The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pakistani advisers act, Delhi dithers

Dubai, Dec. 23: Pakistan husbanded all the resources at its command with the single-minded purpose of keeping Anees Ibrahim out of India’s clutches following the arrest of the Bombay blast accused in Dubai.

India’s efforts to neutralise Pakistan were a far cry in comparison. Wisely, Pakistan’s government overtly played a very low-key role in the entire exercise. Its missions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi hardly did any lobbying, leaving the effort almost entirely to its former generals, who are now ‘advisers’ to various UAE defence establishments, its businessmen with powerful connections in Dubai and its women who had the power to influence Dubai.

Pakistan left nothing to chance and used every bit of information to its advantage.

Abu Salem’s gang, for instance, had helped Dubai police in nabbing Anees. The Americans, who monitor arrivals and departures at Dubai airport, notified authorities in the emirate that Anees had landed there on November 29 on a false Pakistani passport. The name on that passport was Haji Anees.

Using their resources in Pakistan, the Americans also conveyed the information to Dubai that Anees had obtained a second false Pakistani passport with the name Shahryar Khan.

Concerned over America’s wrath in the light of the bomb attack in Mombassa, Kenya, in which Dawood Ibrahim’s gang is alleged to have played a part, Dubai police arrested Anees exactly a week later.

Dubai is a city virtually free of crime and the local CID is, therefore, notoriously lax in tailing people or keeping tabs on residents.

A catalyst in the process of actually arresting Anees was Abu Salem’s gang which volunteered to give Dubai police information about the whereabouts of the fugitive in the city.

When Pakistan, which has extensive contacts across the board in Dubai, suspected that Abu Salem had a part in the arrest of Anees, a whisper campaign was started accusing the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah of trying to undermine Dubai.

Sharjah counts among Abu Salem’s patrons. It had let off Abu Salem after his arrest in the emirate earlier.

Last fortnight, the Pakistanis proved to be adept at exploiting local differences in the UAE and playing inter-emirate politics to secure its objective.

While Abu Salem was accused of taking Sharjah’s patronage to hit at Dubai, India was accused of cosying up to Sharjah as well.

It was pointed out to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Kaktoum, Dubai’s crown prince, that Indian state-owned airlines were going out of their way to help Sharjah’s airport to the disadvantage of Dubai. The implication was that there was a nexus among the forces ranged against Dubai and that New Delhi was part of it.

Meanwhile, the Americans who had initiated the process of securing the arrest of Anees stepped back as the case degenerated into an issue between India and Pakistan.

The Americans were, no doubt, concerned about any terrorist spillover of the activities of the Dawood gang on their interests, but not so concerned as to take sides on what had clearly become a proxy fight in Dubai between India and Pakistan.

It was a repeat of an episode early this year when Washington actually assisted New Delhi in preparing a dossier on 20 criminals and terrorists wanted from Pakistan. When Pervez Musharraf put his foot down, the Americans quietly backed off.

Could India have done anything differently' Yes, New Delhi could have exerted direct political pressure on Dubai. Political intervention by New Delhi at a very high level could have negated some of the perceptions which were planted on the Dubai leadership by Pakistanis.

India’s political leadership could have given assurances at the highest levels in Dubai that their fears about bad publicity for Dubai and its consequences were unfounded and that New Delhi would do its best to protect Dubai’s interests.

Instead, India merely offered to send President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on a state visit to the UAE early next year — as if it mattered to either Dubai or Abu Dhabi. India offered extra flights to Emirates airline, but it was a gesture of no consequence.

What little high-level intervention was attempted was focused on Abu Dhabi. It produced results: UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan’s son, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, who controls the interior ministry, met Indian ambassador K.C. Singh and said New Delhi should start the process of seeking the extradition of Anees to India.

But the effort underestimated local power in decision-making in each emirate as opposed to central influence. Dubai was unwilling to be influenced or coerced by the central government in Abu Dhabi into handing over Anees to India.

Said a UAE diplomat who had earlier served in India: “This was like the Central government in New Delhi trying to force a decision on Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu and S.M. Krishna of Karnataka. India, of all countries, should have been sensitive to this problem in a loose federal structure such as the UAE.” (Concluded)

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