There was always far more attention given to the trial of Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana than the evidence behind it merited. Rana was at best a small subsidiary cog in a terrorist machine whose main location lay in the corridors of the headquarters of the Pakistan military. He argued he was a dupe of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba scout David Headley. The evidence that he was anything more than that was scanty and uncorroborated. The jury’s decision to acquit him of materially supporting the 26/11 Mumbai attacks wasn’t that much of a surprise. In any case, he will spend most, if not all of the remainder of his life in jail for the other verdicts handed down by the jury.
The significance of the Rana trial lies in its context. That in turn is a product of several developments. One was 26/11 itself, the first terrorist act on Indian soil that has intricately involved the United States — in the form of its perpetrators, its victims, its criminal prosecution and its geopolitical fallout. The Headley and Rana trials were major threads in this weave. The other was the discovery of Osama bin Laden living in the heart of the Pakistani military establishment. Washington has not hidden its belief that some section of the Pakistani leadership must have known and abetted bin Laden’s hiding. The overall result has been a major trough in the US-Pakistan relationship. While such dips have occurred before, distrust levels have never been so extreme. And bin Laden being what he was to Americans, it’s possible this distrust, especially with the Pakistani military, may never be overcome. Headley and Rana have contributed by showing in their statements that at a minimum, former members of the Inter-Services Intelligence helped mastermind 26/11. As was said of bin Laden’s hiding location, either the Pakistani military was complicit or incompetent.
None of this will necessarily cause a dramatic shift in the Pakistani State’s addiction to the use of militancy to further its fight against India — and increasingly against enemies within its borders. But it will add, as has been the broad aim of Indian foreign policy, to the sense of Pakistan, even among its military, and with the rest of the world that the costs of this terror gambit far outweigh any gains. It has had the additional advantage of severely undermining the US view of Pakistan, the country that still remains its largest external patron. New Delhi should avoid symbolic and ultimately self-defeating actions like extradition demands that will never be met. Rana’s trial is unfulfilling if seen by itself. It is a success if seen in the larger backdrop of the isolation and discrediting of the Pakistani military. And, eventually, forcing Pakistan to confront what it has become as a country and a nation.