Pakistani-Canadian businessman Tahawwur Husain Rana's conviction this week on charges of providing material support for the Lashkar-e-Taiba marks a small step towards justice for the 164 men, women, and children whose lives were taken in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Instead of taking what satisfaction can be had from the fact that a small cog in the jihadist machine that delivered death to the city is now likely to live out the rest of his life in prison, Indians across the political spectrum have been outraged by the decision of the twelve-member jury to acquit Rana of having played a direct role in facilitating the attack. Even before sentencing has been pronounced, the government voiced “disappointment,” while Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed that the Chicago verdict “disgraced India's sovereignty.” India's anger that Rana was acquitted of charges related to the Mumbai attack is understandable: the wounds the country suffered in the tragedy will take a long, long time to heal. The outrage and anger are also misplaced.
Evidence directly connecting Rana to the massacre in Mumbai, as this newspaper repeatedly pointed out in its coverage of the trial, fell some distance short of the exacting standards needed to establish guilt in a criminal trial. Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley, who carried out reconnaissance in Mumbai for the Lashkar under the cover of Rana's immigration business, said he had informed his associate of his plans in advance. Little corroboration could be found, however, for this claim. Indeed, Rana's lawyers plausibly argued that a man with foreknowledge of that terrorist operation was extremely unlikely to have put his children, his wife, and himself in harm's way by visiting Mumbai just when the attack was about to take place. Prosecutors were able to demonstrate that Rana was aware of Headley's mission in Mumbai, and acted to facilitate it — part of the larger body of evidence that led to the businessman's conviction for providing material support to the Lashkar and plotting to stage fresh attacks in Europe and India. They could not, however, establish beyond reasonable doubt that Rana actually had a hands-on role in the carnage. U. K. Bansal, the Secretary responsible for internal security at the Ministry of Home Affairs, has said the National Investigation Agency would now consider filing charges against Rana. New Delhi has also said it might consider seeking Rana's extradition. Precisely what this course of action would achieve is unclear: unless compelling new evidence is found, an Indian court will probably arrive at the same conclusions. It would be wise, instead, to focus on the real challenge: pushing Pakistan to complete the prosecution of the suspects it has arrested, and to act against the key perpetrators it has so far shown no willingness to act against.