The sentencing of David Coleman Headley and the hanging of Ajmal Kasab are two important milestones in the quest for justice in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist atrocity. The relatively light sentence that Headley got may not bring much cheer to many Indians this Republic Day. But what is even more unsettling is the fact that the true perpetrators of the attack, those who carefully masterminded 26/11 and recruited the likes of Headley and Kasab, are still at large. Even more important is that the apparatus inside Pakistan that continues to be wedded to the support of terrorism to further supposedly realistic geopolitical ends against India remains largely intact. This latter structure, if anything, was emboldened by 26/11 and its consequences. The costs to them have been negligible. The imprisonment of Headley and death of Kasab are of little consequence to the toxic mix of Islamicist terrorists and Indophobic military officers that resides in Pakistan and who, in the larger scheme of things, are responsible for 26/11 and other terrorist activities against India.
Nonetheless, Headley and 26/11 did help India further its case against Pakistan's sponsorship of terror. Seen in context, it is clear global attitudes towards cross-border terror have hardened. In the past, a group like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was seen as a manifestation of India's own flawed policies towards Kashmir. The 9/11 attack against the US helped make countries realise that terrorism cannot be treated as the problem of individual countries. Incidents like Kargil and the attack on the Indian Parliament helped consolidate a sense that Pakistan was carrying out a high-risk strategy to score points against India, a strategy whose use of violence and terror was unacceptable in a new global environment. Finally, there was a growing recognition that Pakistan's terrorism gambit was eating away at the domestic fabric of Pakistan itself.
Headley's interrogation showed that the LeT was increasingly finding it difficult to keep its rank and file focussed on Kashmir. Part of the reason to attack Mumbai was to stall the "internationalisation" of the Pakistani militant movement. This may all sound academic, but it is an important reminder that events like Mumbai are messengers of a growing difficulty within Pakistan to sustain its blood-stained terror instrument. This larger goal must never be lost sight of. Demanding access to Headley, calling for the trial of Hafiz Saeed and even mobilising the Indian army - the spectrum of responses to Pakistani terror India has or is using - must ultimately be measured against that single yardstick. Does it help, even through the smallest step, move Pakistan away from the use of terror as an instrument of statecraft and, ultimately, save Pakistan from itself?