Even as a four-member team of Indian investigators arrived in Chicago, America’s Ambassador to the United States Timothy Roemer made it clear on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama had personally intervened to ensure that India was allowed direct access to David Coleman Headley. Headley, of course, is the Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative who is considered one of the major planners of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Responding to question from this newspaper, Ambassador Roemer said, “The United States Government, starting at the very top, President Barack Obama recognised how important access to Headley was, and he told our Government to work on this and make it happen.”
Ambassador Roemer had a brief interaction with the media after addressing a gala reception of the US India Business Council or USIBC.
During his visit to Washington in November for Obama’s first state dinner, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had been assured by him that access to Headley would be granted.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, US Undersecretary for Political Affairs, William J Burns, said that America was not hyphenating India and Pakistan, as in the past. He said, “The only ‘hyphen’ that we will pursue with respect to our relationship is the one that links the United States and India.”
He also said that groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba could not be allowed to go unchecked.
Department of Justice officials have refused to comment on when and in what manner the team of the National Investigation Agency will be able to quiz Headley.
And Roemer himself refused to pinpoint a timetable for such access.
He pointed out that US authorities had been working overtime on facilitating access, as he said, “That’s what we’ve been doing, we’ve been working our fingers to the bone, burning the midnight oil trying to make sure that this does happen. Both the direct and the indirect access are important to the Indian people.”
The US Ambassador also said that information from Headley had been directly given to Indian intelligence “to try and protect the next attack, to try to understand the terrorist network and what they are doing."
He also appeared to make the point that the US was making an exception for India in granting access to Headley, in terms of his experience as a member of the 9/11 Commission.
He said, “As a 9/11 Commissioner, we asked for access right after 9/11 to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and as an American Commission we could not get access to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11.
But because this is such an important thing to India, to the people of India, to the Government of India, because this is so symbolic, because we recognize Headley’s role in the Mumbai attack, we’re working to make this happen soon.”