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Too many fine distinctions

India seems resigned to getting third parties argue its case against terrorism.

india Updated: May 11, 2011 21:21 IST

The trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, the Canadian businessman who used his Chicago immigration business to provide cover for 26/11 scout David Headley, attempted an unusual defence for his actions. He claimed Headley had told him he needed cover for espionage work he was doing on behalf of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

If Rana had known Headley was actually preparing the ground for a Lashkar-e-Tayyeba assault on Mumbai, his defence argues, his actions would have been different. The presiding judge has already rejected the argument: under US law, what Rana did was illegal irrespective of whom he thought he was doing it for. However, a second chargesheet implicates a mysterious “Major Iqbal” as a co-conspirator in the 26/11 case.

This distinction, however, is of great interest to the Indian authorities. New Delhi has sought high and low for evidence to show conclusively that the ISI, or at least elements of the same, were involved in planning or preparing the ground for the 26/11 attack.

This would complete the forensic circle show that the ISI has actively helped the Lashkar and that the 26/11 was, thus, a proven act of State-sponsored terrorism. Rana is still expected to testify about the ISI information he was fed.

And the second chargesheet could generate more heat against the Pakistani military.

This matters because India does not really expect Pakistan to take action, let alone investigate thoroughly, the links between the ISI and 26/11. What it can hope is that this will be exposed in a court in a third country.

This would add credibility to the Indian charge and make it more difficult for Pakistan to maintain the myth of its terror relationship. Perhaps more tangibly it would strengthen another, related case being taken up by the relatives of America’s victims of 26/11. They are seeking legal redress from anyone behind the attack, including the ISI and Lashkar.

This is important. A similar case in the Lockerbie terror attack, led a US judge to force Washington to sanction and then force Libya to cough up the bombers. The judge involved also forced the US intelligence agencies to provide all the evidence they had against Libya.

The executive was trapped by the court judgement and the Lockerbie victims were the beneficiaries. A similar gambit could be played out with regard to 26/11 if the Rana case goes in the right direction and the 26/11 class action suit follows in its wake.

It remains, however, a matter of sadness that New Delhi continues to depend on the systems and processes of third countries to bring to justice those who perpetrated terror against India.