Terrorist's claims to further strain India-Pakistan ties

David Coleman Headley is in jail in the US for his role in the Mumbai attacks in 2008.
David Coleman Headley is in jail in the US for his role in the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

Court told that Islamabad's spy agency backed group behind deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai

Testimony by a United States convicted terrorist reiterating the involvement of Pakistan's spy agency in the 2008 Mumbai attacks has given India fresh incentive to push Islamabad to crack down on terror, analysts say, as doubts increase over a fresh peace process between the two rivals.

Pakistan-born American David Coleman Headley, who is serving a 35-year jail term in the US for his role in planning the attacks which killed 166 people, told a Mumbai court via video link yesterday that Pakistani terror outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad were working under one umbrella against India.

Headley, 55, who changed his name from Dawood Gilani in 2006 to make travel easier, said that he visited India seven times on planning missions and that Pakistan's spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), while being involved in the attacks, had also asked him to recruit spies from the Indian army. He also told the court that the ISI gave "financial, military and moral support" to LeT, which was behind the Mumbai attacks.

Headley said two earlier attempts by the Mumbai attackers failed in September and October 2008. The attacks were launched in November.

Though Headley's testimony, which started on Monday, is in line with what he had told an American court and is not new, it comes as ties between India and Pakistan are already strained.

SORE POINT

Mumbai remains a sore point and a constant pressure point on Pakistan to prove its credentials with regard to what they said about being victims of terror, and not distinguishing between good and bad terrorists.

MR KANWAL SIBAL, former Indian foreign secretary, on the stress on Pakistan

"Mumbai remains a sore point and a constant pressure point on Pakistan to prove its credentials with regard to what they said about being victims of terror, and not distinguishing between good and bad terrorists," said former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

"The atmosphere (for talks) has been vitiated by Pathankot (air force base attack), though Mumbai of course gives us additional argument... as a pressure point."

India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars, have been trying to revive peace talks since December last year. A visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Pakistan on Christmas Day cemented the determination on both sides to move ahead with the process.

But last month's attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot near the border with Pakistan has disrupted the initiative. Seven Indian security personnel and six terrorists were killed. New Delhi has postponed foreign secretary-level talks indefinitely and demanded action from Pakistan on terror.

Last week, India's Ministry of External Affairs noted that Islamabad's action on the Mumbai terror attacks was a "test of Pakistan's sincerity" in tackling terrorism directed towards India.

Still, it is the Pathankot attack which remains the biggest impediment to talks. India has blamed Jaish-e-Mohammad for that attack, but Pakistan, according to latest reports from Islamabad, has found no proof of the involvement of Masood Azhar, the head of the terror group.

Analysts said talks on friendlier ties might be stalled but would go ahead eventually.

"Both Modi and (Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz) Sharif may seriously want to take it (talks) forward, but it is not going to be done only by them... the issue is with expectations from India and limitations with Pakistan," said Mr D. Suba Chandran, director at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in India.

Others felt that Mr Modi, who has risked his political capital on pursuing talks with Pakistan, would press on. Said Professor Chintamani Mahapatra of Jawaharlal Nehru University: "Pathankot is a big roadblock to talks... but ultimately they will."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Terrorist's claims to further strain India-Pakistan ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe