Last week, David Headley - the American of Pakistani origin (or is it other way around) confessed and pleaded guilty to conspiring and aiding in the terror attacks on 26th November 2008 in Mumbai. The plea agreement (hosted here) will surely get anyone affected by those incidents, deeply indignant - at the American establishment which nurtured David Headley as an agent and at the Pakistani military complex, with its deep rooted jihadist mindset. In many ways, David Headley - the son of a Pakistani diplomat and an American "socialite" is very much the product of American strategic interests and Pakistani military jihadism.
Nearly 200 people were killed in Mumbai on 26th November 2008, including the much forgotten many in the everyman's Chattrapati Sivaji Terminus. Justice will not be served to these victims and their relatives unless David Headley and his accomplices are tried for their crimes. The Americans however have ruled out his extradition - it seems impossible now because of the quid pro quo in his "guilty plea". What is even more outrageous is that the Americans are also dilly-dallying on whether Indian investigators should have access to David Headley. The hypocrisy of the American administration (which went about bending all international laws following the 9/11 terror incident) - in trying to hide behind the labyrinth of domestic law in preventing easy access to Indian investigators to David Headley, let alone his extradiction to the land where he committed the most heinous of terrorist crimes - is quite evident.
Apparently, the American law enforcement agencies' "shielding" of David Headley has got to do with his "double agent" past. A diligent reporter for the magazine,Daily Beast had found out that Headley played a helpful role for the US' drug enforcement agency. It was this role that secured Headley easy and unfettered access to travel across the world, which he used to devastating effect by playing a major role in the Mumbai terror attacks.
As the guilty plea suggests, and as is reported in various circles of the media, Headley was no mere pawn. And the Mumbai terror attacks were not just the outcome of a conspiracy by some "Ronins" of the jihadi setup of the Pakistani security establishment or a terror outfit like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Ostensibly, there has been the involvement of serving officers of the Pakistani army and secret agency, the Inter Services Intelligence as well. The Indian government had since the terror incidents, tried to isolate the military establishment in Pakistan internationally, by adopting a variant of the "carrot and stick" policy with the civilian government there - pushing for talks sometime, declining to engage in talks until the Pakistani government went about bringing LeT operatives to book and investigating the culprits for the Mumbai terror attacks effectively. The Indian government expected that the growing closeness with the US strategic establishment - cemented in particular by the Indo-US nuclear deal - would help in some kind of deliverance on the isolation of the Pakistani military setup and pressure on the civilian government.
It turns out, that the "Af-Pak" dimension and change in the US' strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan - toward engagement with elements in the Afghani Taliban has turned the tide in favour of the Pakistani military's "original positions". To the extent that the Pakistani Taliban posed an existential threat to the Pakistani nation in itself, the military (with more than a bit of American prodding) had turned its arsenal toward regaining control under the radical extremist groups' thrall in parts of Waziristan and Swat Valley. But the military was always loath to give up on its strategic assets in Afghanistan - currently in opposition to the "Northern Alliance" or indeed in turning the heat on forces inimical to India such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The change in American (and NATO) tack in Afghanistan, and Barack Obama's explicit timetable for withdrawal in 2011, has opened a new vista for the Pakistani military. Having a link with its Afghan Taliban "assets", the Pakistani military is banked upon to be an interlocutor by NATO in helping in the new Af-Pak strategy. And that brings the Pakistani military back to the centrestage of things - with the obvious peripheralisation of the Pakistani civilian government. Emboldened by US support, the Pakistani army now calls far too many shots. The civilian government has therefore little leeway in pursuing justice for the victims of Mumbai. And in any case, the ruling parties in Pakistan have not seen it fit to take on the writ of the armed forces in the country, which further complicates its efforts.
What of the Indian establishment? By placing all its eggs in the American basket, the Indian establishment has lost its leverage with the Pakistani civilian government. Notice the way, the Pakistan foreign secretary, in his press conference deflected blame on the slow work done by its government in bringing malefactors from the Lashkar-e-Toiba and others to book in his country. This is clearly a consequence of the sudden US engagement and change in tactics vis-a-vis its Af-Pak strategy. The Indian establishment could have done better in keeping a multilateral pressure on the Pakistani government. It could have, for e.g., joined hands with countries in the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) who are also affected deeply by Jihadi terrorism - illustrated in Xinjiang in China and the Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow and could have embarked upon a regional approach to smashing apparatuses of terror, many of whom are nestled within Pakistan and Afghanistan. It could have helped to use this strategy, in the United Nations for example, where a multilateral support for India's claims against malefactors held up in Pakistan, would have got more sympathy. Instead, by relying on the Americans alone and using the Americans as a proxy to put pressure on Pakistan, the Indian establishment has earned nothing. It is no wonder that recent reports suggest that India is mulling on whether to join the SCO.
At the same time, the efforts by the Indian government to keep the "peace constituency" alive - engaging with the democratic sections of the Pakistani populace, are laudable. No major change in positions on terror can come out unless, lasting peace is assured between the two countries and unless bilateral issues such as differences on Kashmir etc are resolved. People-to-people contact, civil society initiatives are a must and should continue.
In essence, the rejuvenation of jihadi forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan, its traditional backers in the Pakistani Army and the changed emphasis of the US vis-a-vis these forces, points to the failure of the Indian reliance on the "Am-Pak" strategy - using US leverage to take on terror directed at India, from within Pakistan. A far more regional solution based approach that relies on countries in the region that are affected by terrorism, plus engagement with, and strengthening of the democratic, peace constituency in Pakistan would have paid better dividends (even in Afghanistan).