instead what did Pakistan do? They kept him in jail for seven years, but in a luxurious quarters where he enjoyed absolute freedom to continue his terror operations under state patronage. According to this sensational BBC report his life in “jail” would have been “unthinkable anywhere else in the world, but elements of the Pakistani establishment are known to have provided such facilities to jailed militant commanders whom they think they may need in future”. They did almost the same to Hafiz Saeed and his Jamaat-Ud-Dawa, which reportedly thrived despite a government ban.
These are “assets” Pakistan has assiduously built over the years that they cannot let go of, or even estrange. Three most diabolical and virulent anti-Indian terrorists are roaming free in Pakistan: Hafiz Saeed, a UN-designated international terrorist, despite carrying an US-bounty of US$10 million; Maulana Masood Azhar, who walked literally free from an Indian jail to Pakistan after he was exchanged for the hostages in a hijacked Indian Airlines plane in Kandahar in 1999; and Dawood Ibrahim, another US-designated global terrorist, who allegedly masterminded and funded the 1993 bombings in Mumbai. They all seem to be absolutely untouchable.
More than Pakistan’s continued intransigence, what should really dishearten India is the dubious role of America. As it’s widely known, Headley was an American agent when he recceed Mumbai to help ISI mastermind 26/11.That he visited India nine times, even while being under US-watch, is not only hard to stomach, but also smacks of betrayal. The US could have known what he was upto, but stopped short of providing the complete picture to India. Instead, it gave some unspecific warning, that as usual, our intelligence mandarins, failed to work on. India should also be disheartened with the US because beyond naming Saeed and Dawood, it has done precious nothing to nab them, let alone curtail their anti-Indian operations.
So, after the Headley excitement dies down and after Pakistan probably stages yet another sham investigation and trial, India will realise that in the game of national security, it’s all alone. Is there an extraordinary, radical shift possible in its strategic response?