A US federal court sentenced David Headley (earlier name Dawood Gilani) on Thursday to 35 years in jail without parole for his role as a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) operative who made reconnaissance trips to Mumbai to facilitate the 26/11 attacks. Whether a sentence of death might have been more appropriate may be a point of debate, but it cannot be overlooked that the judge has handed the terrorist the stiffest punishment short of death.
The judge observed that he would have liked to have given Headley the death sentence but prosecutors of the US department of justice did not seek it.
There is no use faulting the American prosecutors. When Headley was caught, he entered into a plea bargain with the US authorities.
Under the deal he would spill the beans on his co-conspirators (for instance fellow Pakistani Tahawwur Rana, now a Canadian national, who was sentenced to 14 years last week), provide a detailed account of LeT cells, their working methods, hierarchy, and details of the attack on Mumbai. In return, he would not be extradited to India and would not be sentenced to death, but would have to submit to interrogation by the Indians either in the US or through video-conferencing. These conditions have been met.
We knew all along that the terrorist in question would not get the death sentence or be sent to India to face trial. So, there is not a little expedient bleating on the part of the Indians when they now say Headley should have been sent to the electric chair, and that they would still ask for this. This is quite absurd, to put it no strongly than that.
The government perhaps thought that if it didn’t make these noises, it would be pilloried by the BJP in an election year for not seeking the harshest punishment in respect of something so dastardly as the Mumbai attacks. And since the government and the Congress are asking for the death sentence, the BJP thinks it would appear less than patriotic if it didn’t do the same.
We should simply let this pass now and be appreciative of the fact that while India-US cooperation on fighting terrorism may not always meet our best expectations, it has not been insubstantial, especially in the case of Ajmal Kasab.