Pakistani analysts tend to suggest that India’s anger over the 26/11 Mumbai attacks is overwrought. They argue that Pakistan has suffered thousands of casualties in terrorist attacks over the last decade and want India to view the 2008 attacks against that backdrop and expect New Delhi to move past Mumbai for the sake of bilateral ties.
India has strong reasons not to buy into that narrative. There are, to be sure, terrorist groups that are waging war with the State in Pakistan, but that is a different problem from what Indian policymakers and the public face as they live with the awareness that elements of the Pakistani State are actively conspiring with terrorist groups to wage war against India. It is for that reason that the latest deposition — in a TADA court via video from the United States — of Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Headley assumes significance.
In his testimony, Headley rehearsed his journey as an LeT operative, visiting Mumbai seven times on recce visits. He spoke of being influenced by Hafiz Saeed and getting acquainted with a Major in the ISI who put him in touch with the LeT. As is well-known, Headley went on to reconnoitre targets in Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi for his handlers and plotted the GPS coordinates of the landing site for the 26/11 attackers. The Pakistan government may not accept Headley’s version of events and use it to prosecute the perpetrators but his depositions will, as they continue, provide India with a firmer sense of the intimate links between the ISI and the LeT — and thereby harden Indian attitudes about the scope for forward movement in Pakistan.
Islamabad would do well to register the reactions in India to Headley’s depositions to understand how much the lack of progress in Pakistan on the 26/11 attacks trials remains an impediment to forward movement. The Pakistani State has failed to act on the several leads it has received about the LeT’s operations from Headley and western intelligence agencies who are quite alert to the threat the group poses to their own societies.
What is particularly disturbing is that the Nawaz Sharif government is unable to rein in Saeed’s anti-Indian rhetoric, let alone prosecute him for crimes. Saeed has warned India of more Pathankot-style attacks. The influence of his hate speech cannot be underestimated, given that his group is known for effectively circulating his addresses and propaganda on the Internet.
The New York Times has recently reported that Pakistan may have facilitated the move of Sunni jihadists to the battlefields of Syria and thereby had a role in the rise of the Islamic State as well. Headley’s testimony will sow fresh doubts about Islamabad’s willingness to address New Delhi’s concerns, given the regime’s culpability in generating terror.