By B Raman
The detailed testimony of David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the case against Tahawuur Hussain Rana and some others being tried in absentia before a Chicago court has received considerable attention in India and Canada.
However, the attention received in Pakistan is limited. The focus in Pakistan seems to be more on his credibility as a witness. Questions posed by Rana’s defence lawyer relating to Headley’s background as a narcotics smuggler and his alleged unreliability in money matters have received greater attention in Pakistan than in India. I do not know how the Danish press has been covering the trial.
There are two principal charges against Rana relating to his role in the criminal conspiracy to provide material support for the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai (which materialised) and a planned terrorist strike in Denmark (which did not materialise).
The material support provided by Rana was in the form of purchase of air tickets for Headley, allowing Headley to pose as a member of the staff of Rana’s immigration consultancy firm during his travels to India and Denmark and allowing him to open an office of Rana’s firm in Mumbai to facilitate the collection of operational intelligence required by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the LET for the execution of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Whatever evidence Headley has given in his testimony, combined with other evidence such as telephone and e-mail intercepts independently collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) having a bearing on the charges against Rana, will definitely be taken into consideration by the court and the jury in deciding on the guilt or otherwise of Rana.
This is a case against Rana and not against Headley. The case against Headley, in which he has already made a plea bargain, has not yet come up before a court. The FBI has apparently kept it for later to ensure that Headley will co-operate in getting Rana, his close friend, convicted. Headley has been co-operating till now.
Rana is only a co-conspirator in the case. The principal conspirators are Sajid Mir , Abu Qahafa, Mazhar Iqbal, Major Iqbal, Ilyas Kashmiri and Major Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed alias Pasha. While the principal conspirators, all based in Pakistan, have been cited by the FBI as co-accused, no action has been taken by the FBI to pressure the Government of Pakistan to arrest them and hand them over to the FBI so that they could be tried along with Rana and Headley. No explanation has been forthcoming so far as to why no action has been taken by the FBI to make Pakistan hand them over for trial in Chicago.
A study of the proceedings of the trial against Rana since it started on May 23 would indicate a two-pronged strategy by the FBI:
• To encourage Headley to testify in detail regarding the role of the ISI and the LeT without holding back anything in order to satisfy India and convince it that there is no attempt to cover up the ISI’s role;
• To not exercise pressure on Pakistan to arrest the persons named by Headley and to hand them over to the FBI in order to spare the Pakistan government any embarrassment.
Will the second prong of the FBI’s strategy succeed by sparing the Pakistan government any embarrassment because of the disclosures of Headley regarding the ISI’s involvement?
That would depend on the way the prosecution lawyer and the judge sum up the proceedings for the benefit of the jury when all the testimonies are over. If they focus only on the evidence relevant to the charges against Rana, it may succeed. On the other hand, if they also focus on the charges against the absconding accused being tried in absentia, it might not.
What are the action options for India?
India should draw the attention of the Terrorism Monitoring Committee of the UN Security Council in terms of the UNSC Resolution No 1373 passed after the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US and ask for action against the ISI for violation of the UNSC resolution.
The UNSC Resolution has re-affirmed the principle established by the General Assembly in its declaration of October 1970 (resolution 2625 (XXV)) and reiterated by the Security Council in its resolution 1189 (1998) of 13 August 1998, namely that “every State has the duty to refrain from organising, instigating, assisting or participating in terrorist acts in another state or acquiescing in organised activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts.” The testimony in the case against Rana has clearly shown a serious violation of this Resolution by the ISI which should be held accountable. However, Indian action may not succeed because of a possible Chinese veto in support of Pakistan, but that should not deter us from bringing the evidence to the notice of the UNSC Monitoring Committee.
Second, India should insist that the US treat the case relating to the ISI’s involvement in the Mumbai blasts on par with the involvement of the Libyan intelligence in an act of terrorism directed against a Pan Am aircraft (the famous Lockerbie case) in 1988, which resulted in the death of all the passengers and crew, many of them US nationals. The US insisted on the trial of the Libyan intelligence officers involved and the payment of compensation to the families of the victims by the Libyan government. It succeeded on both counts. The Indian government should immediately set up a task force to study how the US handled the Lockerbie case and follow the same procedure in this case. The relatives of the victims -- whether they be Indian or foreign nationals— should be closely associated with the work of the Task Force. The Indian government should insist on the trial of the ISI officers involved before the Chicago court and the payment of compensation to the relatives of the victims by the Pakistan government.
Third, India must re-energise its case for having the US State Department declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism on the basis of the evidence adduced in the trial. The State Department will avoid doing it, as it did after the Mumbai blasts of March 1993, but that should not deter us from taking up the case against Pakistan vigorously once again.
B Raman is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat of the Government of India; he is currently Director of the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate at the Chennai Centre For China Studies. Republished with permission from the Chennai Centre For China Studies.
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Updated Date: May 27, 2011 18:13:56 IST