Pakistani-American Lashkar operative David Coleman Headley has reportedly told US and Indian investigators that the March 2000 Chittisinghpora village massacre, which took place three days before then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India, had been carried out by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT).
But many others — including the US administration — doubted the claim. President Clinton condemned the massacre, but was cautious to blame “unknown groups”. Years later, writing the introduction to his then secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s subsequent book Madam Secretary: A Memoir, he is said to have blamed ‘Hindu militants’ for the attack. The reference was however, edited out by the publishers.
Strobe Talbott, then deputy secretary of state, later confirmed Clinton was never convinced the Lashkar was behind the violence.
A number of facts about the killings led to these doubts. Most important was the fact that most of those killed were Sikhs. Sikhs had never before been targeted by Kashmiri militants.
An army encounter five days later in Pathribal village, which was later found to have been staged, indicated there was more behind the Chhittisinghpur killings than met the eye.
Before the visit of President Barack Obama to India — he is expected on November 6 — the National Investigation Agency has revealed Headley had said an LeT operative called Muzzammil — aide of Lashkar’s chief military commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi — had spoken to him of his involvement in the Chittisinghpora massacre.
“I recollect that once Muzzammil had told me how he had gone and killed civilians in a village in south Kashmir before the visit of the then US President Bill Clinton to India. After coming to Muzaffarabad, he was initially given the charge of operations,” Headley told NIA sleuths in the presence of FBI agents.
Headley also credited Muzzammil, 34, with planning and conducting the Akshardham Temple attack in Gujarat, according to his 109-page interrogation report apart from helping with the 26/11 attacks.
The confirmation of the Lashkar role is significant in the backdrop of noises from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Syed Salahuddin, who heads the United Jihad Council — the amalgam of militant outfits active in Kashmir — has “cautioned” that Indian security agencies could carry out another massacre such as the one in Chattisinghpora and blame it on terrorists.
Indian agencies maintain Salahuddin’s statement could be an effort to draw suspicion away from the jehadis, who may well be planning a major attack.