News & Views
Mohammad JamilSaturday, November 06, 2010 - India’s Home Minister Chidambaram told reporters on 1st November, 2010 that extradition of David Headley is an option, and India would continue to pursue it. India has already said it was disappointed that the United States was not fully forthcoming on sharing intelligence linked to the attack that killed 166 people. Access to David Headley, who is in custody in the United States, and intelligence linked to his visits to India have emerged as thorny security issues between the two countries, despite their increasing cooperation in combating militancy in the region. In June, Indian investigators questioned Headley for a week in the United States, noting that while he had provided significant amounts of information they still had further questions. As part of the cooperation and partnership between the United States and India in the fight against international terrorism, Indian law enforcement officials were provided direct access to interview David Coleman Headley. During investigation by Indian interrogating team, David Headley was reported to have said that Pakistan’s ISI was behind Mimbai terrorists’ attacks, and gave some names that kept liaison with members of Lashkar-e-Taiba. But how one could check the veracity of his statement and what Headley told the Indian interrogating team.
The question is whether Pakistan has requested America for access to David Headley with a view to confirming what India is propagating is indeed Headley’s version or a pack of lies. Except one odd official statement or so, Pakistan’s Foreign Office did not pursue the mater to ascertain the truth due to its usual lackadaisicalness. Since seven alleged terrorists are facing court for their involvement in Mumbai attacks, Pakistan can rightfully ask America access to David Headley to interrogate him, in order to have incriminating material and evidence which could help expedite the proceedings of the court. It is worth mentioning that during his visits to India, Headley frequently introduced himself as a CIA agent. A profile in the New York Times said that in 1998, Headley (then known as Daood Gilani) was convicted of conspiring to smuggle heroin into US from Pakistan. “Court records show that after his arrest, he provided so much information about his own involvement with drug trafficking, which spanned over a decade, and about his Pakistani suppliers that he was sentenced to less than two years in jail and later went to Pakistan to conduct undercover surveillance operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA),” the NYT report said.
This suggests that Headley had cut a deal with authorities in the US who allowed him to get away with mild punishment in exchange for a promise of cooperation. Headley had pleaded guilty on March 18, 2010 in the Northern District of Illinois to 12 federal terrorism charges, admitting that he participated in planning the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Through his attorneys, Headley had authorized the Justice Department to disclose that he was cooperating in the ongoing investigation of both the Danish and Indian terror plots. He remained in federal custody without bond since he was arrested in Chicago on October 3, 2009 for the Danish conspiracy. Headley, by his own confession, had joined Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2006 and received training in one of the terror camps run by the jihadi outfit. Federal officials acknowledged last month that David Coleman Headley, confessed to being a terrorist scout in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and that was working as a DEA informant while he was training with terrorists in Pakistan.
According to reports carried by the media, Headley’s second wife, Faiza Outalha, a young Moroccan woman, warned officials at the American Embassy in Pakistan in December 2007 that her husband was plotting an attack in Mumbai. Outalha showed embassy officials a photograph of herself with Headley at the Taj Mahal hotel, one of the targets of the Mumbai attacks. Hotel records confirm Headley and his wife stayed at the Taj hotel in April and May 2007, as part of several reconnaissance missions to India to scout potential sites for terrorist attacks under instructions from LeT. Anyhow, Headley pleaded guilty to 12 federal terrorism charge that were brought against him, including conspiracy to bomb public places in India, to murder Americans and others in India, and to provide material support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. He was arrested at Chicago O’Hare International Airport before boarding a flight for Pakistan in October 2009. He was charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts outside the USA and to provide material support to terrorist groups. Writer and journalist Webster Tarpley wrote in July 2010: “If this David Headley was working for the CIA all along, which is a very plausible conclusion, then the CIA was implicated in running and masterminding the Mumbai terror attack of 2008.”
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the writer observed that America or at least the CIA wish to see strained relations between India and Pakistan. With a view to maligning Pakistan and at the same time to create fears in the minds of Europeans so that they continue supporting America’s misadventures, Headley’s issue was given wide publicity. There is a perception that America had made a deal with Headley that it would take a lenient view if he gives all the details. It is possible that he had been cajoled or persuaded to name some serving Pakistan army officers to prove that Pakistan army and state were involved in promoting non-state actors. However, David Coleman Headley is reported to have revealed in his interrogations that “the Pakistani intelligence - ISI is running, at least since 2003, a residential protected compound in Karachi - the so-called Karachi-Project - aimed to carry out terror attacks in India in order to undermine and weaken the Indian stability and firmness over the Kashmir issue”. David Headley was first arrested in the US for heroin smuggling in 1997 in New York but earned a reduced sentence by working for American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) wherein he was facilitated to have ingress into Pakistan-Afghanistan linked narcotics gang.
So he could be either FBI or CIA’s man or both, and perhaps it was on their behest that he developed links with religious organizations in addition to his contacts with drug mafia. There is a perception that he was a double agent working at the same time for the CIA and terrorists’ organizations. He was a socialite; he led a life of pleasure and had many friends in Mumbai. One would not speculate that what sort of help they might have given him to advance his pernicious plans, but the fact remains that he had developed friendship with scions of big business and celebrities of film industry in India. There is a question mark on American spy agency, as to why it had not taken action after Headley’s wife had informed American Embassy in Pakistan and elsewhere. Why America did not arrest him after receiving information about his contacts with terrorists’ outfit? Had the FBI arrested him earlier and interrogated him earlier, Mumbai terrorist attacks could have been avoided. Perhaps, America had turned a blind eye and let the 26/11 attacks happen in order to malign and pressurize Pakistan into toeing American line. American President Barack Obama is arriving in India today. He may earn orders for billions of dollars from India, but he should not say things against Pakistan to appease India, as British Prime Minister David Cameron had done.
—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.