In the early 1970s, the name Haji Mastan used to trigger much fear in India. He was among the early smuggler kings who lived by crime and exploited criminal networks — gold, some drugs, electronics, and liquor, which mainly formed contraband those days.
There were vast smuggling networks to evade the authorities, but their main effect was a marginally negative impact on the economy and a few inter-gang shootouts. These were people who did what they did for self-enrichment, and the power that went with it.
Smuggler kings usually invested in the urban property market. As India progressed, these holdings began to emerge as virtual gold. The Bollywood film Deewar captured this very well in 1974. It wasn’t until 1993 that crime syndicates involved in running contraband across borders went beyond the ordinary.
They got involved with terrorism, as Mumbai saw in the 1993 bombings when a series of 12 bomb explosions on March 12, 1993, resulted in 257 fatalities and 1,400 injuries. The bombings were ascribed to Dawood Ibrahim, leader of a Mumbai-based international crime syndicate called “D-Company”. Dawood was assisted by subordinates Tiger Memon and Yakub Memon.
He is listed as an “international terrorist” by the UN and the United States and carries a bounty of $25 million on his head.
The recent Financial Action Task Force (FATF) pressure on Pakistan has led to the partially admitted presence of Dawood in Karachi. However, his networks continue to flourish in India despite the marked success of India’s intelligence agencies.
What is the linkage between crime syndicates and transnational terrorists? To comprehend this, take the example of Pakistan. In 1989 it chose to target India through what is called asymmetric or sub-conventional war.
Terrorism forms the core of this, with many other domains forming part of the low-intensity conflict spectrum. Pakistan chose to launch its strategy in Kashmir and over a period of time established an efficient network of local overground workers from different segments of society.
The network covered civil society members, lawyers, businessmen, politicians, media persons, members of the clergy, faculty, and students of universities, and much more. Due to the prevailing sub-nationalist trends in J&K, it was not difficult doing this.
However, Pakistan’s strategy desired extension of the hand of proxy conflict to hinterland areas and important cities of India to give substance to its chosen strategy of “war by a thousand cuts”. It was not easy doing this.
Finding reliable proxies, creating networks, embedding sleeper agents, transporting warlike material, having access to large-scale finances, and creating empathy in some elements of society is never a simple set of tasks. It takes years to build these through networks.
In the search of the means to take the proxy war into the rest of India, Pakistan got a shot in the arm with the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and the communal riots that followed; both acting as facilitators for the extension of its strategy.
Its target was not difficult to choose, as Mumbai offered itself due to its strategic significance as India’s financial capital.
Mayhem by violence would disrupt investments, lead to serious suspicions of the minority community, create cleavages in society, and cultivate a resultant trust deficit that would assist Pakistan to exploit at will.
However, the other major consideration for the selection of Mumbai as the target was the pre-existence of criminal networks, with the D-Company leading them. A foreign hand could ride on these networks for a cost.
With networks on its side, Pakistan thus had available human resources, weapons, finances, communications, and local knowledge. With explosives supplanted, it was a ticking bomb.
Criminal networks got their first major experience of terror that did not differentiate between targets; every incidental target is justified in the rationale of terrorists, especially those with ideological orientation. People of all faiths died or were maimed in the acts on March 12, 1993, and thereafter.
Dawood Ibrahim, who evaded the hand of Indian law, managed to create a reported network of 5,000 criminal elements with an annual turnover of $2 billion. The D-Company is suspected of having provided the logistics for the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’s terror attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, besides a host of other attacks in 2002, 2006, and 2011.
A total of 600 people died in these various attacks in Mumbai. With each event, Dawood Ibrahim’s criminal-cum-terrorist profile enhanced a couple of notches and he has been known to keep the company of international terrorist outfits like Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
In 2006, India submitted a list of 38 most wanted terrorists, including Dawood Ibrahim, to Pakistan, but the latter continued to play a hedging game knowing that the D-Company and its head was an invaluable asset for it.
With the FATF investigation against Pakistan, India in recent months has mounted pressure at the UN. On August 6, 2020, India highlighted the nexus between international terrorism and organized crime, quoting the case of UN-designated terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, who has been living in Pakistan ever since his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai blasts.
India went on to state: “If the international community can successfully defeat the Islamic State, a similar focus on addressing threats posed by proscribed individuals and entities such as Dawood Ibrahim and his D-Company, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad will serve humankind well.”
The continuous Indian diplomatic campaign to highlight Pakistan-sponsored criminal and terrorist links that have acted as its proxies in India is apparently bearing fruit, with Pakistan reportedly admitting the existence of Dawood Ibrahim in Karachi.
However, Pakistan is a past master at subterfuge and evasion of responsibility. Its admission on one day and denial the next is part of an old strategy which it continues to play with the FATF.
With international success against ISIS and Al Qaeda, a renewed and energetic Indian campaign to nail Dawood Ibrahim is the call of the hour so that the FATF can effectively take note and place Pakistan on notice to deliver or perish on the blacklist. But only time can tell if it will happen this time.