Monday, November 30, 2009



The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Washington pudding served by President Barack Obama to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the latter's visit to the US from November 23 to 26,2009, is yet to be tasted, but if one is objective in analysing the outcome of the visit, one will have to concede that the spins put out by one of the PM's advisers from the PM's plane through obliging journalists before he landed in Washington DC have remained what they were----spins and nothing more.

2.Two of the pre-summit spins put out from the plane related to India's right to reprocess used nuclear fuel from US-supplied power stations and co-operation in counter-terrorism. The Indian public was given the impression that the agreement on the re-processing modalities had almost been finalised and would be a flagship outcome of the visit.

3.Hardly had the PM landed in Washington DC when Nirupama Rao, the Foreign Secretary, had to unspin the spin put out from the aircraft.She told the journalists that while there was progress in the negotiations, an agreement was still away and may not be the outcome of the visit.We have now been told during a post-summit spin session on board the plane while the PM and his party were returning to New Delhi that barring one or two issues, the agreement has almost been clinched. It might not have been possible to initial it during the PM's stay in Washington DC, so what? It is a question of a wait of another seven to 10 days. So we are told now.

4.Another pre-summit spin from the PM's aircraft was that a memorandum of understanding on future counter-terrorism co-operation between the two countries would be another important outcome. It was made out that the lightning visit of Leon Panetta, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to New Delhi before the Prime Minister took off for Washington was an indicator of the importance attached by Obama to this subject.

5. What the spin-masters did not tell the Indian public was that the CIA chief had actually flown to Islamabad due to concerns over the growing isolation of President Asif Ali Zardari and had stopped over in India by the way.

6.Some New Delhi-based analysts, who always go lyrical on Indo-US relations, have extensively quoted from the Manmohan Singh-Obama joint statement to claim that the so-called joint counter-terrorism initiative mentioned in the statement was, in fact, the flagship outcome of the visit. In post-summit spin sessions on board the returning aircraft, one of the PM's advisers put out for all who might believe him that Obama himself was personally monitoring the FBI investigation into the activities of the Chicago cell ( David Coleman Headley--- Tahawuur Hussain Rana) of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and that on his instructions a high-level team of the FBI headed by its chief would be flying to India to share with us all the information collected by the FBI during the investigation.

7. What the Indian public was not told was that the programme for the New Delhi visit of the FBI chief was fixed long before the PM's visit to Washington DC and that in the US the President has no powers to monitor the FBI's investigation process which is independent. Indian Prime Ministers may as a matter of habit monitor the investigations of the CBI, but the US President can't monitor the FBI 's investigations.

8.Embarrassed by the statement of the US National Security Adviser, Gen.James Jones, when the PM was still abroad that the Indian investigators may not be able to join in the interrogation of Headley and Rana due to legal difficulties, the spin-masters told us that this was because the two suspects had not yet been indicted before a court.We were told that once they were indicted, our investigators would be able to interrogate them.

9. What we were not told was that once a suspect is indicted, he is transferred to judicial custody and no more interrogation is possible without a special court order. US courts are often hesitant to permit foreign investigators to interrogate suspects facing trial before them. That is what Gen.Jones meant when he talked of legal difficulties.

10. The so-called counter-terrorism initiative, which has been projected as path-breaking, is thin in substance and thinner in new ideas. Two ideas of considerable originality and significance were born out of Indo-US counter-terrorism co-operation initiatives under the Bill Clinton and George Bush Administrations. The idea of a Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism came out of the meeting between Jaswant Singh, the then Foreign Minister, and Strobe Talbot, the then US Deputy Secretary of State, at London in January 2000 in the wake of the Kandahar hijacking. Now this has become a model for a similar mechanism with many other countries.

11. The Indo-US Cyber Security Forum was born post-9/11 during counter-terrorism interactions between security officials of the Bush and Atal Behari Vajpayee Governments. Compared to those ideas, not a single new idea has come out of the much-hyped summit between Manmohan Singh and Obama.

12. And yet we are asked to hail the so-called counter-terrorism initiative. We should gladly do so if someone could explain to us what this initiative is about. Yes, there has been an improvement in what is called mutual legal assistance between India and the US after the 26/11 terrorist strike in Mumbai. For the first time since counter-terrorism co-operation between the two countries started in the 1980s the FBI allowed its officers not only to share their forensic findings with their Indian counterparts, but also to help the Mumbai Police in its prosecution by allowing FBI officers to testify before the trial court through video-conferencing. In the past while the FBI had shared its findings with us, it had refused to allow its officers to testify before an Indian court.

13. There has been a welcome change in that attitude because of the enormity of the offence and the death of six US nationals at the hands of the terrorists. There was an improvement in intelligence-sharing under the Bush Administration. In December,2008, Indian media carried reports about two timely warnings regarding the 26/11 strikes received by the Indian agencies from their US counterparts in September,2008. The US agencies were also of considerable assistance in the collection of technical intelligence during the terrorist strike which forced the Government of Pakistan to arrest some of the conspirators based in Pakistan and initiate action, however unsatisfactory, against them. All this was done between November 26,2008, and January 20,2009, when Bush was still the President.

14. One understands that under the Bush Adminisatration, the US agencies were helpful in collecting intelligence about the Pakistani involvement in the explosion outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July,2008, and sharing it with their Indian counterparts. They did it automatically on their own without the need for our PM having to take it up with Bush.

15. What has been our experience since Obama took over on January 20,2009? One has not heard of any active US role in helping us in the investigation of the recent second explosion outside our Embassy in Kabul. Even though the FBI has reportedly already shared a lot of intelligence with our agencies in the Headley-Rana case, one has the impression that there has been some foot-dragging by the US authorities in respect of sharing with the Indian agencies information which could help them in identifying serving or retired Pakistani military and intelligence officials with whom Headley and Rana were in touch.

16. If we are given permission to interrogate them, our investigators will query them on the identities of the Pakistani officials. The officials of the Obama Administration are uncomfortable over the prospect of this.

17. There is an apparent strip-tease going on about Headley. There are wheels within wheels in the Headley case. Before he gravitated to the world of jihadi terrorism, he was in the world of narcotics smuggling. He was reportedly arrested once by US officials responsible for narcotics control.

18.Instead of being dealt with severely as one does normally with narcotics offenders, he seems to have been treated somewhat leniently. Did the narcotics control agency of the US recruit him as its agent in return for the lenient sentence? Was the FBI aware of this? We are all assuming that he was able to lead a high-profile life in India because of financial assistance from the LET and the Pakistani intelligence. Were payments from th US narcotics control agency also helping him lead a comfortable life in India and rub shoulders with film personalities and other high-flyers?

19. Will we get complete answers to these questions from the FBI ? The Obama Administration's counter-terrorism co-operation with India reminds one of the policy pursued by the Clinton Administration. Help India in preventing and investigating an act of terrorism originating from Pakistan, but avoid helping India in any matter which might prove detrimental to the State of Pakistan.

20. We ought to be more balanced in our assessment of US policies which have an impact on our core interests and more articulate in expressing our concerns and misgivings. Our relationship with the US is important, but that does not mean that we let ourselves be overawed into silence. ( 30-9-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )