There is no denying that a great deal of counter-terrorism cooperation exists between India and the US. But there are no specifics to act on, which is a pivotal aspect of intelligence-sharing, in any such collaboration. This should be the context in which the recent spar over whether the US had provided actionable, specific intelligence about Lashkar operative David Coleman Headley who played a key role in the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, before the attack, should be seen. External affairs minister SM Krishna had talked about the non-specific nature of such intelligence that the US shared with India before 26/11. Home Secretary GK Pillai went much further, saying even that the name of Headley was not shared with India in the aftermath of 26/11. Headley had been to India in March 2009. Had there been some specific information, India could have nabbed him then, rather than being
now satisfied with Indian interrogators having access to Headley and looking at the onerous and near-impossible proposition of having him extradited here. And even when the US allowed Indian officials access to Headley, it was in a controlled environment and the demand for a video-recording too was turned down.
But, US officials have maintained that Indo-US cooperation is saving lives ‘daily’ before and after 26/11 — and that should be taken at face value. Then, the Mumbai attack was like no other terror strike and it was an operation hatched, controlled and executed from the soil of Pakistan. And Headley was the vital link. It has now emerged that the US was aware of Headley’s Lashkar connection and his association with terror outfits in Pakistan much earlier. But India was not seized of the matter as the US did not share any such details. While there are suspicions of Headley being a double agent, unraveling the full conspiracy of Mumbai and getting all the culprits of the attack to book and is something India cannot take casually. It is naturally worrying if the US had the specific inputs of what Headley was planning and the Mumbai plot. If they have still kept away from sharing it with India , this is something we need worry about.
That understandably justifies Indian reactions on the issue. However that shouldn’t be at the expense of losing sight of the importance of counter-terrorism cooperation India has with the US. Clearing the confusion over Headley will help with this cooperation going a long way in substantial terms. The Obama visit also rings in a new chapter in this relationship. New Delhi attaches — and the US understands — the significance of the Mumbai attack. During his November visit to India, the US president, like his secretary of state Hilary Clinton earlier, will be staying at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, one of the targets of the 26/11 attackers. So there is no better occasion than now to iron out differences and bolster the fight against the scourge of terrorism.