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Sunday, March 21, 2010

To protect Headley, did US let 26/11 happen?

By Swapan Dasgupta

During the 2008 US presidential election there was a belief in New Delhi that a Barack Obama presidency would trigger the re-calibration of Indo-American relations. Translated into English, it implied concern that the new guy wouldn’t accord the same priority to Indian concerns as President George W Bush did. At that time we were assured by star-struck Indian reporters in Washington, DC, that this was poppycock and a function of the deranged Islamophobia of the Dick Cheney Fan Club. Obama, we were informed, saw Hanuman as his lucky mascot. The more sober interlocutors informed us that the Cold War was over, that India was no longer a hyphenated link with Pakistan and that the relationship was on auto-pilot.

It’s now 14 months since Obama assumed office and the special relationship forged by Bush shows distinct signs of wear and tear. I may be guilty of only a minor exaggeration in suggesting that the middle class euphoria that propelled the India-US nuclear accord (and played a role in the UPA’s undeserved re-election last May) has dissipated, if not disappeared. It has been replaced by a growing surge of anti-Americanism, not very dissimilar to the one being witnessed in Israel, another country where a strategic partnership was allegedly etched in stone.

As opposed to the civilisational anti-Americanism that binds the Marxist to the mullah, this wariness of Uncle Sam is entirely political and centred on the belief that the US doesn’t give a toss for Indian sensitivities. Worse, it has got entangled with the feeling that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is more concerned with obliging the US than doing what is right for India.

This new surge of anti-Americanism may not be adequately reflected in the mainstream media where editors and diplomatic correspondents are curiously circumspect in questioning US motives, but it is real and predates the kerfuffle over the alleged cover-up in the David Coleman Headley case.

The doubts over the Obama Administration’s bona fides are strongest in India’s ‘strategic community’, the charmed circle of diplomats, spooks, security experts and interested politicians. The Headley case has suggested a grey zone of complicity between US Intelligence and its asset who may have turned into a double agent. It is, after all, scarcely conceivable that Headley could have undergone five spells of training in a Lashkar-e-Tayyeba camp, from late-2005 to October 2009, without being on the radar of US counter-terrorism. Circumstantial evidence points to Headley undertaking his jihadi activities with the knowledge, and possibly consent, of US authorities. Till much after the Mumbai attacks, Headley wasn’t regarded as a rogue agent.

In 1940, Winston Churchill had advance warning that the Luftwaffe was planning a massive raid on Coventry. He wilfully shied away from ordering the RAF to repel the bombers because he didn't want to let on to the Germans that the British had cracked one of their most secure codes. Likewise, there is a theory that the US didn’t share its prior knowledge of the 26/11 attack because it wanted its asset to gain the full trust of the LeT leadership and be privy to information of future conspiracies.

If true, the implication is quite chilling. It suggests that a section of US Intelligence chose to sit on specific information of the Mumbai attacks because the target was India and its principal objective is to safeguard America and its citizens. In other words, Indian lives are always at a discount compared to American lives — a charming message in the context of the sharply discounted liability ceiling in the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill. Of course, six US citizens also died in the Mumbai attacks and, maybe, this proved to be Headley’s undoing.

There are many questions that Indian investigators have for Headley when the US prison authorities grant access to him — curiously, they have already given the Danish police access to him. However, there are an equal number of questions that India must ask the US authorities. The most important of these is a blunt query: Did you wilfully allow the massacre of 160 innocents in pursuance of a game that lacks a winning strategy?

The US can, of course, retort that it did warn India of maritime attacks. Indeed it did and this is a lapse that will haunt India’s counter-terrorism establishment. Yet, there is a difference between general warnings and ‘actionable intelligence’. Did the US deny India ‘actionable intelligence’ which it had? If so, the implications are grave.

In July 2008, the US had ‘actionable intelligence’ about the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul which killed 58 people. Rather than provide it to the Indian agencies in real time, it chose to route it through the Afghan authorities. The delay was callous.

If the US strategy lies in identifying the masterminds of terror and identifying the complete network, we can perhaps explain the deaths in Mumbai — just as Churchill could explain the destruction of Coventry to himself. Headley’s testimony is categorical on one count: The epicentre of terrorism is located in Pakistan. Headley has also removed all ambiguity over the LeT’s involvement.

What does the US propose to do with this information? So far it plans to outsource Afghanistan to Pakistan.

What Headley has so far left unsaid are two things. First, the identities of LeT terrorists, who are referred to as A, B, C and D. And, second, whether he provided his US handlers a full account of his jihadi activities at each stage.

If India had full access to Headley and the right to both extradite and waterboard him, he may have sung out of fear. In the light of his plea bargain and the knowledge that the extent of his punishment depends on following US orders, the chances of the horrible truth emerging in the natural course is zero. Unless, we too demonstrate that the lives of Indians matters to India.

Sunday Pioneer, March 21, 2010


Anonymous said...

Swapanda writes :-

"Unless, we too demonstrate that the lives of Indians matters to India. "

Worth pondering over .

Seriously , I don't know what India stands for. It looks more like a country at war with itself.

As someone remarked why talk about LOC when Cauvery waters sharing triggers so much bloodshed. It would be rather presumptuous to outsource washing of our own dirty laundry to America.

The credentials of most of our so called elected representatives to lawyers , teachers , doctors and godmen are such that they don't really COMMAND our- the aam janata's respect.

Even on days with no bomb blasts by terrorists , is everything functioning reasonably well ?

Anonymous said...

if what you say is true, it is truly chilling. One somehow thought obama is more humane than the presidents who preceded him.

Swapan Dasgupta said...

"Anonymous. Obama wasn't president at the time of 26/11. But it is not the Administration who handles intelligence. If there was knowing complicity, it was at the level of spooks.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what do many from among even pro-BJP circles now have to say? They went ga-ga over nuke bill and were so harsh on many in BJP, esp Shourie and Sinha. Why blame USA - they are doing what they think is best for them - blame our own netas and embedded media / columnists.

Ajay said...

I think the US is looking after its interests, the same as any other country. It would be interesting to think what would've happened if the roles were reversed. Clearly those interests will - and should - take precedence over the lives or well-being of nationals of other countries.

I agree that the Indian government is not pushing its interests are forcefully as it should. But the solution cannot - and should not - rely solely on pleading for "pressure" on other countries.

Ajay said...

I think the US is looking after its interests, the same as any other country. It would be interesting to think what would've happened if the roles were reversed. Clearly those interests will - and should - take precedence over the lives or well-being of nationals of other countries.

I agree that the Indian government is not pushing its interests are forcefully as it should. But the solution cannot - and should not - rely solely on pleading for "pressure" on other countries.

Anonymous said...

Pentacoastals have the courage to distribute literature to devotees visiting Tirupati saying why hindu gods are immoral. If hindus retaliate they are considered fanatics. When muslim imams make fun of ramayan and monkey god hanuman, it is their legitimate right, but nobody can question their prophet and and their holy books. All the problems in this world is beacuse of religion. Anybody talking bad about any religion should be put behind bars without exception. Propagation of religion is also equally bad. It is like saying that other religions are inferior. You can believe in anything you want - but do not proclaim that it is the only way for salvation. People who do this are actually injecting poison into the society. Karl Marx was right when he said that religion is the opium of masses.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 10:58 AM ,

The fault lies with our establishment. None of the people in power ruling over us have truly internalised Vedic Dharmam (loosely called hinduism). In fact they wantonly connive & abet to stay in power.

Those who know would remain unperturbed & not fall for such provocative baits.

Where are hiranyakasipus & mahishasurans ??

Anonymous said...

So so many bomb blasts took place in India killing hundreds before 26/11. Did US know about them? This UPA govt didn't take any action lest it will lose muslim votes. Why should we rely on US to give intelligence on our neighbour?
To cover up our incompetence we blame US? How different are we from Jehadis who blame the whole world for ills of their own making.

Anonymous said...

What are we going to do with Headley even if we have access to him. What did we do with Kasab? I am sure he will be released one day in return to free some indian hostages. Looks like only soldiers have the duty to sacrifice their lives or the sake of the country.

Anonymous said...

This would be the Bush administration. Not that I think Obama is going to be any better when US strategic decisions are involved; but at least lay the blame where it lies (if there is a blame to be laid). Although, I somehow I think this is too much speculation at work here.

shaan said...

Now the US says it is willing to consider a nuclear deal for Pakistan. This is again a way of threatening that if the Nuclear Liability bill is not passed by India, the US may go for a deal with Pakistan. They may have even informed BJP circles through some channels that it will happen if the bill is not passed. They may think that the BJP being a staunch anti-Pakistan party will withdraw its opposition to the bill to prevent the US from going ahead with Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

I read the article from Surya Prakash on Hussein's paintings on daily pioneer today. I will fully support the bajrangis if the people who defend Hussein is hit by them. These people think that they can get away with anything related to hindusim.

Suseel said...

I wonder what happened to the illusion of the "great Indian diplomatic rope trick". Neutrality in a number of issues has seemingly led to inaction on India's part. These are times when you don't have a strong position, you won't be given a chance to talk. We are on the fringes of every coalition, Af-Pak Strategy (2nd row of the tables), ASEAN (Observer), UNSC (Aspiring non-permanent member - god knows about permanent seat). And there is the SAARC and NAM exception(we all know what happens there. We never look serious even with the most influential groups like BRIC, G20 and IBSA, if you look at the international news it is Brazil who is stealing the show these days. Can we ever be taken seriously???

Anonymous said...


When the successive govt were trying to forge strategic rship with USA, you were one of the cheerleaders.When Jairam Ramesh acted tried to act along with China in Copenhagen, you described him as man of China (or something similar).

We should have strong relationaship with China and IRAN (remember IPI pipeline which you opposed) as well so that we dont end up being used by USA.


Anonymous said...

China (who wants india to be broken into pieces) and Iran (who actively supports indian jihadis) - if we have friends like them, no need for any other enemy.

Hemanth V said...

Swapan,Excellent insight into what could have happened. and when US takes care of their citizens so much even at the expense of 'other' citizens, what have we been doing?, getting lost in the diplomatic battles as well.
The current UPA regime is clearly vulnerable to US pressure. Manmohan Singh retorts every allegation on this front with a counter argument about what NDA did which doesn't solve the problem at all. one fault can't be justified by talking about some other alleged fault years back.
its disgraceful the way US has been tweaking India on one after the other - on Pak, Climate Change etc. etc. its a sad pity that we have such incompetent,helpless leadership at the center. Indian people deserve better!!