Demand access

Hopes of seeing David Headley extradited to India for questioning, perhaps even to face trial here for his role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks have been dashed with US authorities striking a deal with him that will see him get off rather lightly. Headley has pleaded guilty on all charges against him in a Chicago court. This will allow him to escape the death sentence. It is believed that the guilty plea is part of a larger agreement he reached with US government officials that will enable him to avoid extradition to India. India has been pressing the US to extradite Headley. But the Americans have been reluctant to give India any access to him. This has prompted sections in India’s security establishment to speculate over Headley’s antecedents. Was the Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Toiba operative a CIA agent earlier, who was tasked with infiltrating the LeT but turned a double agent subsequently? The rather favourable deal that Headley has worked out with US officials now will give credence to such speculation. The US seems excessively reluctant to allow India to access him. This is evident from the deal they have struck. It suggests that Washington fears he will reveal their dirty secrets to India. India’s questioning of Headley could also lay bare the role of the Pakistan military and of LeT chief Hafiz Saeed in the Mumbai attacks, issues that the Americans are loath to raise with the Pakistanis at this juncture.

US officials say that the plea bargain with Headley does allow India to question him. But this access will not be direct but through US officials or video-conferencing and not in India but in the US. Indirect access is not the same as extradition. This is a point that India must emphasise to the Americans.

The US has been preaching to the international community on wanting full co-operation in tackling terrorism. But it doesn’t seem to practice what it preaches. Its co-operation with India in its battle against terrorism has been less than satisfactory. India must clarify to the Americans that co-operation is not a one-way street. India must tell Washington that it expects it to show support for India’s concerns in concrete action, not just airy rhetoric. Allowing India full access to Headley will enable it to get to the bottom of his links. This is as much in the US’ interest as it is in India’s.

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