August 21, 2001


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B Raman

Dawood, Shakeel & Co

At 8:10pm on August 17, one or more persons moving fast in a car in an unidentified area of Karachi threw a hand-grenade at some persons.

August 17 was a holiday in newspaper offices all over Pakistan -- to compensate staff for working on August 14, Pakistan's Independence Day. Hence, there were no newspapers on August 18.

On August 19, none of the Karachi-based newspapers reported the incident. But The Frontier Post of Peshawar reported as follows: "A grenade explosion in Karachi on Friday evening killed a child and wounded seven people. According to police, the grenade was hurled from a car at 8:10 pm. The explosion seriously wounded a 12-year-old child, who succumbed to his injuries at Jinnah Hospital. No one claimed responsibility for the attack. The security measures have been tightened in the city after the attack."

The law-and-order situation in Karachi has been pretty bad since General Pervez Musharraf seized power on October 12, 1999, mainly due to sectarian clashes -- mostly assassinations of prominent members of the Shia community by the Sunni extremist Lashkar-e-Jhangvi using firearms and explosives.

These incidents are regularly covered in the Karachi press, but hardly noticed by the underworld of Mumbai. However, there was something mysterious about the attack of August 17. While the Karachi press blacked it out, the Mumbai underworld was flooded with rumours that this was probably an attack on Dawood Ibrahim's gang in which Chhota Shakeel, his principal lieutenant, was injured or killed.

These rumours were ridiculed subsequently by the Karachi police as well as by persons pretending to be Chhota Shakeel and Dawood Ibrahim.

Tariq Jamil, Karachi's deputy inspector general of police, told the press on August 19: No one has been assassinated so far with this name or this sort of affiliation. Even we do not know about any such personality roaming around in the city. If it was about the gang warfare of the Mumbai underworld, then the Mumbai police would be responding in a better way.

An official of the Karachi special branch said: "There was just a single killing on Saturday by unknown assailants in Bahadurabad and that was the killing of Dr Riaz Memon."

Quoting 'highly reliable sources', The News of Islamabad reported on August 20 that the latest encounter between the two gangs, "one from Mumbai and the other from Karachi," took place in the early hours of August 19. No one was reported killed in the showdown. But two youthful gangsters, Chandaru Kalia and Ejaz Pathan, were believed to have been seriously wounded, it said and added: "Members of Dawood's gang, it is understood, have been unable to contact Shakeel since Friday evening."

On August 19, one person pretending to be Chhota Shakeel and another pretending to be Dawood Ibrahim were reported to have contacted a private Indian television news channel and a Web site news group to deny any such incident. The man pretending to be Chhota Shakeel claimed to be telephoning from Singapore, which is unlikely since law enforcement in Singapore is very strict and it would be very difficult for members of notorious organised crime groups like that of Dawood Ibrahim to go there. It would be equally difficult for them to make a telephone call from Singapore without being intercepted.

The man pretending to be Dawood Ibrahim apparently did not say where he was telephoning from.

On the evening of August 19, the Maharashtra authorities themselves were reported to have discounted these rumours. Despite this, the following questions remain unanswered:

  • Why did the Karachi press black out the attack of August 17? Was it under pressure from the local police?
  • Why did the Karachi police, during their press briefing of August 19, avoid any reference to the grenade attack and pretend that the only incident of significance took place on August 19 morning, which had nothing to do with Chhota Shakeel?
  • When there are violent incidents in Karachi almost every other day which are ignored by Mumbai's underworld, why did it get excited by the grenade attack, triggering the rumours?
  • Was the telephone number of Chhota Shakeel noted and traced to Singapore?
Before 1993, Dawood Ibrahim, his brother and the principal members of his gang were living in Dubai, but used to frequently visit Karachi in connection with their narcotics smuggling business.

Details of their close nexus with the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan came during the investigations into the Mumbai blasts of March 1993. The perpetrators were taken to Dubai with Indian passports. At Dubai, Dawood got them Pakistani visas on plain pieces of paper from the local Pakistani consulate. They were then taken to Karachi by Pakistan International Airways flights, received at the tarmac by Dawood Ibrahim's representative in Karachi, and taken out of the airport without immigration formalities.

They were then taken to a training camp in the North-West Frontier Province, suspected to have been run by the Harkat-ul-Ansar (now called the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) and, after training, sent back to Mumbai by the same route. Their plain paper visas were removed from them by Dawood's men and destroyed. Their Indian passports did not show any entry of their visit to Pakistan.

Dawood separately sent the explosives, detonators and timing devices given by the ISI by boat to clandestine landing points on the Maharashtra coast. One of these detonators and timing devices was recovered from an explosive device, which had failed to explode at Mumbai, and given to US law-enforcement officials for examination by their forensic science laboratory. They confirmed that the timing device was of US origin and part of a consignment given to the Pakistani government during the Afghan war of the 1980s for use in Afghanistan.

When the Government of India took up with Interpol and the authorities of the United Arab Emirates the question of the arrest and deportation of Dawood for his involvement in the explosions, the Dubai authorities pressurised him in 1994 to leave Dubai. He and Chhota Shakeel shifted to Karachi, from where they supervised their underworld operations in India, Nepal and elsewhere.

Many Caribbean and South Pacific countries offer fugitives from justice what is called 'economic citizenship' to enable them to evade arrest and deportation to countries where they are wanted for crimes. This citizenship is sold in return for a minimum deposit in foreign currency kept by them in local banks.

Pakistan does not have any laws providing for such 'economic citizenship', but its government, on the ISI's advice, informally awarded economic citizenship to Dawood Ibrahim, who was issued a Pakistani passport under a different name. Similarly, Chhota Shakeel has a Pakistani passport under a different name.

It is believed that in the 1990s, Dawood Ibrahim had financially helped Pakistan in the clandestine procurement of nuclear and missile technology and components and that this factor too probably influenced Islamabad's decision to grant him economic citizenship.

In 1995, US President Bill Clinton, by presidential decision directive number 42, designated the activities of organised crime groups a major threat to national security and made it a priority for American intelligence agencies. A similar decision was taken by John Major's government in the United Kingdom on the recommendation of Stella Rimington, then director-general of MI5, and by other European Union governments.

Since then, Dawood Ibrahim's gang was amongst the organised crime groups being closely monitored by various Western intelligence agencies, thereby keeping him largely confined to Karachi, where he is a privileged guest of the ISI.

Apart from enemies in rival gangs in the underworlds of the subcontinent, he has enemies in the sectarian underworld of Pakistan too because of allegations of his financing some sectarian terrorist organisations.

The writer was additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is now director of the Institute for Topical Studies, Madras.

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