In a meeting early this year, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram had discussed with FBI Director Robert Mueller the case of David Headley, a Pakistani-American in U.S. custody involved in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, saying he suspected Headley had not acted alone, according to a secret U.S. embassy cable made public by Wikileaks.
The FBI chief had said that Headley was giving the U.S. “the best information for months’’ on Pakistan-based terrorist groups. Mr. Chidambaram requested direct access to Headley, even if such access produces no information, and also access to Headley’s spouse.
Mr. Chidambaram asked whether an Indian government official could monitor Headley’s interrogation and submit questions “in real time”. He said that he had “a feeling in my bones that Headley was not acting here alone,’’ but conceded that he had no evidence to support his supposition that Headley formed sleeper cells in India, one of which may have been involved in the February 13 bombing in Pune, according to the February 26 cable of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi.
Mr. Mueller agreed to Mr. Chidmbaram’s request for expedited FBI lab assistance regarding forensic cyber and voice recognition analysis. Mr. Chidambaram complained that Pakistan had “done near nothing’’ to prosecute Mumbai terror suspects, and Mr. Mueller said that he would press the Pakistanis to take action during an upcoming visit to Islamabad.
‘Pak-based terror most lethal’
Attacks by Pakistan-based terror groups, “sometimes with the support of elements’’ in the government there, are the “most lethal strain” of terrorism in India, according to yet another secret U.S. cable made public by WikiLeaks.
“Terrorism conducted by ‘jihadi’ groups based in Pakistan – and sometimes with the support of elements of the Government of Pakistan – is historically the most lethal and the most politically volatile strain of terrorism in India,” said the cable from the U.S. embassy in New Delhi in 2006 before the April 19 U.S.-India Counter Terrorism Joint Working Group.
Terrorism in J&K
Reflecting improved counter-insurgency policies, civilian fatalities from terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir have substantially decreased from 2001-2004, approximately 20 per cent decrease each year, it said citing Indian government statistics and a leading independent Indian terrorism expert.
The data for the first nine months of 2005 showed a continued decline, but “a spike in lethal attacks after the October 8 earthquake resulted in the 2005 levels being roughly equal to those for 2004,” said the cable.
“Since January 2005, ‘jihadis’ have carried out or are believed to be responsible for lethal attacks at three popular markets on Diwali and Jama Masjid, both in Delhi, as well as Ayodhya, Varanasi and Bangalore, in addition to the litany of deadly bombings and shootings in J and K itself. These new targets in the Hindi heartland and the South reflect a new and dangerous trend that bears close watching,’’ the cable said.
Referring to the series of terrorist attacks inside Kashmir, it said foreign terrorist organisations Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), at times operating through front names from camps in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for many of these attacks.
‘Expand U.S.-India information sharing’
Some of these groups maintain ties with al-Qaeda, although the Indian government takes pride in claiming there is no direct al-Qaeda presence in the country outside of Kashmir, it said. The U.S. embassy memo said India has a vast capacity to absorb U.S. counter-terrorism training. “Our challenge now is to rationalise the training the USG (US government) offers to ensure it meets mutually-agreed goals.’’
“There is also ample room to expand information and intelligence sharing between the USG and GOI (Government of India), but much will depend on the degree to which US priorities align with Indian goals. Overcoming the lingering effects of decades of mutual mistrust is also essential,’’ the cable said.
“Embassy New Delhi has had some experience with working under the US-India Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) that came into force in October; there is room here too for improvement,’’ it said.
Kashmir issue in Indo-Pak relations
Noting that the prominent place ‘jihadi terrorism’ plays in India's threat perception is a significant irritant in Indo-Pakistan relations, it said most of the Indian interlocutors believe Islamabad opens and closes the spigot of cross-border terrorism to influence other aspects of bilateral affairs and to keep “the Kashmir issue” on the front burner.
“The NSA (M.K.) Narayanan in March told the UK High Commissioner he was less worried about LoC infiltration than he was about Pakistani intelligence support for terrorist modules elsewhere in India – such as the cells responsible for the Delhi and Bangalore attacks. Another growing concern is that jihadis are infiltrating into Northeast India from Nepal and Bangladesh,’’ it said.
The GOI regards a bio-terrorism attack as an event of such low probability that the potential impact does not register high on New Delhi's agenda. “We have no reason to believe terrorist organizations operating in India have access to pathogens at this time; also, bioterrorism is inconsistent with the strategy of most terrorist groups active in India. Furthermore, terrorists' fear of becoming a victim of such attacks themselves reduces the likelihood of a bioterrorism attack in the near future. However, the possibility of a bioterror attack cannot be ruled out,’’ according to yet another cable.