June 10, 2011

Setback for India

After Tahawwur Rana's acquittal in the 26/11 case, expect no justice on the Bombay carnage, says N.V.Subramanian.

10 June 2011: The Indian government has said Tahawwur Rana's acquittal in the 26/11 case in a Chicago court is not a "setback".

It is, and in a more comprehensive way than it would appear.

The 26/11 facts are as follows. The ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba were involved in it. There was enough deniability built into the terrorist operation for the ISI to escape blame in case the plan misfired.

Intelligence organizations and especially terrorist intelligence organizations like the ISI compartmentalize operations both laterally and vertically.

All the planning and non-state logistics were provided by the ISI to the LeT for the Bombay carnage. But in terms of actual involvement of ISI personnel, that was kept low-key and to a minimum.

You cannot have an ISI major-general exposed in terrorism, because that would mean ISI and state involvement.

For both the 26/11 commando-style attack and for the preceding hazardous sea expedition and landing, the ISI used junior trainers from the military and navy.

Yet, for all the care taken, two things misfired.

Ajmal Kasab was caught alive. And in separate and extraordinary circumstances, the scouting and supporting roles of David Coleman Headley and Rana in the 26/11 attack came to light.

India had two courses open to it to get justice for 26/11. The first was to take punitive action against Pakistan. This option is virtually non-existent today.

By not cutting Pakistan into two when it provoked the 1999 Kargil limited war, India forsook the military option.

It was a victory of Pakistan's deterrent and sanctioned its brinkmanship.

And the failure of Operation Parakram put paid to India's capacity for coercive diplomacy.

Army and air force chiefs may allude to the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. But there is no political will for replicating it.

India preferred the second course of seeking justice for 26/11. This was to approach a third party, the United States.

Getting a third party involved is always problematic. It would seek to maximize its gains. That is what the US has done.

To be honest, the US has affected to be distressed by 26/11. It has refused to pressure Pakistan on it as to jeopardize its Afghanistan operations.

Indeed, India has had to show restraint against Pakistani terrorist attacks leading up to the November 2008 Bombay carnage so as not to impact US objectives in Afghanistan.

The earlier spin was that the US's war-on-terror was all-encompassing. But Pakistan even at peril to itself has refused to attack the Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the hope that they will seize Afghanistan again and grant Pakistan "strategic depth" against India.

Nor have specific anti-India terror groups like the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the ISI tool, the Haqqani Taliban, been targeted.

The US no longer spins war-on-terror. It refuses to mete the same punishment to the LeT as it reserves for the Al-Qaeda or the anti-US Taliban forces.

On the contrary, going to the US has hurt India's capacity for unilateral action, and forced it to engage Pakistan in fruitless peace talks.

The worst US behaviour was advertised in the Headley/ Rana affair. Headley was always a US secret agent. That he had gone rogue and made common cause with Pak terror groups was also known to the US.

Appallingly, the US also knew of the 26/11 plot, and cursorily warned India of it. A more substantive briefing would possibly have prevented 26/11 and exposed Headley.

Headley and Rana, who provided him business cover for his 26/11 reconnaissance, were outed only when the Danish newspaper bombing plot showed on the radar.

Only when the Western world was about to be struck by Headley/ Rana terrorism were they brought to trial in the US.

And frustratingly, the US made Headley an approver, accepting his condition never to be extradited to India, where he was certain to face death.

In sequestering Headley, America also ensured that his double dealings, US's extensive prior knowledge of 26/11, and Pakistan's involvement in the carnage would remain concealed.

Now with Rana's acquittal in 26/11 terrorism, India's case becomes still weaker. Rana's defenders have successfully shown Headley to be a liar and embellisher, so that also destroys Headley's testimony of ISI involvement in 26/11.

Headley in the course of the Rana trial did water down his allegations against the ISI role in 26/11. But now Pakistan has a clear upper hand.

It can claim to the world that a US court has absolved the ISI in 26/11.

India practically has no enforceable case on 26/11. Whatever the Indian courts decree, it won't extradite Headley. And Pakistan will thumb its nose on 26/11 for now.

At the upcoming foreign-secretary-level talks, expect Pakistan to tell India to forget 26/11 and move on. Knowing the Manmohan Singh government for having compromised national-security interests in the past, it will quietly agree.

But don't believe the government when it says the Rana acquittal does not mean a "setback" for the 26/11 case.

It means exactly that.

N.V.Subramanian is Editor, www.NewsInsight.net, and writes internationally on strategic affairs.

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