September 16, 2011

'Trust deficit' hinders India-U.S. counter-terrorism cooperation

Narayan Lakshman
Even as the United States designated an India-based terror group, the Indian Mujahideen, as a foreign terrorist organisation this week, a committee of the U.S. Congress debated the implications of a “trust deficit” that was impeding deeper India-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation on specific regional threats.

In a statement on Thursday, the U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Hillary had designated the IM as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation explaining that as an “India-based terrorist group with significant links to Pakistan, IM is responsible for dozens of bomb attacks throughout India since 2005, and has caused the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians”.

In addition to claiming responsibility for the September 7 New Delhi High Court bombing, the State Department said, the IM was behind the bombing of a German bakery in Pune in 2010, in which 17 were killed and in 2008 it was held responsible for 16 synchronised bomb blasts in crowded urban centres that killed 38 in Ahmedabad. Further the IM “played a facilitative role in the 2008 Mumbai attack carried out by LeT that killed 163 people,” the statement noted.

Despite this focus on the IM, a House of Representatives' subcommittee on terrorism, non-proliferation, and trade was told by an expert, Lisa Curtis, that certain actions of the U.S. had “reinforced Indian beliefs that the U.S. will gloss over Pakistani involvement in attacks in India, so long as Pakistan continues to cooperate with the U.S. against groups that attack the American homeland”.
In particular Ms. Curtis, a Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and former CIA officer, said “a lingering trust deficit has pervaded the U.S.–Indian relationship” and India had been frustrated by inconsistencies and backsliding in U.S. public statements concerning the Pakistan-based terrorist threat to India.
While the 2008 Mumbai attacks broke down numerous barriers to bilateral counterterrorism cooperation, Ms. Curtis told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Indian officials believed that the U.S. continued to withhold information on al-Qaeda terrorist operatives with ties to Kashmiri militants and that this was because of “the possible repercussions on its relationship with Pakistan and a desire to avoid creating a perception that the U.S. is taking India's side in the Indo-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir.”
Yet even the post-Mumbai-attacks cooperation ran out of steam when U.S. authorities made their Indian counterparts wait for nine months before direct access to David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani-American charged with conducting surveillance for the attacks, members of the House were told.
In the light of these failures Ms. Curtis recommended to the Foreign Affairs Committee that the U.S. ought to enhance intelligence-sharing and cooperation “without prejudice to Pakistani political sensitivities,” and also enhance the level and tempo of exchanges to institutionalise relationships among the various agencies involved in countering terrorism.
There were some positive developments in this regard, it was acknowledged, including the fact that the U.S.–India Homeland Security Dialogue launched in May provided a fresh opportunity to expand counterterrorism cooperation between New Delhi and Washington. But to capitalise on such exchanges “both countries will have to overcome suspicions of the other's intentions and be willing to deepen their intelligence exchanges,” Ms. Curtis said.
She also recommended to the Committee that the U.S. offer further assistance to India by helping to equip India's police forces and thus boost homeland security capabilities. In a stinging criticism of the status quo of India's policing capacity Ms. Curtis pointed out that Indian police “lack training and equipment and... India has only 140 policemen for every 100,000 people, while the world average is around 270.” She added that an Indian think tank reported last month that “police forces in Mumbai do not even have the financial resources to purchase basic supplies like bulletproof vests.”

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