A troubled childhood, two countries at loggerheads and an incompetent consulate make for a good yarn. If only the plot did not have a frightening and an all too real shade to it. David Headley, sometime Daood Sayed Gilani, is the protagonist of this story. The Indian consulate in Chicago, which issued him a visa and had a difficult time recovering the visa issuance documents, is the other bumbling character in the tale.
As a child, Headley, the son of an American mother and a Pakistani father, spent time between his home in the US and with his father in Pakistan. Somewhere along the line, he concluded that India and other “infidel” countries had to be taught a lesson. His target list included the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark (that had printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad that many found to be offensive) and many locations in India.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The Indian consulate in Chicago issued him multiple entry visa’s for travel in the country between 2006 and 2008. Headley made trips to several cities and carefully surveyed important places such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai. He is suspected of having a hand in the planning of the 26 November terror attacks in Mumbai, but his exact role requires his interrogation by our security agencies. They are yet to secure that given resistance on the part of US authorities.
It is, of course, easy to castigate the consulate in Chicago for not running appropriate checks on Headley. It is also easy to blame our intelligence agencies for not being able to detect his activities while he moved around India in a carefree manner. They deserve blame, no doubt. But there is something else that is being missed here: The lack of coordination between various wings of the government. The ministry of external affairs had no one who could tell the consulate to seize the Headley papers as soon as he was arrested and his role in India became known. The intelligence agencies had not heard of him even after a chargesheet had been filed in a Mumbai court in the 26/11 case.
In today’s counterterrorism operations, coordination, intelligence gathering and sound intelligence analysis are key to preventing terrorist atrocities. India seems to be lagging on all fronts. The cooling period between visits for multiple entry visa holders from the US and the UK speaks a lot about our ability to handle these things. While this can be helpful in weeding out the bad apples, given our woeful lack of coordination, don’t hope too much from this step.
The Headley misadventure: something waiting to happen? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org