Dubai, Dec. 22: Pakistan’s President intervened earlier this month to prevent the deportation of Anees Ibrahim from Dubai to India.
General Pervez Musharraf did not personally intercede with Dubai’s ruling sheikhs to secure the return of Anees to Pakistan: but at the highest levels at the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s myriad contacts in the emirate were activated with military precision to ensure that the Indians did not lay their hands on one of the most wanted men in the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993.
According to a reconstruction of events between December 5, when Anees was arrested from a villa in Dubai’s sea-front Jumeirah area, and the night of December 12, when he took a flight to Karachi as a free man travelling on a Pakistani passport, Pakistan’s carefully-planned effort to neutralise the CBI put the fear of God into Dubai’s sheikhs about the consequences of handing over the fugitive to India.
Pakistanis have big interests in Dubai’s flourishing gold trade, which the rest of the world calls gold smuggling. According to a World Gold Council report, 10 per cent of the world’s total movement of gold at any time passes through the emirate.
Dubai’s sheikhs go to Pakistan several times a year to hunt bustards, when they are received by the head of state or the prime minister and treated virtually as state guests. Many prominent Dubai merchants have their third or fourth wives in Pakistan and Pakistani starlets fly down to Dubai at a nod to “entertain” their powerful Arab admirers.
It is to the credit of the military junta in Islamabad that all these critical sources of influence were brought together to secure freedom for Anees.
Pakistan’s friends convinced Dubai’s strongman, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the crown prince, that if Anees was handed over to India, Dubai would have to pay heavily. A lot of skeletons would come tumbling out of Dubai’s cupboards during the interrogation of Anees or in his “confessions”, Sheikh Mohammed was told by those who spoke to him on behalf of Pakistan.
Ironically, the “case digest” on the Mumbai fugitive, handed over by CBI official A.K. Gupta to the Dubai authorities on December 9, came in handy for friends of Anees in their efforts to free him.
The CBI still takes great pride in this “digest”. It is the sheet anchor of their case against Anees and his brother, Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar.
Thanks to their contacts in Dubai police and other wings of the emirate government, Pakistanis in the sheikhdom were able to get hold of Gupta’s “case digest” within a day of it being given to Dubai.
The “digest” contained confessions by five of the accused in the Bombay serial blasts case. Of particular interest to ISI operatives in Pakistan’s consulate-general in Dubai and its embassy in Abu Dhabi who pored over it last fortnight were the detailed confessions by one Salim Kurla in this document.
Kurla, killed on April 21, 1998, in a daring shootout at Mumbai’s Bellevue Nursing Home — where he had been admitted for surgery — had told the CBI after his arrest in January 1995 in Gulbarga, Karnataka, that he was received by Anees in Dubai during the conspiracy stage of the blasts. Anees then arranged from Dubai to send Kurla to Pakistan for weapons training. Kurla had also met several of the blast accused in Pakistan while he was undergoing training.
In his confession, Kurla had named Dubai’s Delhi Durbar restaurant and Al Mansoor Video, owned by the Dawood clan, as having been part of the conspiracy, especially in financing the serial bombing.
The CBI was so pleased with Kurla for spilling the beans about the conspiracy that it released him on bail in June 1997. He was killed on the last day of his bail.
Dawood, Anees and several others charged with the bomb blasts in Mumbai now stand accused of terrorist offences in Interpol records and other case documents.
In addition, the Dawood clan is now suspected to have aided the al Qaida attack on Jews in Mombassa, Kenya.
Dubai’s “friends” and “well-wishers” in Pakistan and among Pakistani expatriates in the Gulf reasoned with Sheikh Mohammed that if these gory details came out as a result of any Indian interrogation of Anees, Dubai would be in the dock.
Dubai firms like Al Mansoor Video and Delhi Durbar as well as other Dawood companies stood the risk of being accused of terrorist financing by the US department of treasury.
Once this line of reasoning was sold to Sheikh Mohammed, a Sandhurst-trained, Western-oriented liberal who values his links with the US and the UK, the CBI’s case was lost.
CBI official Gupta could have gone home earlier. Indeed, if Gupta had done so a day earlier and taken the Emirates airline’s night flight to Delhi, he might even have run into Anees in the departure lounge of Dubai airport, waiting to take the flight to Karachi. (To be continued)