Mario Puzo would have been proud of the scene. In a ballroom
chock-full with guests an opulent wedding reception was being held. The large
hall had been divided into smaller sections to create an intimate ambience for
some of its special guests. In one such cordoned-off section, at the extreme
right, a burly man in his fifties with a thick trademark moustache sat in a
huge Chesterfield armchair, exuding authority. The armchair had been placed
facing the podium where the bride and the groom were seated. From his vantage
point he could see the guests were milling about and celebrating, but the
guests could not see him. The dark suit fitted him perfectly. The stark
contrast between the colourful celebrations in the ballroom and the dark,
subdued tone of the antechamber could not be more compelling.
Across the distance, our eyes met, and I mouthed “hello”. He nodded in response. For a brief second, my mind went numb. I could hardly believe that the man had returned my greeting.
I was living the wedding scene that opens the 1972 classic The Godfather, based on Mario Puzo’s novel. I remembered a line from the movie that introduced me to the mafia, the underworld, in my college days: “No Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day.”
I really wished at that moment, in Dubai, that the don would follow the Italian-American mafia tradition and accept my request to interview him. But this was not The Godfather, nor was he Don Corleone. The man sitting in the plush armchair was none other than India’s most-wanted man, Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, overseeing the reception of his daughter Mahrukh’s wedding in the summer of 2005—and while the rest of the world’s media feverishly reported the don’s absence from the event, I was the only journalist to see him there in flesh and blood.
The Grand Hyatt on Sheikh Rashid Road, Dubai, is a magnificent property that stands out even among the glittering skyscrapers of this oil-rich city. Its Baniyas Grand Ballroom is fittingly opulent—an ideal place to hold a spectacular ceremony. On the evening of 22 July 2005, the huge hall had been decorated in an elegant and classic style, in white, gold and dashes of pink here and there.
The tables across the ballroom were each set for eight guests and had large candelabras at their centres with four candles each. The stage was set for a grand candlelit dinner. The bases of the candle-stands were covered in pink and white roses. Each table had eight packets of chhuwaras (dry dates) and other dry fruits traditionally served at weddings.
The stunning chandeliers created dramatic light effects. Huge screens were placed in all corners so that guests could follow every detail of the ceremony. The stage for the couple had been draped in white, with its approach decorated with orchids and pink roses. A pair of green Chesterfield armchairs were placed at the centre of the stage for the newly-weds to sit on and greet the guests. The event was being captured live by over 1,000 cameras positioned strategically, not just around the ballroom but also in the corridors leading to the hall.
I was at this venue to cover the high-profile and closely monitored wedding reception of Dawood’s eldest daughter Mahrukh to Junaid, son of former Pakistani cricketer Javed Miandad. That evening I had come to the walima on behalf of Star News (now ABP News), responding to an invitation issued by Miandad to the channel during an interview aired a week earlier. Though there were plenty of other reporters from other channels who wanted to cover the wedding, they had all been turned down. I had not expected Miandad’s invitation to be honoured or that I would be allowed inside. But here I was, although getting in had hardly been a cakewalk..
While I waited to be taken on-stage to greet the couple, I scrutinised the hall, watching out for familiar faces and levels of security. It was at this time that I noticed Dawood Ibrahim, the don himself, sitting in an enclosed area.
Till I got a glimpse of the don, the only image Indian television channels repeatedly aired was that of Dawood sitting in the gallery of Sharjah’s stadium, watching a cricket match, surrounded by his cronies and Bollywood celebrities. He looked a bit different in real life, I thought.
Instinctively, I turned to walk towards him, but the two men beside me—Fayaz and Jaber, my escorts at the wedding—immediately sprung into action. They stopped me, saying that he was sitting in an all-male section and I could not go there.
I said I just wanted to say hello to Dawood Bhai.
They turned towards the don, and after some sort of communication between the two men and Dawood, Jaber told me he would talk to me later, once the function had ended. It was 1.30 a.m. already, and the event would go on for at least another hour. I would have told him if I could that all I wanted were some visuals that would prove my presence at the walima of Dawood Ibrahim’s daughter’s wedding. I tried again, asking him if I could have my pictures taken or perhaps shoot some footage while I wished the couple. I promised I would not make the images public until I had their permission. But Jaber was unrelenting. He told me, as he had before, that he would ask and let me know.
While we waited, I asked him how they would like me to report about the event. Jaber reminded me that I was the only journalist who had been allowed inside, and then looked at the wall-mounted CCTV camera. I suppose someone from security must have given him further instructions through the Bluetooth device plugged into his left ear, because when he turned back to me he simply said, “Aap jo theek samjho. (Do what you think is right.)”
It was a simple yet loaded answer. The million-dollar
question for me was: should I go on air and say that Dawood Ibrahim himself was
present at the
reception, or not? Since the morning, all of Indian media, including my channel, had been reporting his absence at the wedding. The venue was closely guarded, but those who had made their way through other nearby ports to Dubai had started beaming peripheral information quite early on.
Dawood had been placed on the US Treasury watch-list of global terrorists in 2003 for his links with al-Qaeda and it was indeed surprising to see him at the venue. The don had evidently hoodwinked intelligence agencies across the world and stepped out of the crosshairs of rivals’ guns to be present at the walima. My sources had informed me earlier that the nikah had been solemnised at Mecca on July 20. I had no doubt whatsoever that he had been present there as well.
Once the news of Dawood’s daughter’s wedding reception broke, everyone wanted to cover the event. There was a rush for visa applications, and many were disappointed.
I continued to be in two minds about whether I should stick
my neck out and report his physical presence at the venue right then, or wait
for him to meet me later. It was a matter of chance, and I wanted to take it.
If I had managed to enter the don’s well-guarded venue and spotted him there,
the possibility of a meeting and interview still existed. His lieutenant,
Chhota Shakeel, had been promising to set up an interview for me with Dawood
since 1994; every time I received his call, I would remind him of his promise.
And every time, in his filmy style, Shakeel would say, “Ek baar aap ko
commit kiya hai to phir aap hi ko first interview denge jab woh tay karenge.
(Whenever he chooses to speak, the first interview will be with you.)”
nce the news of Dawood’s daughter’s wedding reception broke, everyone wanted to cover the event. There was a rush for visa applications, and many were disappointed as an equal number of rejections came through. At Star News, we applied for six visas eight days before the event, but could not secure any. Our passports were returned without any explanation. Some media persons took flights to Sharjah and others flew from Abu Dhabi to reach Dubai.
Meanwhile, Star News had roped in Sathish V. M., a freelance journalist in Dubai, to cover the event. On July 22 (the day of the walima), at the afternoon editorial meeting, the decision was taken to fly me to Dubai as a stopover option. I had valid visas to travel to the Schengen countries and the US at the time and was booked on the 8 p.m. Lufthansa flight to London via Dubai. My editor, Uday Shankar, insisted this was a last chance and it had to be taken, but I still did not know how to get out of the Dubai airport without a visa for the UAE. At around 3 p.m., I received a call from RS, a social activist and politician. I must have been sounding low, because he asked me what the matter was and when I told him I had to reach Dubai in the evening for an important coverage but did not have travel permits, he promptly offered to help.
RS was an angel! He gave me a number in Dubai and asked me to fax a copy of my passport to that number. He said his relatives owned a hotel in Dubai and they could help get a visa processed the same day as they were quite influential. He guaranteed my visa letter would arrive in an hour’s time, and assured me I would be able to enter Dubai.
On his assurance, I went home, packed my bags and desperately waited for his call. He called me again to ask if I had travelled to Dubai earlier and whether I had any issues with the authorities there. I told him this would be my first trip to Dubai. He informed me that the process was taking a while as my name was on the blocked travellers’ list (it seemed Dawood had sufficient reach with the Dubai authorities to get them to deny visas to journalists), but his relatives had personally vouched for me and the visa would be released in an hour. He asked me to proceed to the airport and wait for the letter.
The clock was ticking and the pressure was now building up. I left for the airport and on my way there I got a call from the Dubai hotel that was working on my travel permit. A lady on the line said she wanted to fax it to me. I found a shop that had fax services and received my letter there, and felt heartened. This was indeed a positive sign.
In Dubai, I was extremely relieved when the immigration officer stamped my passport without asking me any questions. Outside, the temperature was 48 degrees and I felt like I was walking straight into an oven. A black Mercedes was waiting for me and the driver asked if I wanted to go to my hotel first. I chose instead to head to the venue of the walima.
As my car entered the foyer, it wore a festive look. The separate entrance to the banquet hall was already crowded with dozens of television crews waiting to catch a glimpse of the invitees. As expected, elaborate security arrangements had been made both inside and outside the hotel, with uniformed and plain-clothes guards keeping an eye on the proceedings.
As I walked up to the reception, I could sense undercover agents from several intelligence agencies lurking around. Sathish came to receive me. He said Miandad and his wife had arrived at 9.30 p.m. sharp, followed by the bride and groom, who had arrived in separate Hummers. Guests had started trickling in much before Miandad’s arrival.
I told them that we had come from Mumbai and did not have an invite, but I was Miandad’s guest. I wrote a note for Miandad that I was here to honour his invitation.
The cameraperson—a young Palestinian in his twenties—said
that he had noticed several guests, mostly single males dressed in Pathani
suits, arrive in batches, but he had not spotted anyone important coming in
before my arrival. Sathish’s sources at the hotel had refrained from revealing
the guest list or sharing information on where the invitees were staying.
I checked into my room and changed into a more suitable dress. Sathish and I then proceeded to the main lobby and from there to the lower-level Baniyas ballroom. As we approached the doors, the men on duty asked us to show our invitation cards for security reasons. I told them that we had come from Mumbai and did not have an invite, but I was Miandad’s guest. I wrote a note for Miandad that I was here to honour his invitation and would report on the event only if he wished. One of the men wearing a black suit went inside with my note and returned with two more men—both with Bluetooth headsets plugged into their ears. They looked like agents straight out of some James Bond movie.
One of them introduced himself as Jaber (the police would tell me later that Jaber Ali Motiwale was from Karachi and a close confidant of Dawood). He began to berate me for our channel’s reportage, which he said had hurt both families as the names of their children had been dragged into the dealings of the D Company’s criminal empire.
I requested Jaber to ask his bosses about me and my
decade-long history of reportage. I suspected we were being watched on
closed-circuit cameras, that Chhota Shakeel was handling this one himself,
monitoring every movement via the footage. My thoughts were
confirmed when, almost immediately after I had spoken, Jaber responded to one of his two cell phones. His body language suddenly changed and he seemed to ease up. Jaber scanned me from head to toe with a scanner and said into one of his phones that I was “clean”. When he spoke to me now, his tone had changed and said politely, “Aap chaliye aur bachhon ko dua dijiye. (You may come in and bless the couple.)” Sathish was asked to wait outside.
I walked in with Jaber on my right and the other security personnel, Fayaz, a slim, athletic-looking man in his early fifties, on my left. Fayaz looked like he could be a former military officer, and later the same evening I would find out that he had spent 20 years in the Pakistan Army. In the ballroom, Junaid and Mahrukh were already on the stage. Javed Miandad, who had once enthralled the crowds in this city with his magical willow, was welcoming guests from the groom’s side along with his wife who was dressed in a silver sari. From a distance, I could see the bride’s mother, Mehjabeen, sitting next to her. Dressed in a glittery white georgette suit Mehjabeen graciously received guests on the podium.
Fayaz and I sat at one of the tables while Jaber went to the stage to inform Miandad that they had brought me in. I looked around to see if I could find any familiar faces. Sathish had told me that high-profile guests, among them the elite of Pakistan and the UAE, including the royal family, were in attendance. None of the big names from Bollywood or the cricketing world was there except for former Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal. The only thing that linked the walima to Bollywood was the popular Hindi film songs that continued to play in the background.
My biggest concern at this point was that while I had a story, I had no visuals to support it. Fayaz had confirmed what Satish had told me earlier—that guests were not being allowed to take pictures. At the table across from mine, a woman took out her mobile phone from her handbag and aimed the camera at the couple but she was immediately asked to desist.
It was now time for me to leave. I was not left alone even for a moment so I knew I would be escorted to the lobby as well. Jaber asked if I wanted to have dinner, retire to my room and wait there. The ball had been thrown in my court, and in the hope of getting an interview of Dawood later I chose to play the long shot instead of giving into the urge of breaking the news of the don’s presence at the event.
Around 2 a.m., I called the assignment desk in Mumbai. I reported that I had managed to attend the event but since cameras were not allowed inside, the story would reach in the form of walk-throughs (description-based visuals) and some piece-to-cameras (PTCs), in the next hour. The Dubai story would play on the first morning bulletin at 5 a.m. The pressure of the deadline was now on my mind.
The uplink centre was about 45 minutes away, and I was racing against time. I had to file my story in time. At the same time, I wanted to get back to the hotel as soon as possible since I had been offered a chance to meet Dawood. Unfortunately, by the time the uplink was done and I got back, it was already 6 a.m. and most of the guests had left. I tried Fayaz’s number from the lobby, but nobody took the call. I was primarily there to cover the walima, and while I felt some satisfaction at having covered the event successfully I was upset that I missed a golden chance to meet the don separately for an interview.
I slept for a few hours before I got back to work. More PTCs and phone-ins went on throughout the day. My cameraperson that day was an Indian called Prashant, who said he was one of the video-recorders on duty the previous night in Baniyas. I thought I had struck gold and asked him to share some visuals, but he informed me that the entire crew had been strip-searched before and after the event. They had not been allowed to take their own equipment; the cameras had been given to them, only to be taken back after the function was over. Such were the security arrangements, he said, that the kitchen had been sanitised a day before and no hotel staff had been allowed inside the ballroom or the kitchen areas before and through the event. Private cooks, security personnel and service staff had been brought in to maintain secrecy. The family members and close guests had been checked into the hotel the previous day. Dawood, his brothers and other close aides had entered from the back door that opened out into the parking area.
As luck would have it, I was stuck in Dubai for two more days due to the cloud burst of July 26 2005 in Mumbai. I still held out some hope of meeting the don. Fayaz called me back to tell me that even though he was not in a position to talk to “Bhai” directly, he had relayed the information to him every time I had called. There did not seem to be a way of getting to the don this time, though.
n 2006, I tried once again to reach out to the don through his trusted lieutenant. This was soon after the first verdict on the 1993 blasts was pronounced by the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) Court in Mumbai on September 12 that year. This time, Chhota Shakeel assured me that he would speak to ‘Bhai’ and get back to me as the latter was currently in a place where he could not be reached on the phone. As promised, Shakeel called me back, but said that things were not working out and it would not be possible for the don to meet me at the moment.
Jethmalani confirmed he had indeed spoken to Dawood in 1994. Dawood had told him he had not been involved in the incidents and given assurance of fair treatment he was ready to come to India and face trial.
In the same conversation, Shakeel insisted that the D
Company had not executed the 1993 blasts and that the truth needed to be
exposed. He claimed, as we had heard earlier through rumours, that “Bhai” had
been kept in the dark about the plan as he was averse to hurting the city that
he loved and the plan had been executed without his knowledge.
In an interview for ABP News (July 4 2015) Chhota Shakeel told me, “We wanted to come back, but your government didn’t allow us to face the case. Advani ka game hai. (It is all Advani’s game.) Your government did not want us back. Bhai had himself spoken to Ram Jethmalani (the noted lawyer) in London that time. Ab daana daalne se koi fayda nahi hai. (There’s no use crying over spilt milk.) We know they will want to trap us and not give us a fair chance to prove our side (of the story in court).”
Jethmalani later confirmed to ABP News that he had indeed spoken to Dawood in 1994 after the blasts. Dawood had apparently told him that he had not been involved in the incidents and that if he was given an assurance of fair treatment he was ready to come to India and face trial. Jethmalani said he had written to Sharad Pawar, then chief minister of Maharashtra, about Dawood’s offer to return.
“The government of that time did not accept Dawood’s offer to return as they feared exposure. Obviously, they had something to hide. Something that would have been exposed had Dawood come back ... Refusing Dawood’s proposal wasn’t Pawar’s decision alone; the Congress government led by P. V. Narasimha Rao was also a part of it,” Jethmalani told the channel.
In my interview, I asked Shakeel if Dawood, Anees and the Kaskar clan would consider returning to India and facing the law. Shakeel said that no Indian government, including the current one, has been serious about taking up the dons’ offer of returning to the country.
“They make statements about Dawood Bhai such as they will smoke the gang out like Osama and so on. We don’t trust anyone any longer and are not buying any bait from Indian authorities.”
Soon after this, on July 15 2015, news broke that Yakub Memon would be hanged on July 30 in Nagpur Central Jail, where he had been lodged. The next morning, Shakeel messaged me: “Dekh liya? Bharosa kaise karein aur kis pe? (Now do you see? Tell me, whom should we trust, and how?)”
In response to Shakeel’s message, I reminded him once again about his two-decade-old promise and asked if Dawood would speak to me or the media any time soon about what really happened in 1993. To which Shakeel reiterated his old promise and we left it at that.
n the early 1980s, the Mumbai Police dossier on Dawood Ibrahim described him as: “Height: 5’6’; build: medium; face: round; complexion: shallow; eyebrows: thick; moustache: drooping; no beard. ‘I’ mark mole on the left eyebrow. Type of criminal: cheat, gangster and smuggler. Father’s name and occupation: Ibrahim Kaskar, Constable, Crime Branch, CID.”
A decade later, in October 1994, M. N. Singh, then joint commissioner of Mumbai Police, wrote a comprehensive report titled “Growth of Gangsterism in Mumbai City”, which stated similar details about Dawood Ibrahim but added another word in the description of crimes committed by him: “Terrorism”.
In his introductory note Singh wrote, “Investigations into the 1993 serial bombings in the city brought to light the linkage between Dawood Ibrahim and Sikh militants. Gangsterism, therefore, has acquired an extended dimension of subversion, posing a threat not only to the law and order in the city but also to the security of the entire country, thus making the problem far more sinister and dangerous.”
Even before the blasts, Dawood had become a classic Mumbai figure in the public imagination, someone who had used his artistry to exploit cracks in the system and within the gangland to become the underworld’s boss.
Joint Commissioner M. N. Singh’s report echoed this perception about Dawood when it was published a year later. It stated, “Sitting in Dubai, Dawood controls the operations of his gang in Mumbai through his hirelings. With the help of money and muscle power, he has not only maintained his hold over the gang but has also expanded its activities and emerged as the most powerful among all the gangs operating in Mumbai city. He has also emerged as something of a hero-figure for Muslims who look up to him as a saviour of the community. This probably explains why, instead of being condemned for his role in the serial blasts of March 12 1993, he has earned the admiration of his community for restoring its honour after the Babri Masjid demolition and the Mumbai riots. When Mr Khuddus Kashmiri, president of the Ulema Council, publicly called him his son, he was probably expressing his community’s admiration for Dawood Ibrahim.”
he 1968 Gold Control Act triggered illegal imports of metal
from the Gulf countries in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly from Dubai. Dawood
knew that Dubai gold dealers had monopolized the smuggling business and
dictated the terms of engagement. He, therefore, went to Dubai to figure out a
way to get a direct supply of bullion. He got some of the top bullion dealers
in Dubai on board as he promised a one-stop smuggling operation
(supplier-cum-smuggler-cum-distributor) to offload goods in the grey market.
His frequent visits to Dubai drew the attention of the authorities, and in 1982
he was arrested at the Santacruz Airport with gold worth `25 lakh and detained
under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling
Activities Act (COFEPOSA). He was, however, acquitted in 1983. Once the Act was
abolished in the early 1990s, the D Company continued to smuggle drugs and arms through the same routes and networks.
awood is said to be addicted to Hindi movies. According to those who know him personally, his habit of watching “first-day, first-show” screenings of newly released films has apparently not changed over the years. Thanks to his widespread piracy business across India, Asia, the UK and the US, new releases reach him every week. Once, during an interview with me, Shakeel highly recommended I watch Black Friday, based on the 1993 blasts and the subsequent investigations, which had not released at the time.
An encounter specialist who is responsible for eliminating many gangsters told me that Dawood controls the largest network of underworld operatives due to his extraordinary man-management skills. For Dawood, loyalty matters the most. He generously rewards his loyal army of followers and never abandons them. He takes care of their families after their deaths or while they are in jail, and in turn his men are willing to lay down their lives for him. Gang members who have been caught by the police have spoken both about his large-heartedness and his ruthlessness. He is known to be intolerant of treachery, and for betrayers the punishment is nothing less than a bullet to the heart or the head.
The last was confirmed to me by Riaz Jallianwala, the son of Dawood’s Pakistani smuggling partner Taufiq Jallianwala, in a recent conversation. “Dawood Bhai killed my father and uncle brutally and chopped off another uncle’s legs,” Riaz said. “His brother Mustaquin tried to kill my brother and me but we managed to escape. It was my father who gave Dawood his bungalow at Clifton in Karachi after his arrival from Dubai. In return, he killed him and his two brothers for suspected treachery.” Riaz is currently on the run, hiding from Dawood and his organization as he fears for his life. It has been argued that Taufiq, at the ISI’s behest, had coordinated the Mumbai blasts from Pakistan with the help of Tiger Memon in India. Despite being friends and partners in the narcotics smuggling business, Taufiq is believed to have kept Dawood in the dark about the plans till the day of the blasts while using his name and network all the while. It was for this that Dawood had allegedly vowed to kill Taufiq’s “khandaan” (family).
Coming face-to-face with Dawood at his daughter’s wedding was a defining moment for me. When I saw the partially bald, portly man with a drooping thick moustache, it was hard to imagine he was one of the most dangerous people in the world. His presence at his daughter’s wedding, despite the lookout notice out for him, was a telling example of his reach and influence in Dubai. Riaz Jallianwala had claimed that Dawood had connections with the royal family in the UAE as well. It did not matter if the media was reporting about his absence at the venue. Dawood had already managed to make a statement: he was very much in his comfort zone right under the noses of Indian and Interpol officials, who were keeping a watch on his whereabouts. After all, Dubai had been his second home for over a decade, and it was here that he had made powerful friends who had been instrumental in shaping his career as one of the most notorious gangsters in the world.
At the wedding, Javed Miandad repeatedly mentioned that Dawood and his family loved Mumbai and missed the charm and feel of the city terribly. The topic had cropped up because I had said I was from Mumbai. This statement made me wonder why Dawood had been part of the diabolical murder of innocents in the city he loved so much. His side of the story would later be explained indirectly to me, during my conversation with Fayaz, my escort at the wedding, who suggested, as was rumoured, that Dawood could have been taken advantage of by Indian and Pakistani smugglers now based in Dubai, since all of them had links with the ISI, which helped them thrive and share profits in the bargain.
I thought this was a plausible theory. The narcotics department of the Mumbai Police had knowledge of Dawood’s frequent visits to Pakistan and his alliances with the Pakistani drug cartels. Dawood, too, had admitted to his frequent visits to Pakistan in the early 1980s in his 1994 interview to India Today.
Indian official records suggest that in the early 1980s, Dawood went to Dubai to smuggle gold into India. With the easing of gold import rules in 1992, gold prices crashed and its smuggling became a losing enterprise. This did not affect Dawood much as he had already switched to the more lucrative business of drug trafficking using the same network and routes. Only after he started enjoying huge profit margins from the narcotics business did his Pakistani friends, who were known to have close ties with the ISI, nudge him to do something more. It is said that the terms of the bargain were well laid out by the ISI, which controlled the illegal shipping routes from the Persian Gulf to India’s western coast. Apart from a share in profits, the ISI generally demanded that smugglers operating on these routes should also transport weapons and explosives into India in return for the use of Pakistan’s waters.
According to a source in Intelligence who handled the Pakistan–Afghanistan desk for over a decade, one of the fall-outs of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was that the narcotics business turned out to be big for wheeler-dealers with money and political power—|including top political leaders. The government of Pakistan and its military, with the connivance of tribal leaders and unscrupulous smugglers, converted narco-trafficking into a means to raise funds for Pakistan’s covert military operations. It was in early 1991, when Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister of Pakistan, that Pakistan Army chief General Aslam Beg and Director General of the ISI Lt. General Asad Durrani were said to have mooted the idea to the prime minister that the Pakistani Army needed more money for covert operations, which they wanted to raise through secret and large-scale drug deals manipulated by them. Thus began the involvement of the Pakistan government and the ISI in selling heroin from Afghanistan and using the profits to pay for the country’s clandestine operations.
nder Prime Minister Modi, the Indian government has renewed its efforts to bring Dawood to justice in India with help from the US. My sources tell me that the recent Indian attention has made the ISI wary, and the agency, which considers the don a strategic asset, has done everything possible to confuse India about his whereabouts.
Knowing that India is capable of tracking his movements closely, in the past year the ISI has shifted Dawood around the country at least a dozen times. Even though a recent Hindustan Times report highlighted the fact that Dawood’s family regularly travelled between Karachi and Dubai, Dawood is believed to be holed up in Karachi. Riaz Jallianwala told me during our conversation that Dawood hardly budged out of his Clifton home as the situation was getting too hot for him. The Clifton home belongs to Jallianwala, but was given to Dawood on his arrival in Karachi from Dubai in 1994.
Furthermore, Jallianwala said he believes that even though Dawood frequently travelled between Karachi and Dubai in 2013 for business purposes, some ill-timed investments caused him to lose 300 million dirhams, which upset his connections among the upper echelons of Dubai’s rulers. Dawood is powerful enough to have recovered his losses, Jallianwala mentioned, but “he has not returned to Dubai” ever since. The word in the circles has been that Dawood had breached his “brief and limits”. In the underworld, breaching the code is the ultimate crime, punishable only by death.
When I was informed by Riaz that Dawood was not stepping out
of his house because he feared for his life, I realised I needed to verify this
crucial piece of information. My sources in the agency confirmed that Dawood
was holed up in a safe house on the
Islamabad—Muree road, in a hilly region about 20 km outside the capital city of Islamabad. In the wake of the arrest of his rival Chhota Rajan in Bali on October 25, elite army commandos are said to have been deployed in the area for his security. Rajan’s arrest could well suggest that Dawood’s elimination is near at hand.
A retired R&AW officer who handled the Pakistan–Afghanistan desk for many years once told me that, like the Kashmir issue, Dawood Ibrahim will be a major bone of contention between the two countries. I had always felt there was a chance of him returning to India, but that was until Yakub Memon was hanged in July 2015. Shakeel had told me in the 2006 interview I did with him that they would come back if their cases had a certain trial limit.
I had conveyed as much to the higher authorities. But silence prevailed. Yakub’s hanging seems to have drawn an end to Dawood’s hopes of ever coming back home. Shakeel sounded agitated when I spoke to him after the hanging. “Dawood Bhai would have met a similar end had his plan to come back to India materialised,” he said. I wondered if he had already conceded defeat.
Perhaps his worries were not out of context; of all the past and present governments at the centre in India, the Modi government seems to be the most serious about tackling Dawood’s network once and for all. I am reasonably convinced that the don must be feeling the heat as well.