All Governments indulge in spin. One should not, therefore, blame the Government of Dr Manmohan Singh for indulging in spin in the case of David Coleman Headley, of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), and for trying to mislead the hapless Indian public with the help of obliging journalists that the plea bargain entered into by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with Headley was not a setback, but a great triumph for Indian diplomacy.
We might not have succeeded in getting him extradited in the Mumbai 26/11 case, says bravely Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, but the option of getting him extradited in other cases is still open. What other cases?
We will keep trying, says Home Minister P.Chidambaram. And, in the meanwhile, more Indians will keep dying at the hands of the terrorists.
"Four Reasons Why India is Smiling" says The Times of India of diminishing credibility. Why India is smiling according to the whiz kids of the TOI? For the first time LET's links with Al Qaeda being underscored in a US Court. Oh really? The first time a clandestine cell of the LET was detected in the US was in 2003 when George Bush was the President. The FBI arrested a number of American nationals of Pakistani, Saudi and other origin and charged them with waging war against India from US territory.
What is the second reason for India's smile visible only to the TOI and not to many of us? "The threat of execution will hang over him." Oh really? Under the US law once the FBI renounces its right to demand death penalty in a case it cannot go back on its commitment whatever be the new evidence.
What is the third reason for the smile? India can interrogate Headley even if he is not extradited. Another gem from the TOI. Interrogation is done in your custody. Otherwise, it is meaningless. Yes, under the plea bargain Indian investigators can question him in FBI's custody. The FBI officer will decide the relevance of the questions.
The fourth reason for India's smile so visible to the TOI? India's case against the LET has become stronger.So what? Will India be able to get Pro.Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed, the Amir of the LET, arrested and prosecuted by Pakistan? Will India be able to see that Pakistan dismantles the LET infrastructure in Pakistani territory? Will India be able to prevent another 26/11? Then of what use India's case against the LET becoming stronger?
The Hindu, the other daily of no credibility, has come out with its own gem. Says N.Ram, the precious son of the Tamil soil and our own unique contribution to the world of Indian journalism: "Barring death penalty enthusiasts, no one has any reason to bemoan the Plea Agreement".
Oh, oh, oh, oh Mr Ram. It has got nothing to do with death penalty. It has got everything to do with Pakistan's continued use of the LET to kill hundreds of innocent Indians. Our investigation into 26/11 runs on two parallel tracks--the responsibility of the LET, which the Pakistanis project as a non-State actor with which the State of Pakistan has nothing to do and the responsibility of the State of Pakistan. What the US has sought to achieve through the choreographed plea bargain is that while India will be able to highlight the responsibility of the LET, it will not be able to establish the responsibility of the State of Pakistan. The Obama Administration wants the world to perceive 26/11 as the crime of a non-state actor as claimed by Pakistan and not the crime of the State of Pakistan. That is the real issue here.
What did Headley know according to the FBI's own court affidavits?
- He knew Ilyas Kashmiri of the 313 Brigade, who is close to Osama bin Laden and who recently threatened to attack the IPL cricket matches and the Commonwealth Games. Headley had met him in North Waziristan in the beginning of 2009.
- He knew many office-bearers of the LET whose identities the FBI has not revealed.
- He knew many serving and retired officers of the Pakistan Army.
What he must be knowing?
- The identities of the many contacts he made in India during his repeated visits.
- The identities of the sleeper cells of the LET, which have not yet come to the notice of the Indian investigators. If the FBI had allowed us to question Headley in time, we might have been able to prevent the Pune blast of February 13 if it had been planned by the LET or its Indian associates.
The FBI had seen to it that we will not be able to find out all this by independently interrogating Headley. It is a great tragedy and speaks eloquently of the decay of our sense of national self-respect that instead of having the spine to stand up to the US and protest loud and clear over the FBI's shutting out access to Headley, we are indulging in more spins to project what has happened as a triumph for Indo-US cooperation over which we should smile and not cry.
The Obama Administration has been repeatedly kicking us in the back.It did so in respect of Afghanistan. It has done so in respect of Headley. Instead of having the courage and intellectual honesty to admit to our people that we have been let down nastily by the US, we are indulging in more spins to project the kicks as, in fact, boquets from Obama with love.
Dear Dr Manmohan Singh, Dear Shri Chidambaram, Dear Shri Pillai, Dear Shri Ram, Dear whiz-kids of ToI: Some weeks ago Mulla Baradar, supposedly No 2 in the Afghan Taliban, was arrested by the ISI in Karachi.He is in the ISI's custody. The US and Afghan intelligence wanted independent access to him for interrogation. The ISI refused and told them he could be questioned in the ISI's custody. The US insisted on independent access and warned Pakistan of the likely consequences if it did not agree to it. This week's reports say that Pakistan has been forced to allow independent access to the Americans.
That is the way a self-respecting nation protects its interests and nationals. For the US, independent interrogation of Baradar was necessary to hold those responsible for American deaths in the past accountable and to prevent more deaths in future. It insisted on it and had its way.
India is not the US. The clout which it has over Pakistan we do not have anywhere in the world. At least we could have had the courage to protest--loudly and openly--instead of projecting every stab in the back by Obama as a kiss in the back.
Also see: Article titled The Spin, The Fizzle written by me last year.
The spin continues. The more the spins, the more will be the fizzles.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.