Dawood Ibrahim—fugitive underworld don, US designated a global terrorist and man with a sprawling illegal business empire straddling continents—is a respected man in Pakistan. He is held in high esteem by many in the country, general Pervez Musharraf said in an interview to NDTV news channel, adding that makes his extradition to India complicated.
That explains a lot of things about Dawood’s engagement with players in the Pakistani establishment and makes it clear, from the Indian perspective, why it is so difficult to get him back to the country and put him under trial in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts which killed 250 and several other cases.
India has been crying itself hoarse about his presence in Karachi—even going to the extent of mentioning his location in upmarket Clifton amid residences of top retired army personnel—and seeking his deportation for long, citing his association with several terrorist groups active against India. The demand has been part of several Indian dossiers to Pakistan post the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai and other diplomatic missives.
But Islamabad has been steadfast in denying his presence in Pakistan. This, despite the realisation from both sides that handing over Dawood would serve as a big confidence-building measure and ease bilateral tension to a great extent. Even the US pressure has not worked on Islamabad.
Compare that to the case of Ajmal Kasab, the sole 26/11 attacker caught alive. "Kasab is a terrorist, a non-state actor who should go to gallows and his accomplices too,’’ Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik, told reporters at Maldives recently. He said Kasab was non-state actor and went on to add that he had no support from the Pakistani establishment.
Possibly, the support from the establishment is what separates Dawood from Kasab. The former has a bigger social acceptability. Musharraf spelt out why. He hinted that people in Pakistan think of him as a saviour of Muslims in India.
"They think that he did a very good job....In Gujarat they killed 3,000 Muslims. Therefore Dawood Ibrahim reacted. So he is held in high esteem," he told NDTV. It's not clear which Gujarat incident he was referring to but it is clear the fugitive’s backers have managed to send out a positive impression about him in the society. At least some have bought it.
When Javed Miandad, a top notch former cricketer with great social standing, allows his son to marry Dawood's daughter it means a lot of spin doctoring has gone into building the don’s image. Otherwise, the pedigree-conscious high society in the country won’t accept him.
On 25 September, Dawood’s son got married to the daughter of a London-based businessman in a grand ceremony at Karachi. He threw a lavish party which was attended, according to intelligence sources, by the who’s who of the Karachi society. Among those present were top ISI officials too. This would not be possible in case of a man believed to be a criminal by the larger society.
Dawood, obviously, is an important part of the Pakistani game plan in India. He still has the resources and man power at command to support ISI’s plans. He fits well into unstated design of a section of the establishment to use terror as an instrument of state policy against India. In short, he has utility while Kasab has none. The latter could be dumped.
However, his presence among people has to justified. Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda chief, had to be kept in absolute secrecy since it was difficult to explain away his presence in the country. Musharraf's statement, while clearly hinting at Dawood's presence in Pakistan, shows efforts have been made to make him acceptable.
Possibly in Pakistan, he is not seen as a criminal at all. This makes India’s position all the more difficult.