By expressing his disapproval of Home Secretary GK Pillai in public, Foreign Minister SM Krishna has enabled his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi to justify his raising the issue of the former's disclosure to the media in the obnoxious manner he did, says B Raman
A team of National Investigation Agency investigators had been to the United States in the beginning of June to question David Coleman Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, who is currently awaiting sentence by a US federal court in Chicago on charges of conspiracy to blow up the office of a Danish newspaper in Copenhagen that had published cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, and helping the Lashkar-e-Tayiba in carrying out its terrorist strikes in Mumbai.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Headley had visited India a number of times to collect operational data such as details of the targets, possible landing points for the Lashkar boat, etc, for use in the planning of the strikes.
Headley had pleaded guilty to these charges and made a plea bargain with the Federal Bureau of Investigation under which he admitted the charges against him in return for an assurance that he would not be sentenced to death. The court is still to pronounce its judgment on his plea bargain.
The NIA reportedly interrogated Headley in the presence of his lawyer and the FBI case officer. During his interrogation by the NIA, he reportedly stated that Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence and Navy had assisted the Lashkar in the planning and execution of its sea-borne raid on Mumbai. He also mentioned the names of some ISI officers who were involved.
Headley's admission to the NIA team called for three follow-up actions by the Indian government:
A few days before the departure of Foreign Minister SM Krishna to Islamabad for his July 15 meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Home Secretary GK Pillai told an Indian Express correspondent in New Delhi about the admission made by Headley regarding the involvement of the ISI 'from the beginning till the end'.
His disclosure to the media reportedly vitiated the atmosphere during and after the meeting of the two foreign ministers and created avoidable embarrassment for Krishna, who expressed his disapproval of Pillai's action to the Indian media on July 21.
His objection seems to be to Pillai's premature disclosure to the media before the foreign ministers' meeting, instead of waiting till the meeting was over.
Pillai's action raises two issues. Firstly, the professional wisdom of his action in disclosing to the media sensitive details of the interrogation of a conspirator when the facts relating to the ISI's involvement are still under investigation; second, the procedural appropriateness of his action in disclosing Headley's admission to the media without examining the diplomatic implications of his action in consultation with the foreign secretary and the cabinet secretary.
Interrogations of sensitive suspects give rise to the question whether what they have stated should be disclosed to the media before follow-up enquiries into their disclosure have been completed.
In August 1994, the ministry of home affairs gave the media details of the ISI's involvement in the Mumbai blasts of March 1993 as disclosed to Indian interrogators by some members of the Memon family of Mumbai, who had allegedly played an active role in helping Dawood Ibrahim carry out the blasts.
When PV Narasimha Rao, then prime minister, read about it in the media, he was very unhappy. In an inter-departmental meeting at which I was present, Rao told the then home minister S B Chavan: 'Dawood Ibrahim and the ISI must be frantically trying to find out what the Memon family members are telling their interrogators. We have made their job easy and helped them by disclosing these details of the interrogation to the media.'
By disclosing details of Headley's interrogation by the NIA, have we similarly unwittingly helped the ISI and the LeT to cover up their tracks? This is a very important question, which does not appear to have been addressed.
The home secretary's disclosure also has diplomatic implications. Firstly, the US would be unhappy that the details have been disclosed to the media at a time when their court is still to pronounce judgment on the plea bargain.
Secondly, since there was a danger of it vitiating the atmosphere during the foreign ministers' meeting, if the home secretary strongly felt that the media should be informed even before the meeting, he should have referred the matter to the collective wisdom of the secretaries' committee instead of acting on his own.
If the secretaries' committee agreed that the media should be informed, the foreign secretary should have taken the follow-up action.
Previously, national security problems used to arise due to the lack of coordination at the level of intelligence and physical security agencies. In the Manmohan Singh government, such problems are arising due to the lack of co-ordination at much higher levels such as those of the home secretary, the foreign secretary, the defence secretary and the cabinet secretary. This does not bode well for our national security management.
This episode also does not speak well of the sense of propriety and professional leadership on the part SM Krishna. At the joint press conference at Islamabad, Krishna failed to rebuke the Pakistani foreign minister when he compared the home secretary's disclosure to the media to the instigatory statements of the amir of the Lashkar e Tayiba. Krishna is now trying to cover up his confused and over-awed silence on the grounds of good manners. This is ridiculous.
His blaming the home secretary in two media interviews is totally in violation of the rules of ministerial etiquette under which a minister should not pull up his senior officers in public. Any rebuke must be administered in private and not in public.
Krishna's unwise action might affect the stature of the home secretary in the eyes of his own staff. The correct thing for Krishna would have been to convey his unhappiness to Home Minister P Chidambaram and let him decide how to deal with the matter.
Moreover, by publicly expressing his disapproval of the home secretary's action, Krishna has enabled his Pakistani counterpart to justify his raising the issue of the home secretary's disclosure to the media in the obnoxious manner he did.