Hiding Headley

Despite the growing warmth in India-US relations, co-operation between the two with regard to Pakistani-American Mumbai terror suspect David Coleman Headley has been less than satisfactory. India has been requesting the US for access to Headley to probe his links with the terror attacks in Mumbai on Nov 26 last year. It is keen to know what role he played in the attacks and his connections with the masterminds in Pakistan and elsewhere.

But the US seems reluctant to allow India access to him. This has triggered speculation  in India that this reluctance might have to do with US intelligence agencies not wanting their counterterrorism-linked skeletons to fall out of the cupboard. Do they know more about the Mumbai plot than they are willing to let on? Or are they trying to hide the full extent of ISI’s links with terror? It is over two months now since Headley was taken into custody by the Americans. But very little information on what they got out of questioning him has been passed on to Indian intelligence agencies.

Co-operation between India and the US has grown remarkably in recent years in an array of areas, including counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing. A Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative was launched amidst much fanfare during the recent visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the US. Such initiatives are meaningless if co-operation is selective. India allowed the US access to Mohammed Ajmal Kasab for several hours. Washington must understand that co-operation is not a one-way street.

India has legitimate reasons for wanting access to Headley.  He is not just linked to the Mumbai plot but could throw light on other attacks too. He is no low-level operative. The US must realise that allowing India access to him is not only the right thing to do if Washington is indeed sincere about combating terrorism but also, it is in the US’ interest to do so. Headley could be the tip of a Lashkar-e-Toiba iceberg in the US. India and the US must work together to unearth the LeT network and sleeper cells in the US and elsewhere.

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