The July 11 bomb blast in Karachi’s Kawish Crown Plaza situated at Shahrah-e-Faisal was not conspicuous for the damage caused, despite the death of two people and the considerable amount of debris the explosion left behind. What made the national media sit up and take note was a statement made by the inspector general of the Sindh police at the scene of the crime.
The building ostensibly owned by one Ahmed Jamal, said the IGP, actually belonged to Dawood Ibrahim. The IGP’s statement was backed the same day by the de facto Sindh home minister, Aftab Sheikh, who told reporters in Thatta that the Mumbai mafioso had a ‘‘network from Mumbai to Karachi and was working in both countries’’.
This was the first public admission from senior government functionaries that the Mumbai crime king, Dawood Ibrahim of the infamous D-Company, may have acquired substantial interests in Pakistan’s business capital. The importance of this admission rests on the fact that, prior to this, the Pakistan government was adamant that no such person was present or operating in Pakistan either directly or through his proxies.
Analysts believe that the apparent slip-ups on the part of the IGP and the Sindh home minister may have been deliberate leaks, aimed at lifting the lid off what promises to be a real-life crime thriller that would put the best of Bollywood to shame.
These analysts argue that the Musharraf government has been extremely uneasy at persistent reports, emanating mostly from India, about Dawood Ibrahim’s presence in Pakistan and the support that he allegedly enjoys from the Pakistani intelligence apparatus.
In September 2000, English monthly Newsline ran a detailed story claiming that Ibrahim was, indeed, in Karachi and under the protection of Pakistan’s premier military intelligence outfit, the ISI. The story, which detailed his lifestyle along with a report on his enmity with Chhota Rajan, drew an extremely harsh reaction from Pakistani authorities, including the president.
Meanwhile, India has consistently kept Pakistan under pressure over the issue, the latest example being a ‘‘request’’ from the Indian government to ‘‘counter-check’’ CBI information that Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel and Tiger Memon were granted Pakistani citizenship in June this year. The three are amongst the top of CBI’s 20 most wanted people it alleges are hiding in Pakistan.
The Indian government claims that the Mumbai police has already confirmed the CBI’s information but Delhi would still want a confirmation from Pakistan. According to reports submitted by the CBI and the Mumbai police to the Indian home ministry last week, it has been alleged that Ibrahim and his lieutenant Shakeel were recently spotted in Peshawar.
Sources in the Pakistani intelligence network told the Herald that the Indian government has forwarded most parts of the CBI report to Pakistan, claiming that the ‘‘information’’ was being provided to Pakistan for counter-checking.
According to this report, Dawood Ibrahim’s ‘‘Pakistani’’ name under a new identity is Iqbal Seth alias Amer Sahib, while Chhota Shakeel is Haji Mohammed and Tiger Memon is Ahmed Jamil.
The report also alleges that of the 10 passports Ibrahim ostensibly uses, two were issued by the Pakistani authorities. They have even given G866537 as the number of the passport allegedly issued to Dawood Ibrahim in Rawalpindi on August 12, 1991. The CBI claims that another passport was issued to Ibrahim the next year.
Interestingly, the CBI report also hints that the infamous operator may now be trying to wind up some of his operations in Pakistan. Alleging that both Ibrahim and Chhota Shakeel have recently taken up residence in Islamabad, the CBI claims that they are in the process of selling off their properties located in various parts of Pakistan. The same report warns that two of his accomplices, Nasser Charsi and Fahim, may be planning to join their boss in Islamabad.
Pakistani analysts believe such ‘‘requests’’ from India may be little more than a tool for keeping Pakistan under pressure. However, senior intelligence officials seem convinced that the Kawish Crown bomb blast was a result of growing friction between two international cartels, one led by Dawood Ibrahim and the other by his arch-rival Chhota Rajan.
What makes their operations a security threat for Pakistan, say these officials, is the possibility that these cartels may have involved the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and India in their dangerous power play.
In fact, one of Pakistan’s premier intelligence outfits has already concluded that RAW may have played a major role in engineering the Kawish Crown blast. ‘‘We can rule out with authority the involvement of any jihadi element in the blast since the extremists have no interest in the Kawish Crown Plaza,’’ says a senior intelligence official.
According to these sources, RAW may have engineered the blast through Ibrahim’s rival group of gangsters led by Chhota Rajan, primarily to convey a warning to Ibrahim that his trusted lieutenant, Jamal Memon alias Tiger Memon who uses the building, was vulnerable.
From what can be pieced together through the sketchy leaks from official quarters so far, the enmity between Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan represents the classic falling out between former partners in crime. Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan apparently parted ways due to their differences over the control of Bollywood.
Suspecting that Pakistan’s intelligence community may have extended protection to Dawood Ibrahim, RAW chose to cultivate Chhota Rajan against Ibrahim. Supporting this line of speculation is the abortive plot to kill Chhota Rajan in Bangkok three years ago.
The two gangs, it is said, have since been at war: the Malir Road ambush in Karachi on August 18, 2001, is rumoured to be an attempt by Chhota Rajan to kill one of the assassins hired for the Bangkok hit, Shoaib Khan.
According to the CBI, Ibrahim became drawn into the communal infighting that swept India after Hindu zealots pulled down the Babri mosque in 1992. Mumbai was badly hit by communal rioting as hundreds of Muslims were butchered. It is not clear why Dawood Ibrahim chose to retaliate (the Indians allege he followed instructions from the ISI while the Pakistanis feel his motivation was primarily religious) but the CBI regards him as the mastermind behind the subsequent Mumbai bombings.
The story the CBI has spun regarding Ibrahim’s alleged connections with the Pakistani intelligence is again no less of a thriller. According to the CBI, the perpetrators went to Dubai using their Indian passports where Ibrahim allegedly provided them with Pakistani visas on plain pieces of paper so that their passports would not carry any records.
They landed in Karachi and were taken to a training camp in the NWFP. The CBI concludes they were sent back to Mumbai after being trained in explosives by the now defunct Harkat-ul-Ansar.
According to the Indian government’s claim, shortly after Dawood Ibrahim left Dubai for Karachi in the wake of the Mumbai bombings, he was issued a passport backdated to August 12, 1991. Soon afterwards, according to the CBI, he moved into a 6,000 yard house in Clifton with amenities such as a swimming pool, gymnasium and tennis court.
He subsequently smuggled his family out of Mumbai. The entire Ibrahim family, alleges the CBI, now holds Pakistani passports. The Pakistani authorities have repeatedly described Indian allegations as ‘‘baseless propaganda’’. However, statements from the Sindh home minister and his IGP have at least established that Dawood Ibrahim, irrespective of where he draws protection from, indeed has business in Karachi.
Mumbai has already had a taste of the underworld’s power and destructive potential and the Kawish Crown blasts may be an indication of what could be in store for Karachi if the authorities do not move fast.