The U.S. did not brief India on progress in the case of Saeed: Krishna

With their shoulders to the wheel External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed the third India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue to a broadly successful conclusion in Washington’s Foggy Bottom on a hot Wednesday afternoon.

Yet like Banquo’s ghost the spectre of India’s troubled bid to gain access to terror suspects David Headley and Tahawwur Rana raised its head once again, threatening to muddy the clear waters of cooperative bonhomie.

Both men, currently in U.S. custody, are associated with Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba and are suspects in the 2008 Mumbai attacks case. Headley was said to have been an informant for U.S. law enforcement even as he continued to visit LeT camps in Pakistan.

In her opening remarks Ms. Clinton came out strong on security cooperation with India. She argued that, as one of the five pillars of progress in bilateral ties, the two nations’ militaries were engaged in joint exercises and cooperating to combat piracy, patrol vital sea lanes, and protect freedom of navigation.

Further, bilateral defence trade had surpassed $8 billion over the last five years, Ms. Clinton said, and joint research and development, and co-production of defence systems were on the cards.

However the cracks in the positive perspective began to emerge when it came to one core dimension of security cooperation, coordination and information sharing in the fight against violent extremism.

The contrast between the responses of Mr. Krishna and Ms. Clinton in this regard were stark. Responding to a question on India’s access to the terror suspects in U.S. custody the Secretary said, “It is our policy and practice to share information, and we do that. But I’m not going to go into details because we think that our cooperation on intelligence sharing, on homeland security issues, on counterterrorism, has gotten to a new level.”

Yet taking a question from The Hindu at a post-Dialogue briefing Mr. Krishna noted that the U.S. had not briefed India on any progress in the case of Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks of 2008, on whose head the Obama administration recently placed a $10 million bounty.

He also implied that no further promises had been made by the U.S. regarding India’s years-old plea for further direct access to Headley. While the U.S. defused growing anger and suspicion in the Indian corner by granting India’s National Investigation Agency access to Headley for ten days in June 2010, additional opportunities to question him have not materialised.

A genuine sense of disappointment in this matter may have indeed gripped Mr. Krishna after his confabulations with Ms. Clinton, because at the media briefing he could not even confirm that he was satisfied with the response he received from the State Department. “I will have to check up with the Home Secretary [R.K. Singh]” he said to this correspondent.

India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai added, “We are actually looking for access right now. This is an ongoing process and we made some headway. The discussions are still going on and the question of [what steps follow] will come up after that process is completed.”