The David Headley Chase
Prabir Purkayastha, Newsclick, 6 april 2010
India's chase of David Headley – asking for access to Headley – still continues with no real resolution in sight. While the Government and its spokespersons are expressing confidence about access, the US spokespersons including Ambassador Roemer are adding a lot weasel words. What is a simple task when the US intelligence agencies want to interview anybody in Indian (or Pakistani) custody, becomes apparently a major legal minefield if the reverse is asked. The US authorities pontificate how the US operates on the basis of law and therefore the procedures are much more difficult than in in India, which presumably functions without either law of legal procedures.
Behind this façade of law, the ugly truth is now quite clear – Headley was a part of the US intelligence operations. Why a known drug dealer should be sprung out of jail and have been able to roam the world with impunity cannot be understood without this hypothesis. The key question is whether Headley had supplied details about the Mumabi attack to his CIA handlers and if so, why did the US not share this with India. He might conceivably have been turned by the LeT and might have become a double agent. The question still remains what was the information he was feeding the US intelligence agencies? Was it just vague claims of a possible attack or was the information more detailed, which the US did not pass on to Indian authorities?
Let us also see the details that Headley has now stated in his statements before the US court where he is being tried. He has identified serving army officers – all ISI officers are army officers – who were a part of the attack on Mumbai. One of the officers is a retired Pakistani military officer, Col. Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, who was Headley’s main contact with Lashkar. Colonel Syed was arrested last year in Pakistan, but then released. In early 2009 Colonel Syed introduced Headley to Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, formerly a Huji commander and now the chief military commander of Al Qaeda in North Waziristan.
A number of us have believed that the Mumbai attack was done by organisations like LeT, with some complicity of rogue elements within the Pakistan state. And lest we think it is just a small section which does not have support within the army, the recent belligerence of Hafiz Sayid and others of his ilk, the open license given to Jihadi elements – rallies in major towns and unleashing them again on the media, all seem to indicate otherwise. This is after two years of relative silence after Mumbai attacks. It now appears that a section of the army and ISI were fully involved with the Mumbai attacks and these sections are not as peripheral as we thought.
Clearly, the Pakistan Army is now emboldened by the shift in the US position on Afghanistan. If the US needs Pakistan's help in getting its chestnuts out of the fire, the US needs to back-off on terror attack on India – this is message that General Kayani and company are sending to the US.
India has made a major miscalculation in its diplomacy. India soured its relations with Iran by voting against it in IAEA and refusing to participate in the Iran Gas pipeline, showed only a lukewarm interest in the Shanghai Cooperation and generally thought that a de facto strategic alliance with the US is all that it needed to get Pakistan to deliver. What it refused to see is that diplomacy should never be carried out in this way – never put all your diplomatic eggs in one basket. Unless you want egg on your face.
The US has a strategic view which works on the basis of balances – it always wants to retain its global influence by creating military balances in different parts of the globe. The emergence of a single global player in any theatre in the world is against the US interests. Its strategic review document makes this vision clear – the US must dominate in every regional theatre of operations – it is not enough to be the pre-eminent global player – it must also be the pre-eminent player in every region in the world. Not letting India emerge as the pre-eminent power in South Asia and balance it with Pakistan has been its agenda right from the beginning. De-hyphenating India Pakistan does not do away with the fundamental strategic vision underlying its global and regional policies.
It is in this context that the Headley story becomes important. The only way that Pakistan can retain some kind of military parity with India is if it uses its terror apparatus against India. This is behind the Pakistan Military creation of its Strategic Depth Policy. While its wants arms and military hardware from the US, it knows that it can only balance India if it also builds this terror support structure. This is deeply embedded in Pakistan's strategic thinking. And contrary to India's belief, the US is quite willing to play along this Pakistani game, as long as it does not affect its larger strategic interests.
Last month, a large number of civil society organizations of FATA, Swat, Malakand and Buner -- areas directly affected by terrorism -- met in Peshawar. The workshop was attended by the provincial leadership of all major political parties as well. The Peshawar Declaration that came out of this meeting is quite striking in the way it looks terrorism. It identifies the two sources of terrorism – one is Al Qaeda and the other as Pakistan Army's Strategic Depth Policy. It points out that Pakistan Military's use of jihadi terror groups has been integral to its strategy right from the beginning and in the use of al badar and al sham groups in Bangladesh, then East Bengal. The Peshawar meeting states that the Pakistani Military learnt nothing from this fiasco and continues with the same policy even today. For the Pakistan Military, jihadi terror networks are their strategic allies in trying to extend Pakistan's reach – from Kashmir to Afghanistan and even beyond.
Even though Pakistan Army remains still a secular institution, this has not stopped the way of Pakistan's strategic thinkers to look upon jihadi forces as their ally in the region in general and South Asia in particular.
It is because of this belief that terror networks are strategic assets, the Pakistan state is unwilling to dismantle these networks. The merging of the global terror network – LeT/Huji and Al Qaeda joining hands or having common operatives -- has not changed the way Pakistan establishment looks at such networks. Even the threat from these networks to the Pakistan state – the Pakistan Taliban's target is clearly the Pakistan state – has not dampened Pakistan Military's enthusiasm for terror networks. Only this explains why Pakistan is quite brazen about disregarding India's views on the Mumbai terror attack. As long as the US is willing to act as a balancer between India and Pakistan and needs Pakistan to get its tail out of the crack in Afghanistan, Pakistan can continue in its old ways.
For India, it is the moment of truth. If it wants leverage over Pakistan, it has to stop thinking that cosying up to the US is all that is required. The US strategic interests will always trump India's interests – this is something the Manmohan Singh Government has to learn. If it did not, the recent Pakistan-US strategic dialogue and its attempts to access David Headley, must have made this clear. The crucial question is can this Government retool its foreign policy and start thinking beyond the US? Or will it still run to the US seeking its blessings in its dialogue with Pakistan?
For Pakistan, the game is even more dangerous. If it continues in its search for strategic depth using terror networks, sooner rather that later, it is going to face a blow back. A secular state is fundamentally incompatible with terror network as allies. This is what the Peshawar declaration brings out. The problem for the people under the threat of guns is that as long as the brunt of terror is felt in only FATA, Swat, etc., the rest of Pakistani population do not know its real dimension or its close ties with the armed forces. They look upon the Army as different from the
Both India and Pakistan must stop looking at the US for solving the problems in their relations. And Pakistan has to realise that terror networks will pose an existential threat to the Pakistani state.
Finally, mere denial by Pakistan of the involvement of serving officers is not enough. Otherwise, a major terror strike emerging from within Pakistan, will bring the relation between two nuclear states to a flashpoint. Anybody who believes that military measures will play only to pre-set scenarios is a fool. Unfortunately, history is replete with foolish leaders who have caused untold damage. To their nations and to the world.