Conspiratorial webs, strands of speculation and the plotlines from various spy thrillers are being spun around the trial of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) member David Coleman Headley. These lines, however, have done little other than muddy the waters as to what is India’s primary interest in the case. It is less about what Headley knew about the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attacks or whether he is a litmus test for counter-terrorism cooperation between India and the United States. India has long made the claim that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of the Pakistan military actively directs and supports the terrorist activities of the LeT. The Headley trial is the first time that this ‘thesis’ is being tested by the strict rules of evidence of a Western court of law. This would provide irrefutable evidence of the nature of Pakistan’s military and further help push that country into accepting its own reality: a rogue State being consumed by its own trickery.
Despite many exciting reports about Headley’s interactions with the LeT cell that masterminded the 26/11 attack, the truth is his own statements need more tangible corroboration to survive a contemporary Perry Mason. It is telling that, so far, the strongest connection between the LeT and the ISI lies in the indictment of Yousuf Raza Gilani, a retired Pakistani officer, and the assistance he provided Headley in plotting a terrorist strike not against Mumbai but against Denmark. Ultimately, the target of the plot is less important than the proof of the plotting itself and which organisations the conspirators represent.
One can be almost certain Headley will not be extradited to India. It is for a government to send one of its own citizens to another country for trial. It is also unclear if Indian officials will get to speak with Headley. However, already the degree of cooperation between US and Indian law enforcement agencies in this case is unprecedented. The truth remains that even now most governments are less than helpful when it comes to sharing intelligence — and that this problem continues to plague even agencies within the same government. The real focus of the Headley case is not the legal minutiae but the possibility of exposing the bloodied khaki hand that lies inside the Lashkar puppet.