Kasab, Headley and America: Who Pays the Price?

Ajmal Kasab does not have a price on his head, but he sure comes at a price. Even in prison he is guarded by 150 commandos, and this is Arthur Road jail. Now we get the news that the Indo-Tibetan Border Police commandos have been holding fort for over two years. The cost of such protection has come to Rs. 10 crore (over $ 2 million). The Maharashtra government is refusing to cough up this amount – it has already spent a good deal on creating high walls and a special court.

It makes one wonder how after the huge noise by the elite rallyists, we are still not capable of taking care of a man behind bars and require such added facilities. It is quite clear that no one wants Kasab, least of all Pakistan. He has changed his version several times, so no one can really benefit from sneaking him out. This kind of security is obviously due to the high-powered eye-ball grabbing nature of the Kasab trial. We have to be seen to be doing something, although in effect nothing is being done.

Anyhow, this new drama is being enacted between the state government and the central government, with the latter as well as the ITBP being asked to waive off the amount because the crime was not against Mumbai alone but against India. According to the report:

“When Qasab and his gang attacked Mumbai, the nature of the crime was not limited to (hurting) Mumbai. It was an attack on the country. Taj, Trident and CST station were attacked because they were important to the country, a senior official said. The Indian Air Force, Army, Navy and NSG which came to Mumbai at the time did not send us a bill for services rendered. Why should the ITBP give us a bill when Qasab is a criminal of the nation?”

I hold no brief for the Centre, but it was the city’s high-rise crowd that had made the tragedy into a cause celebre. It was they who got excited when they saw coast guard boats bobbing in the waters from their sleek apartments and felt oh-so-safe now that the government had acted on their initiative. People who would have been flaky gossip-mongers became courageous citizens with raised voices in the hallowed confines of television studios. This was chic society on a conscience trip. Now all they have to do is cough up some money. It wasn’t only about those commandos who fought bravely and put out the fire; it wasn’t only about seeing those ‘institutions’ destroyed. This ridiculous amount for guarding Kasab is to a large extent due to their Page 3 paranoia and the fact that the city was on the global stage.

Since our industrialists often mention how they are concerned about India, they can surely chip in. Buy one masterpiece less; don’t get that prized horse; chuck that one holiday in the Alps; forget about that little antique trinket. And those who are endorsing public service ads can put their money where their mouth is. Let’s get a bit wicked here: Has the Times of India thought about contributing some? After all, it has made quite a killing indirectly with its ‘aman ki asha’ initiative. Peace is also about paying those who keep it.

As regards the Centre’s role, have we asked it to pay for the losses during the Sikh, Bombay and Gujarat riots? During the blasts that occur in several places? During the ongoing insurgency-related killings in Jammu and Kashmir?

* * *

On the subject of the 26/11 attacks, David Headley has indicated that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) provided support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Do remember that he is deposing in the United States and they have just had this ‘victory’ over Osama bin Laden who was found in Pakistan and the ISI has had a role to play. (For the moment please forget the different versions, including Osama’s youngest wife who has transformed from human shield to purveyor of his libidinous activities to, at last count, being the one who squealed on him!)

This is perfect timing. Some ‘Major’ Iqbal gave Headley $25,000 to go on a sightseeing trip to India, a country he says he hated. Now, the hate was so great that he wanted to go on a jihad, like people go on picnics or bungee jumping. Among the things he did in Mumbai was to join a gym, a respectable and fancy one. He managed to take pictures and shoot some videos of the targets. I assume they have those with them and tally with the unfortunate ones that were finally chosen. Headley, incidentally, said he wanted to get “launched” in Kashmir. The LeT – and now it comes to pass the ISI – thought he would be better suited in urban areas.

He also said that his house was bombed in 1971 during the Bangladesh War; he felt that Pakistan did not get a good deal. It is as though he is trotting out things from history book or some op-ed columns.

The Assistant US attorney Sarah Steiker said:

“The defendant didn't carry a gun or throw a grenade. In a complicated and sophisticated plot, not every player carries a weapon. People like the defendant who provide support are just as critical to the success.”

Absolutely. And the people behind the behind of the plot. Or those who do not take enough precautions so that such a “manipulative” guy manages to escape their shores. Headley’s real name is Daood Gilani. He made a fake passport – in the US. He, a person of Pakistani origin, managed to come to India – from the US. (This is not easy, unless the person is on a business trip, and although it can be said he was, he would not possibly carry a LeT or ISI visiting card, right?)

So, a citizen of the United States of America, trained in Pakistan, assisted in a crime against India. He is being tried in the US and the US will give India only as much information as it deems it necessary and to suit its own agenda. Like the ISI role. Which really is not a huge revelation. What is the punishment for providing such logistical support and what is the nature of the evidence? Since a key witness has indicted the ISI, can any international legal organisation try it? There really is no point skirting the issue with amateur photographers.

America is trying to tell India it is serious and Pakistan it is serious in two different ways. This is a lot of talk. Do not be surprised that Headley will change his version when things have cooled down a bit for the US. He has merely mentioned that there was co-ordination between the ISI and LeT. Once the Osama story does a RIP – watch how Mullah Omar’s ‘killing’ is now being paraded – the Obama administration will not care about the ISI.

Pakistan will get a rap on its knuckle so that NATO can walk around and India will be kept busy selling its wares and buying nuclear technology because the US is purportedly concerned about the region and its welfare. Perhaps hotelier Sant Chatwal, our influential NRI who provides food and adds the multi-culti exotica to the White House, can be asked to foot the bill for Kasab’s security.

(C) Farzana Versey

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