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.
A document found on the Kreindler & Kreindler law firm’s website describes the difficulties it faced in pursuing the Libya action.
“This was no ordinary litigation, to be sure. The Plaintiffs’ Committee took nearly 200 depositions around the world, including Frankfurt, London and Malta airport employees; personnel from Pan Am and its security subsidiary; Federal Aviation Administration employees; German, U.K. and U.S. government investigators (several of whom testified incognito); and several terrorists in Swedish and German prisons,” the document states.
The Mumbai lawsuit, in contrast, has five named plaintiffs.
The Lockerbie case took 20 years to resolve. Kreindler declined to predict how long the Mumbai suit may take.
“It doesn’t matter if we can wrap it up in 6 months or 20 years,” he said.
Long said the suggestion that the Mumbai case would take the same direction as the Lockerbie trial is unlikely.
“I think the two situations, as I said, are not analogous. Pakistan would have to, in essence, admit that it was indeed behind the Mumbai attacks, and I see no evidence that they’re going to do that. They would clearly have been implicated in a major terrorist attack inside a country they’ve had rocky relations with for 60 years. … It would be problematic for Pakistani-Indian relations in any case.
“On another level, I think this would make an almost open-and-shut case that Pakistan should go on the Foreign Sponsors of Terrorism list that the State Department maintains, and therefore come in for sanctions. And that would be disastrous for the U.S.
“Now, granted, the U.S. could decide not to put Pakistan on the list. It’s pretty loosey-goosey in terms of who goes on the list, but nonetheless, we would create, at the minimum, a massive hypocrisy perceived in the maintenance of that list,” Long said.
Kreindler acknowledged that politics will affect the lawsuit. But he said that, when presented with the evidence of its complicity in the attacks, the ISI will have the opportunity to turn away from supporting terror, which could improve relations in the long term.
Long said that, from his extensive travel in the region, he was not surprised by the allegations made in the complaint, and he had heard credible rumors that Pakistani intelligence has supported acts of violence against Americans.
“It’s pretty widely believed that Pakistani intelligence still plays a big role in the Taliban insurgency,” Long said.
Long said two branches of the Taliban are based in Pakistan: the Haqqani network, in Miranshah; and the Quetta-Shura, also known as the Karachi-Shura, in Balochistan and Sindh.
Another Taliban group, the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, has had a relationship with Pakistani intelligence dating back to the 1980s, Long added.
Although the ISI provides some Afghani Taliban groups with “tacit sanctuary” and “probably active support,” Pakistani intelligence is a sworn enemy of its own country’s Taliban, the TTP, which seeks shariah law in the country and opposes its government as a “proxy” for Americans, Long said.
“The Pakistanis have cooperated with the United States in gathering intelligence against al-Qaida, but also the Pakistani Taliban because the Pakistani Taliban is a threat to the Pakistani state. … The Pakistani military launched an effective, if brutal, campaign to drive militants out,” Long said.
Long said he was not surprised that victims of violence turned to a civil court to seek justice against a foreign intelligence agency.
“Wrongful death lawsuits have become a way to get things into court that are difficult to get seen to any other way,” Long said.
Long believes that, if successful, the lawsuit could set a precedent for civil actions.
“If they’re going to admit to being linked to this attack, which was carried out by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, then theoretically any Lashkar-e-Tayyiba attack could be linked to the Pakistani intelligence, if there’s the same kind of evidence. Once you admit initial culpability with a group, then I think you’re at least open to any of the group’s actions,” Long said.
The lawsuit blaming the ISI for conspiring in the Mumbai terror attacks is still in discovery.
Here is a link to Courthouse News’ Nov. 23 story about that complaint, Rosenberg et al. v. Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.