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India’s baffling conditional pardon and deal with David Coleman Headley

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Chicago: Considering that any intelligence that David Coleman Headley might supply India will necessarily be exponentially dated, it is hard to make sense of a special court in Mumbai granting a conditional pardon to the key Mumbai terror plotter and even making him a witness for the prosecution.

For Headley’s part though he has once again pulled off a crafty deal to save himself more trouble by agreeing to turn approver for India reportedly in return for disclosing the role played by his handlers from the Pakistani military and intelligence services. However, on the face of it one cannot say what specifically India stands to gain by granting him such extraordinary accommodation.

The only plausible explanation behind the Mumbai court’s decision is that the Indian prosecutors are trying to make the best of a bad situation where Headley is a tightly controlled subject by the US authorities access to whom is very limited. Given his history with the US authorities as an informant and rather complicated entanglement with the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba as well as elements of Pakistani intelligence were some reluctance on the US side to expose him to Indian investigators.

While his plea deal with the US prosecutors requires him to cooperate with India and other foreign agencies to the fullest possible extent, it is a matter of speculation how much he is really permitted to reveal. Anything that he might have to say about his relationship with Pakistani intelligence or any other official agency is now a good seven to nine years old. He was arrested in October, 2009 from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport just as he was about to leave the country. Effectively, he was out of any direct touch with any of his Pakistani contacts since his arrest.

He is known to have shared all the intelligence and information that he possessed about the November 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks with the US investigators. He was also extensively interrogated by Indian investigators in June, 2010 during which the US Department of Justice had maintained that “There were no restrictions on the questions posed by Indian investigators”. That being the case, coupled with the datedness of his information, the Indian conditional pardon is intriguing.

His 2010 plea deal was incumbent upon the quality of information that he would provide to the US authorities. At the time the prosecutors here had said that Headley “has provided substantial assistance to the criminal investigation, and also has provided information of significant intelligence value”.

Subsequently, even at the time of his sentencing in January, 2013, both the prosecution and defense repeatedly and greatly emphasized the extent and quality of his cooperation. His attorney John Theis, in requesting for a lighter sentence, had said the information that Headley provided was “so profound that it calls for extraordinary downward departure.”

He also said because of the information provided by Headley barely 30 minutes after his arrest, lives were saved not just in India and the United States but elsewhere in the world.

For its part even the defense described Headley’s case as “uniquely aggravating” and “uniquely mitigating” and frequently pointed out his unprecedented cooperation. It was perhaps for the first time in a major case of global terrorism that one of the key players chose to cooperate without any coercion and so immediately after his arrest.

Against this backdrop, Headley, who is already serving a 35-year-long sentence, has nothing to lose by turning approver on India’s behalf because the quality of what he has to offer is already fairly diminished because of his past cooperation. Unless there has been some behind-the-scenes deal-making between the Indian and American investigators over some still crucial bits of information that Headley will reveal, there does not seem to be anything significant to be gained by extending him such remarkable accommodation yet again.

One instance of Headley’s usefulness was illustrated with him pointing the authorities to the whereabouts of Ilyas Kashmiri, the Al Qaeda/Harkat ul Jihad al Islami leader, who was killed June 3, 2011, during a drone strike on an orchard in South Waziristan. Then regarded as one of the fiercest commanders, Kashmiri was one of the seven people to have been charged them with involvement in both the Mumbai case as well as the abortive attack on the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed offensive to Muslims in September, 2005.

Headley had even proposed to the investigators that they should send him back to Pakistan with an ornate sword embedded with a locator chip which he could gift Kashmiri. The US then could use the signal from the chip to locate and target him.

The government’s position paper on his sentencing, while referring to his extraordinary cooperation, said, “Headley similarly provided extensive detail about Ilyas Kashmiri and his network.” When asked to elaborate on the kind of information that Headley provided about Kashmiri, the prosecutors had said it was classified and they could not share it.

It had baffled many then why a man once so deeply immersed in an extreme version of Islam known as Salafism could change so radically as to seriously undermine its other adherents by exposing them. One plausible explanation could be what even Judge Harry Leinenweber zeroed in on. He had pointed out how Headley had a history of being arrested and then finding his way out of it by cooperating with the authorities. He was referring to Headley’s two arrests in the past in connection with narcotics smuggling and how he managed to come out of prison on fairly positive terms in exchange for cooperation.

His plea deal to escape the death penalty and extradition to India was yet another deal that he struck. Now with the Indian deal, Headley has yet again excelled at finding a way out of a potentially terrible situation.

(By Mayank Chhaya, IANS)

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India to Set Up “Border Haats” with Myanmar

The Minister said, The success of the "Border Haats" running along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura has prompted us to go for similar 'haats'

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India, Border Haats, Myanmar
To carry out border trade with Myanmar, the location for the construction of 'Border Haat' has been identified in four places -- Hnahlan, Zote, Vaphai (Saikhumphai) and Sangau (Pangkhua) in southeastern Mizoram. Pixabay

The success of the “Border Haats” with Bangladesh has prompted other northeastern states of India to go for similar arrangements with Myanmar. At the instance of the Mizoram government, the Centre is likely to set up four “Border Haats” (market) along the border with Myanmar to boost local trade and livelihood of the people living there.

“To carry out border trade with Myanmar, the location for the construction of ‘Border Haat’ has been identified in four places — Hnahlan, Zote, Vaphai (Saikhumphai) and Sangau (Pangkhua) in southeastern Mizoram,” Mizoram Commerce and Industries Minister R. Lalthangliana told IANS.

The Minister said, “The success of the “Border Haats” running along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura has prompted us to go for similar ‘haats’ with Mynmar in Mizoram.”

Mizoram Commerce and Industries Department Director J. Hmingthanmawia said that the state government has sent the detailed proposals in this regard to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for its approval.

India, Border Haats, Myanmar
The success of the “Border Haats” with Bangladesh has prompted other northeastern states of India to go for similar arrangements with Myanmar. Pixabay

“Once we get the green signal from the MEA, we would seek funds from the Union Industries and Commerce Ministry,” Hmingthanmawia told IANS. He said that officials of the Mizoram government and Myanmar have recently conducted a joint survey and identified the locations to set up the “Border Haats”.

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga in his Independence Day speech had said that the proposed “Border Haats” would become important trade points between India and Myanmar.

“Land Custom Station (LCS) at Zokhawthar, the lone trade route for Mizoram with South East Asian countries, is being proposed for upgradation. Construction of Trade Facilitation Centre at Tlabung has already been completed.”

“The Indian government has also proposed construction of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) at four places at the border in Mizoram — Marpara, Tuipuibari, Silsuri and Nunsury. The construction of ICP at Kawrpuichhuah is also expected to commence shortly,” the Chief Minister added.

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Mizoram has an unfenced international border of 404 km with Myanmar and 318 km with Bangladesh. The Border Security Force (BSF) has been guarding the Bangladesh border and Assam Rifles personnel are posted on the border with Myanmar.

Experts and various studies suggest that if the “Border Haats” are set up, smuggling of drugs and other commodities would be checked to a large extent. Security expert Manas Paul said that large-scale smuggling of drugs from Myanmar via Mizoram and other neighbouring states has increased in the last few years.

“What is really worrisome is the fact that these synthetic drugs have got a domestic market inside the state, especially among the younger generation. Cross border legal activities including setting up of “Border Haats” could curb the smuggling of drugs and other contraband,” Paul, who has authored books on security and terrorism in the northeast, told IANS.

The CUTS International, a Jaipur based international NGO, with support from the World Bank, had conducted a study in 2016 to understand and examine the effect of “Border Haats” on poverty alleviation and other multiplier effects such as informal trade.

India, Border Haats, Myanmar
At the instance of the Mizoram government, the Centre is likely to set up four “Border Haats” (market) along the border with Myanmar to boost local trade and livelihood of the people living there. Pixabay

CUTS International Executive Director Bipul Chatterjee said that trade will increase income, curb smuggling, and cross-border crimes will also go down.

“‘Border Haats’ have contributed to the border area development, roads have improved, trafficking of women has stopped, unemployment issues have been addressed,” said Chatterjee.

Currently four “Border Haats” are operational in Meghalaya and Tripura. The first “Border Haat” was started on July 23, 2011 at Kalaichar (India)-Kurigram (Bangladesh) in the West Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Three other “haats” followed in Meghalaya and Tripura.

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The Union Industries and Commerce Ministry has been spending on an average Rs 3.5 crore to develop the infrastructure and necessary facilities for each “Border Haat” along the Bangladesh border. The Bangladesh government is not providing any funds for the purpose.  (IANS)