India on Friday said the plea bargain between Pakistani-American David Headley and the US government was not a "setback" as it could enable access to the Mumbai attacks accused through the US judicial process.
Home Minister P Chidambaram said India would continue to seek extradition of 49-year-old Headley, a Lashkar-e Taiba operative, besides charging him in the 26/11 case at an "appropriate time". Chidambaram, however, acknowledged that Headley's extradition was not going to be easy as he had committed crime both in the US and India.
"It is not a setback," he told reporters when asked to comment on the plea bargain between Headley and the US government under which the 26/11 accused would escape death penalty and instead could be imprisoned for his life.
Under the plea bargain, Headley has agreed to "fully testify to any foreign judicial proceedings held in the US, either through video conferencing or through Letters Rogatory" Chidambaram said. "So, there is a good chance that he will testify in a US court where Indian authorities will have a chance to ask questions," he said.
Chidambaram, however, added that the fate of the plea bargain would depend on the court which is not a party to it although the court is "by and large bound" by it.
"We have to see how things move forward. We have to be patient... I am a very patient man," he said, while noting that the plea bargain had been "on the anvil" and the US government had told India about it. He said US Director of National Intelligence Dennis C Blair, who met him yesterday, had also told him about the plea bargain that was going to be filed.
Replying to a volley of questions on the issue, the Home Minister said India had received a "significant amount of information to many of the questions we asked".
However, he replied in the negative when asked whether he was "satisfied" with it. "I didn't say it (satisfied). There are many questions we have asked and we want much more information. I will continue press access to Headley," he said.
In this regard, Chidambaram said India would continue to press for Headley testifying in the US court as it would provide an opportunity to question him. Asked whether India would be sending any team to question Headley, he said it would depend on whether access is granted to him.
On the possibility of Headley's extradition to India, the Home Minister said it would be difficult as he is accused of committing crimes in the US as well. He said extradition would have been an easy affair if Headley had committed crime only in India and was a fugitive in the US.
However, with regard to the Mumbai attacks, Headley is accused both in India as well as in the US, where he "conspired" in the killing of people, who included six Americans, he said. "So American authorities have jurisdiction to prosecute him as he was apprehended in the US," Chidambaram said.
"We had apprehended problems in extradition. But we have not given up. We will continue to maintain our plea for his extradition," he said.
Chidambaram pointed out that Headley had not yet been charged in India in connection with the 26/11 case and said this would be done at an "appropriate time". He said the Headley plea bargain would not affect the trial in the 26/11 case which is in the final stages and is expected to come to a close in a "few days or weeks". "Nothing that happened in the US will affect that," the Home Minister maintained.
He was asked whether the US was not cooperating as it was denying access to Headley even when India had given access to them to Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only one among the 10 attackers of Mumbai caught alive.
"We have got substantial help from the US," Chidambaram said, while noting that the Americans had helped in various aspects, including deciphering GPS data on movement of the boat in which 10 Pakistanis came to attack Mumbai. On the other hand, "we gave limited access (to the US) to Kasab. It is not a matter of quid pro quo."
With regard to India seeking access to Headley's wife to get details of the conspiracies hatched by him, Chidambaram said the US had promised to process the request as early as possible. PTI