The ostensible reason for the prosecution agreeing to the > grant of judicial pardon to Pakistan-born American operative David Coleman Headley is to strengthen its case against Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, charged with involvement in the conspiracy behind the deadly Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008. The real purpose, however, is that India would like Headley to testify on and establish before a Mumbai court what he has already admitted before a trial court in the United States and to a team of the National Investigation Agency from India in June 2010: the role of state and non-state actors in Pakistan in planning and carrying out the Mumbai terror strikes. Headley is now a prosecution witness. The sessions court in Mumbai trying Abu Jundal has pardoned Headley in return for his promise that he would make a full and true disclosure of all that he knows about the entire conspiracy. Headley had done much of the reconnoitring of targets for the team of assailants who executed the 26/11 plot. Last month, he was formally included as a co-conspirator in the case, and he has now been accepted as an approver. His testimony would be adequate for the court to convict others involved in the plot, as the law on evidence in India is that “an accomplice shall be a competent witness against an accused person”. Headley’s conduct so far indicates that as a witness during the trial he may speak credibly about the role of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its handlers in the Pakistani intelligence establishment.
It is indeed a positive development that Headley appeared, albeit in a virtual sense, before an Indian court for the first time. He is serving a 35-year prison term in the U.S. after admitting to his role in a conspiracy to murder and maim people in Mumbai. In terms of his plea bargain before a U.S. court, the 55-year-old former U.S. agent cannot be extradited to India or Pakistan, but he is also obliged to testify “in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, video conferencing or letters rogatory”. However, it is an irony of sorts that the development coincides with the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan, as the earlier ‘composite dialogue’ had been stopped precisely because of the Mumbai attacks. The question that may arise is whether the move to strengthen the prosecution case, and through that, India’s case against Pakistan’s role in the 26/11 attacks, will adversely impact the resumed bilateral dialogue. The answer, hopefully, will be in the negative. After all, in their recent joint statement both countries condemned terrorism and affirmed their commitment to eliminating it. Trials relating to the incident have been going on concurrently in both countries, with the proceedings on the Pakistan side moving quite slowly. Expediting the judicial proceedings and taking them to their logical conclusion will not be inconsistent with the resumption of the dialogue.