Questions after the deposition

February 11, 2016 12:52 am | Updated November 17, 2021 05:52 am IST

Details from the >ongoing deposition of David Coleman Headley have brought back dark memories for India, not just of the horror of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but also of the cold-blooded planning that went into the massacre of over 160 men, women and children. It is certainly important that the Mumbai court has been able to record the testimony of Headley, and make part of Indian court records all that he had told a court in the United States several years ago. The testimony has not yet revealed much that wasn’t in the court records, or in the testimony he gave before National Investigation Agency officials in 2010. Even so, it will be significant in the trial of Abu Jundal as well as in a future trial of Hafiz Saeed and any of the masterminds in the unlikely event of Pakistan making them available to India. Although the move from the >U.S. authorities to arrange the deposition of Headley for the Mumbai court now hearing the 26/11 conspiracy case has come late, it is still no less welcome. The specifics of how Headley was sent to India, his contacts with the Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership and the Inter-Services Intelligence officers he names for having given him espionage training, and even perhaps locals in India who may have colluded with him, are all vital to the case, and it is hoped that prosecutors will extract more information from Headley in the coming days.

Clearly, the deposition from Headley, who expects a full judicial pardon in exchange for giving it, comes at a cost that must be counted. It has meant that India gives up all chances of bringing the self-confessed terror planner, who scoped out the locations to be targeted as well as the entry and possible exit points for the LeT terrorists. It also means that India has not questioned the delay from the U.S., and prosecutors may not be able to fill the glaring gaps in their understanding of Headley’s background that have been raised: including his double role as a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant, the cover for his frequent visits to India, including one after the 26/11 attacks, and the reasons his links with Pakistani military officials were not investigated by the U.S. This is why after the hearing is completed the government must be more forthcoming in explaining its decision to offer a pardon. The deal may have been the best of imperfect choices before India, but given the magnitude of the crime involved, the government must share the details. The spotlight on Headley should also convince Pakistan to fast-track its trial of the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks, perhaps even accepting a similar deposition from Headley in the case. Eventually, it is in the interest of India-Pakistan relations as well as justice for the victims of 26/11 that the trial in Pakistan is brought to a successful conclusion. If Headley’s deposition prompts that, the benefit will override all other concerns.

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