You are here : Home Washington Diary India to the US: Handover Headley

India to the US: Handover Headley

Handover Headley
The United States says it is working with Indian investigating agencies to provide the latter direct access to Pakistan-born American Islamic terror suspect David Coleman Headley, alias Dawood Gilani, accused in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, sometime in May.

The Indian government was to dispatch a formal request to US authorities ahead of Parliament reconvening on April 15 while this was being written. The decision to send a formal request follows several rounds of discussions between Indian and US authorities.

The US was expected to respond within a month. The government expects to gain face-to-face access with Headley who has been charged with being a conspirator in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

India to the US: Handover Headley
After Headley agreed to plead guilty to all counts that US investigators have charged him with as part of a plea bargain, India had stepped up efforts for direct access. With his intimate knowledge of the Mumbai plot and repeated contacts with Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders in Pakistan, he could yield a mine of information if he is prepared to talk.

Given Headley’s history of being ready to cooperate with authorities — even working as an agent of sorts — whenever the law has caught up with him, Indian agencies are hopeful that he will provide details on serving Pakistani army officers involved in the “Karachi Project”, the plan to use runaway Indian terrorists to target India.

His role in surveying 26/11 targets and meetings with LeT leaders will help India overcome difficulties it faces in not being able to follow leads in Pakistan where cooperation has been very limited. Not once have the Pakistani authorities suggested an operative like Headley, nor have they shared details of their questioning of LeT leaders Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Zarar Shah, Abu al-Qama and four others currently in detention.

Headley recently entered into a plea bargain with the US government under which he offered to present himself for access through video-conferencing, deposition or Letters Rogatory (official request).

Besides, India’s criticism of the United States that it was not pressing Islamabad sufficiently on the issue of terrorism saw President Obama reacting before the Nuke Summit in Washington DC as he asked Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack, take necessary steps to stop terrorist activities emanating from Pakistani soil and respond positively to India’s request for cooperation in nabbing the culprits.

He agreed with the Indian Prime Minister’s view that peace in that region will lead to economic prosperity and improve the security situation. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said Singh asked for access to Headly in talks with Obama on the eve of a major nuclear summit in Washington. “He was fully supportive of our request for provision of such access,” Rao said.

While no direct reference was made to the US President did not mention the LeT specifically but broadly referred to various terrorists attacks in the region, including those against Pakistan, to stress the fact that “extremists do not distinguish between us and we are truly facing a common enemy.”

But it was apparent that Obama had issues with Pakistan in spite of him being “fond” of the country. The US press disclosures came timely on the eve of the nuclear security summit where in Washington Post reported that ISI was still working in connivance with anti-social elements and New York Times reported that Pakistan had sped up the production of bomb-making fissile material.

Plea bargains in theEarlier, David Headley’s plea bargain with U.S. prosecutors and the deal provoked media outrage in India. But according to the Plea Agreement, the fear of him getting off lightly seems unfounded. Plea bargains in the United States work around a complex points system set up by the United States Sentencing Commission. In return for pleading guilty to all the 12 terrorism- related charges, and for meeting specified obligations for cooperation with investigators, prosecutors will recommend a reduction in sentence. In essence, Headley will avoid facing the death penalty and will not be extradited to India, Pakistan, or Denmark. However, the judge hearing the case is not bound by the sentencing recommendations — and if they are rejected, Headley will not be able to withdraw his guilty plea. Nor, unlike an approver in an Indian criminal trial, will he be granted a pardon in return for giving state’s evidence. Some commentators have speculated that the Plea Agreement means Headley was a secret U.S. agent.

But that seems far from the truth as the U.S. had repeatedly passed on substantial intelligence to India of the looming threat to Mumbai in the months before 26/11. Had Headley been the source of those warnings, he would be in the process of receiving a medal — not life in prison.