‘India’s neighbourhood epicentre of transnational terrorism’
Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on Thursday made a strong pitch for access for Indian investigators to David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American who has admitted to helping Lashkar-e-Toiba plan the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. A team of Indian investigators is currently in the US awaiting such access to Headley, who is locked up in a Chicago prison.
Acknowledging the "tremendous progress" that has been made in strengthening US-India counterterrorism cooperation since the Mumbai attack in 2008, Krishna said India values the support it has received from the US in its investigations.
Turning to directly address Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Krishna said, "Access for our authorities to persons who have been apprehended by your government in connection with Mumbai terror attack is the logical next step." He said he was confident that continued cooperation will lead to realisation of this objective. He did not mention Headley by name. Clinton did not respond.
Krishna's remarks came at the start of the first US-India strategic dialogue in the ornate Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department.
In a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan, Krishna described "India's neighbourhood" as the "epicentre" of transnational terrorism and, citing the case of the Times Square bomber, said this was a threat not only to India but the US as well. He also sought to direct US attention to security challenges, particularly the threat posed by transnational terrorism. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was among those in attendance. "Though the epicentre of this threat lies in India’s neighbourhood, it reaches far and wide all across the world as we have seen time and again and, most recently, a few weeks back in Times Square," he said. Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani American, has been arrested in connection with the foiled plot.
"Given the fact that the groups who preach the ideology of hatred and violence are increasingly coalescing, sharing resources and operating as one, it is incumbent upon all of us, to focus our efforts laser-like on every one of them. Targeting only one or other of such groups would only provide false comfort in the short term and will not usher in long-term stability," Krishna said.
US officials publicly express frustration with Pakistan's selective campaign against terrorist groups. While acknowledging Pakistan's effort, they say this does not target groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban. Krishna said the US and India share an increasing convergence of interests. Clinton, meanwhile, addressed doubts in India that the Obama administration, distracted by developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is less focused on its relationship with India. She acknowledged doubts were prevalent on both sides.
The secretary said it was important to “frankly address doubts that remain on both sides. Doubts among some Indians that the United States only sees India, or mainly sees India, in the context of Afghanistan and Pakistan, or that we will hasten our departure from Afghanistan, leaving India to deal with the aftermath.” She added that there were doubts in US that “India has not fully embraced its role in regional and global affairs, or will not make the economic reforms needed to foster additional progress.”
Clinton described security and counterterrorism as a top priority because “both our nations have been seared by acts of terrorism on our home soil.” She was hopeful that the Indian Parliament will soon pass legislation that seeks to allow foreign universities to open campuses in India, which Clinton assured would be done “in accordance with appropriate regulations.” She said the US is also committed to the modernisation of India’s military.
The strategic dialogue will focus on a host of areas of cooperation, including nuclear proliferation, agriculture, climate change, food security and education.