A day before the start of the Indo-US Strategic Dialogue at Washington DC and three days before President Barack Obama’s appearance at a reception to be hosted for the Indian delegation by Mrs.Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, one more charade in Indo-US cooperation will be enacted with the departure of a four-member team of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of the Government of India for Chicago to interrogate David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) on his secret visits to India at the instance of the LET to collect operational information that would facilitate one more terrorist strike by the LET in India--this time directed mainly at Israeli and other Jewish targets.
On May 1, 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, tried unsuccessfully to cause an explosion in the Times Square of New York. He was identified and arrested on May 3 as he was trying to flee to Pakistan. Within a week, the US made the Pakistani authorities detain for questioning over 15 persons in Karachi, Islamabad and other places in this connection and US officials including Gen James Jones, the US National Security Adviser, Mr Leon Panetta, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) flew to Pakistan thereafter to insist on follow-up action by the Pakistani agencies and to warn the Pakistani leaders of the consequences of their non-cooperation.
One admired the seriousness and the sense of urgency shown by US officials for protecting American lives. If the protestations of President Barack Obama and his officials of friendship for India and their repeated assurances of the high priority attached by him to the US relations with India were sincere and honest, one would have expected from them a similar seriousness and sense of urgency in protecting Indian lives by facilitating immediate access to Headley for Indian investigators.
The immediate follow-up which they insisted upon from Pakistan to protect American lives, they did not concede to India to protect Indian lives. Headley was arrested by them in the beginning of October, 2009. It has taken them eight months to grant access to the Indian investigators. Even the access which they have now agreed to give after a delay of eight months is a limited one. During this delay of eight months, the LET would have been able to cover up its trail in India, withdraw from India those of its cadres whose identities were known to Headley and reorganize and relocate its sleeper cells.
The Indian investigators, it has been reported, will be allowed to question Headley in the presence of his lawyer and an official of the FBI. Do you call this interrogation? What is interrogation? It is not just questioning a person and typing out his replies. It is much more than that. It is a psychological process by which you make the suspect contradict himself by confronting him with evidence which you have been able to collect independently. Ultimately, he realizes the game is up and comes out with the truth.
With Headley’s lawyer and the FBI officer sitting there all the time, will the Indian investigators be able to do it? No. Headley will just give proforma replies to the Indian questions and these replies would have been rehearsed with his lawyer and got approved by him. Of what use, his proforma replies? Will we be able to prosecute him in India? If we decide to do so, will the US extradite him to India?
The departure of the Indian team to the US just before the Strategic Dialogue and the appearance of Mr Obama at the State Department to talk to the Indian delegation is meant to prevent this issue from casting a shadow on the dialogue.
Do you remember what we were told after the so-called State visit of our Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to Washington DC in November last? We were told of a counter-terrorism initiative which the two countries have embarked upon. We were told of the personal interest taken by Mr Obama in the Headley case. We were told of his instructions to the FBI chief, Mr Robert Mueller, to visit India and reassure his Indian counterparts of the FBI’s readiness to co-operate with India in this matter. Subsequently, the US Ambassador to India, Mr Timothy Roemer, has been repeatedly telling Indian officials and people that the US was working “day and night” to meet the Indian request for access to Headley.
The outcome: A delay of eight months in giving us access and that too a limited access which reduces the entire exercise to a charade.
Should India have agreed to go along with this charade? Should the Manmohan Singh Government have literally colluded with the Obama Administration in playing a fraud on the Indian people by creating an illusion of Mr Obama’s cooperation when the US has not been co-operating with India as it expects others to co-operate with it?
It would have been more in keeping with our national self-respect and dignity for the Manmohan Singh Government to have politely withdrawn its request to the US for access to Headley because of the lack of sincerity on the part of the Obama Administration and its belated action, which has reduced the utility of any interrogation by Indian investigators.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.