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Abu Jundal arrest: Who stands to gain?

Last updated on: June 28, 2012 13:05 IST

It's intriguing why Pakistani security establishment sent 26/11 handler Abu Jundal to Saudi despite being aware that he would be highly vulnerable. M K Bhadrakumar analyses

Adrenaline has been flowing through the Indian veins for the past 48 hours since Zabiuddin Ansari aka Abu Jundal had his 'homecoming' after a prolonged absence abroad. He is a 'precious catch', no doubt.

Aside corroborative evidence, he can provide us fresh evidence about the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. But there are also things he may not know, simply because he was not in the loop, as they say.

To begin with, it is curious that Pakistan sent him out on a mission to Saudi Arabia knowing that under the late Crown Prince Nayef, Riyadh has had one of the toughest and most ruthlessly efficient security apparatus in the world to eliminate the traces of international terrorism. Riyadh has met with outstanding success in its anti-terror operations against the Al Qaeda and affiliate groups that may be present on Saudi soil.

Saudi Arabia does use terror as an instrument of state policy, but it is strictly in other countries only. It is well-known that Riyadh played a big role in mobilising the anti-Shi'ite Salafist terror groups in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq despite their affiliation with the Al Qaeda with a view to prevent the Shi'ite empowerment. The Saudis are today openly helping terror groups in Syria with the hope to bring about a 'regime change' in that country. Equally, the Saudi role in organising Islamist radicals in the Libyan war is well-known.

But the golden rule in Riyadh is that the radical elements will be exterminated from Saudi soil as such, since they might threaten the stability of the regime. This is one major difference between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. 

That is to say, Pakistani security establishment would have known that Ansari was highly vulnerable on Saudi soil. Yet they apparently directed him to go and operate as a lone ranger out of Saudi soil, hoodwinking that country's intelligence. This remains an intriguing detail that needs some explanation. The point is India-Pakistan entanglements are never quite what meets the eye.

The heart of the matter is that Pakistan enjoys very close relationship with Saudi Arabia and one enduring template is security and military cooperation. (Pak army chief Ashfaq Kayani broke protocol to attend Nayef's funeral.) There is no doubt that if a day arrives with Iran going 'nuclear', Saudis will follow suit and reams of papers have been written by authoritative analysts that Riyadh might even source a custom made nuclear bomb from Pakistan.

Suffice to say, it is a profound relationship. That brings us to a second question: Didn't Pakistan weigh in that it was sure to provoke the Saudi security establishment if it transpired at any stage that Rawalpindi had introduced Ansari, who is a Lashkar e-Tayiba operative? Why did Pakistan risk such a misadventure that held the potential to raise dust in Saudi-Pakistani ties?

Suffice to say, Pakistani motivations in this case are rather complex. The first Pakistan reaction by Interior Minister Rehman Malik has been that Ansari is after all an Indian.

Even more intriguing is that Ansari has been apparently in the custody of the Saudi intelligence for months. Why were they holding him for so long? How did they nab him? Or, did they nab him or someone virtually handed him over to the Saudis? Why did the Saudis decide to deport him as the month of June 2012 was ending? In diplomacy, timing is of the highest significance.

Are we to believe that Ansari was a total duffer who opened a Facebook account in his real name which alerted spooks to his presence in the Saudi capital, etc, etc.?

To move on to yet another plane, enter Washington.

The United States has scrambled to take credit for getting the Saudis to deport Ansari. The former US secretary of state Madeline Albright has been camping in New Delhi in recent days knocking at the doors of Indian politicians (including -- or especially -- the opposition politicians) canvassing support for Delhi's impending 'reform' allowing Wal Mart to enter India's $430 billion retail market.

Now, Albright abruptly changes tack and goes 'live' on the Indian television to flag Ansari's capture as one of the finest flowers of the US-Indian security cooperation.

Albright's message is not difficult to decipher: The US has only India's best interests in mind -- be it Ansari or Wal Mart.

The templates that surface in all this are the following: a) Pakistani motivations in sending Ansari to the viper's nest; b) Timing of the Saudi decision to deport Ansari; c) The US role (or lack of a role) in it in substantive terms.

The irresistible question in all this is once again, "Who stands to gain?"

To be sure, Pakistan loses heavily. Either it has been downright stupid or it gambled and lost or it willfully acted by getting rid of a most dangerous Indian from its soil who is in any case a 'burnt-out case'. Pakistan knew Ansari would probably spill the beans if he got into Indian hands, but then, Indians already knew much of what he might say anyway.

Equally, Saudis come out brilliantly as a sincere friend of India -- although they owe a decent explanation why they kept Ansari so long and precisely now decided to deport him. Interestingly, this comes at a time when the geopolitics of the Persian Gulf is in high volatility and India has choices to make in its regional policies in West Asia on more than one front where Saudi long-term interests are at stake -- 'regime change' in Syria and Iran issue, in particular.

The Saudis are acutely conscious that India has been ploughing a careful middle line in its West Asia policies despite its robust overtures to effect a 'tilt' in favor of the US-Saudi-Qatari axis.

Unsurprisingly, Uncle Sam has appeared from nowhere to claim credit. As the Wal Mart saga unfolds, it certainly pays to create a 'feel-good' sense among the Indians, who are an emotional lot as a nation. Albright is a seasoned campaigner who never lets go her mission half way.

That apart, the US also would like to step into the India-Pakistan dialogue, which lately has been having a dynamics of its own sequestered from the chill in US-Pakistan ties. Indeed, highly irresponsible calls are being made in certain quarters in India questioning the raison d'etre of the dialogue with Pakistan. No doubt, the atmospherics of the India-Pakistan dialogue have overnight come under weather. Again, the lingering question would be, 'Who stands to gain?'

M K Bhadrakumar