June 14, 2011

DON’T BLOW UP IMPORT OF RANA’S ACQUITTAL

Kunwal SIbal,

Mail Today

The fact that a court in Chicago trying the Pakistani-Canadian businessmen Tahawwur Rana has held him guilty of conspiracy in plotting a terrorist attack against the Danish newspaper that had published the Muhammad cartoons and of maintaining contact with LeT, a declared terrorist organization, but not guilty of conspiracy in organizing 26/11, should not cause unnecessary hand-wringing in India. It was the testimony of David Headley, the Pakistani-American double agent, against Rana that the court has not accepted. So be it.

Why are we concluding from the result of this trial that our case against Pakistan for 26/11 has received a serious blow? The Mumbai attack originated from Pakistani soil, the perpetrators were all Pakistani, and they received professional training of a military nature.

That such a high risk operation against a country with which Pakistan has had military conflicts in the past could be mounted in complete ignorance of the Pakistani intelligency agencies defies common sense. If the organizations and the targetted country were not at the centre of attention of the Pakistani intelligence establishment, this kind of blindsiding could be understood. But when the organizations are those nurtured and trained by the Pakistani army for use as instruments of terror against India for years, to suggest then that it was an autonomous affair by individuals with a passionate hatred for India is manifestly a ludicrous proposition.

Common sense conjectures and deduction and some tangible facts about the territorial source of the operation apart, we have caught and tried Ajmal Kasab, one of the Pakistani terrorists responsible for the Mumbai massacre. We have his testimony. Pakistan has acknowledged his Pakistani origin. After investigations it has arrested several people, including Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi, one of the LeT masterminds of the operation.

Not being in a position to contest the incontrovertible evidence of Pakistani nationals being involved in 26/11, Pakistan’s attempt is to deny any official complicity, including that of the ISI. It affirms its seriousness in trying the conspirators, ascribing the delay in bringing them to justice to the laborious task of collecting evidence, legal procedures as well as incomplete evidence presented by India. Pakistan, of course, refuses to act seriously against Hafiz Saeed, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa head, whom India considers the veritable mentor of 26/11. Because it is determined to prevent any incrimination of the ISI, it refuses to act on the demand for voice samples by India for establishing the identity of ISI operatives who were in contact with the 26/11 terrorists.

India’s case against Pakistan for the Mumbai carnage does not therefore hinge on the word of a felon like Headley, or any decision taken by an American jury on his testimony. The case against Rana was not prepared by Indian prosecutors; India was not party to the case in the US court although it had interest in it; Headley is not in indian custody; the terms of the plea-bargaining between him and the US prosecutors were not decided in consultation with India. Are we satisfied with the quality of the case that the US prosecutors prepared against Rana for his involvement in 26/11? On the face of it, it would seem unfair to the Americans to question this. On the other hand, one can ask whether it serves the interest of the US government to implicate the ISI in 26/11.

So far the US has made political level statements accusing Pakistan of playing a double game, of both fighting and supporting terrorists selectively. Even when the US has done some finger-pointing at the Pakistanis for their duplicitious conduct, the thrust is to avoid blaming the Pakistan government or its state agencies offficially, and assign responsibility to either rogue or low level elements in the ISI, but not its top echelons. The objective is to exhort the government to do more to contain these elements rather than stare the problem in the eye and call a spade a spade by recognizing the reality of the Pakistani establishment’s long tryst with terorism. In this context, if a US court holds the ISI complicit in a terrorist attack in which US nationals have been killed, does it oblige the US government to take steps under its laws against Pakistan as a country sponsoring terrorism? What effect would that have on US-Pakistan relations, and especially on Pakistani cooperation in resolving the Afghan tangle that assumes enhanced importance as the end-game in Afghanistan approaches?

When it comes to the US, both its supporters and opponents in India attach exaggerated importance to its acts of omission or comission. If the Chicago court absolves Rana, the motives of the US government are questioned and the government of India is pummelled for its excessive reliance on the US for bringing the 26/11 perpetrators to justice at the cost of India’s unilateral options. Calls are made to review India’s overall policy towards the US. Such a backlash is a reaction to the wide spread perception that the government accommodates US concerns and priorities about international terrorism far too much, aligning its own policies towards Pakistan to suit US interests, overlooking Pakistan’s official complicity in terrorism just as US does in order to keep Pakistan engaged.

The result is both US and India give room to Pakistan to persist with its dangerously disruptive policies. The overprojection of the positive content of the security dialogue between our Home Ministry and the US Department of Homeland Security when the US has not been sufficiently transparent on Headley, adds to the cynicism felt in some Indian circles about US policies as they touch Indian interests.

Our case against Pakistan is based on our experience of terrorism at Pakistan’s hands for almost 25 years, in Panjab, Kashmir and India at large, evidence gathered from intercepts by our intelligence agencies, the calls for jihad against India by groups that have political protection in Pakistan, the infrastructure of terrorism that continues to exist there, the rearing of jihadi groups by the Pakistan military as admitted at various times by the country’s civilian leadership, General Musharraf’s warning that terrorism is a reality that will not disappear unless the Kashmir issue is resolved, and, of course, Ajmal Kasab and Pakistan’s bleeding of Mumbai.

Headley and Rana are merely pawns in a bigger Pakistani political game. Rana’s acquittal does not materially change the larger picture. Would a guilty verdict against him have led to Pakistan abjuring terrorism against India, suppressing jihadi groups, curbing Hafiz Saeed or handing over wanted terrorists to india? Would that have radically changed US policies towards Pakistan? Would that have made the US a genuine partner of India in eliminating terrorism from Pakistani soil?

Rana’s acquittal is a mere episode in a complex game being played in which the US and Pakistan have interests that simultaneously diverge and converge, and India has no clear choices. It can neither rely on the Americans to take its chestnuts out of the fire nor do so by relying on its own strength. When India has been set back by Pakistani terrorism for long years, it is too simplistic to blow up the Rana verdict as a major set-back for India.

The writer is a former Foreign Secretary(sibalkanwal@gmail.com)

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