David Coleman Headley is unlikely to face Indian justice. The Headley situation has cast a shadow over the friendly ties between India and the US, ties that were painstakingly built over the past 15 years since the end of the Cold War.
Headley, also known as Daood Sayed Gilani, is a US citizen of mixed American and Pakistani extraction. He was one of the plotters of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and had visited India on a reconnaissance mission to help the terrorists who carried out the attacks. Last week, he admitted to 12 charges, including the charge of conspiracy to bomb a public place in India—something that attracts the death penalty in the US—in a Chicago court. This was under a plea bargaining scheme whereby an accused makes a free and frank admission of his guilt in return for a lighter sentence.
In Headley’s case he will be not be given the death sentence and he will also not be extradited to India. That is the rub of the problem.
Leaders from both countries, Union home minister P. Chidambaram and US assistant secretary of state Robert Blake, were quick to point out that Indian investigators would be given access to Headley. This clearly was an afterthought. This came about only after the furore over Headley getting away “scot-free”. This was in contrast to the situation some months earlier when access to Headley was flatly denied.
The episode has left a bitter aftertaste and it is still not clear what kind of “access” Indians will have to Headley. This also creates problems for India.
For starters, it will greatly embolden Pakistan to do nothing to curb anti-India terrorists on its soil. In fact, it will embolden Islamabad to indulge in adventurism. Then there is the wider issue of Indo-US relations. While India has a “strategic” relationship with the US, it is now clearly a debased one, at least so long as Barack Obama presides over the White House. US anxiety to get out of Afghanistan in one piece and the resultant appeasement of Islamabad lurks behind all this.
This is another wake-up call for India. It can no longer take its neighbouring environment, threats to its internal security or its friends far afield for granted.
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