MANHATTAN (CN) - The attorney in a lawsuit that accuses Pakistan's intelligence agency of complicity in the Mumbai terror attacks said he hopes his case will help diplomatic relations between the United States and Pakistan, just as his previous case against Libya helped patch up relations with that county. But a Columbia professor says that while he sympathizes with the victims' right to sue, most diplomats will view the lawsuit as "not terribly helpful."
The New York Times reported this week that the recent "outing" of the CIA station chief in Islamabad, which caused the CIA to pull him from the country, may have been payback for the November lawsuit in Brooklyn Federal Court that accused Pakistan's ISI spy agency of complicity in the terrorism in Mumbai.
Pakistan denied it.
The November lawsuit named several officers, including the director, of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, and claimed the ISI helped Lashkar-e-Tayyiba terrorists carry out the slaughter of 166 people and the wounding of more than 300 on Nov. 26-29, 2008.
"I don't think it's going to derail the U.S.-Pakistani relationship," said Austin Long, an assistant professor at Columbia's School for International and Public Affairs. Long, is a former analyst for the U.S. military through the Rand Corp. "That relationship has always been somewhat contentious. This will be something of an irritant."
Long said that while he does not contest the victims' right to sue, a lawsuit accusing Pakistan of conspiring in terrorism could not be expected to help U.S. relations with Pakistan, a putative ally.
"I'm not saying the victims don't have a right to sue," Long said. "I'm saying I don't see it having a positive good, diplomatically."
The Mumbai victims' attorney, James Kreindler, said in an interview that he modeled the lawsuit after his successful case against Libya for its role in the hijacking of the Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988. The attack killed all 259 passengers and crew aboard the plane, and 11 people on the ground.
After two decades of litigation, Kreindler secured more than $500 million from Pan Am's insurers, and $2.7 billion from the Libyan government, according to a document by his law firm, Kreindler & Kreindler. He said the trial led to the passage of the Libyan Claims Resolution Act of 2008, which resolved U.S. claims against Libya through creation of a fund that led to settlements.
That case, Long believes, helped heal American relations with the then-pariah state, inviting it to "come in from the cold."
Kreindler said that if the Mumbai-ISI wrongful death suit end in a similar piece of legislation, "I hope it will bring positive things for the U.S. and Pakistan."
But there are significant differences between Libya of the late '80s and Pakistan today, Long said.
"Libya was a pariah state at that time, whereas Pakistan - whatever its problems - is an ally of the United States. So I think he's going to have a much harder time with this," Long said. "I don't think it's impossible, but I just don't see him having a great shot, or an as-good shot at it."
Kreindler feels differently.
"Ultimately, it's an easier case because we're dealing with a smaller number of plaintiffs. It's easier to handle and to resolve," Kreindler said.