The Headley Lessons

How is the CIA-ISI alliance not figured into the Indo-Pak peace process?

01 August 2010
US, Afghan and Pakistani officers open the first of six joint military intelligence centers along the Afghan-Pakistan border in March 2008.

SINCE JUNE 2010, three important events relating to the Indo-Pak peace process have occurred. In early June, India’s Solicitor General, Gopal Subramaniam and National Investigation Agency officials questioned David Headley in a Chicago jail. Headley, as revealed first by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in December 2009, admitted that he had prepared the groundwork for the 26 November 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 170 people. And in March 2010, the 50-year-old Headley appeared before a district judge in Chicago, in an orange prison jumpsuit and leg irons, accepting all prosecution charges.

The Headley case introduced a new narrative to terror stories on the subcontinent. Born in Washington, DC, Headley is a US citizen, and since 1998, has worked for the US government’s Drug Enforcement Administration. With his American name and Caucasian appearance, he made several trips to Pakistan, India and Europe with ease. At some point, however, he turned rogue and became an agent for Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and later his ISI handler recruited him for an assignment with Lashkar-e-Toiba, the radical Pakistan-based Islamist organisation. All these elements combine to read like the plot of a thriller. But the most important distinction was the main character’s connection to the US. Initially, the Americans were very protective of Headley. But after six months of effort and the involvement of President Barack Obama’s office, Indian officers finally got access. In mid-June, Solicitor General Subramaniam and team questioned Headley for a week, came back to India, and did not speak to the media.

The second event of significance in June was the visit to Pakistan by the Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, who is known for his hard stand on national security. He visited Islamabad after much pressure from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Thus, Chidambaram became the first Indian home minister to visit Pakistan in three decades and came back with assurances from his counterpart, Rehman Malik, that Pakistan would act on the new dossier he provided after Headley’s interrogation. The visit was praised as successful by New Delhi, Islamabad and Washington.

Vinod K Jose is the Executive Editor of The Caravan.

Keywords: Vinod K Jose LK Advani Chidambaram David Headley Mumbai attacks CSI-ISI alliance Indo-Pak