Dawood Ibrahim is 64 years old. Periodic reports assure us that he is ailing but — like many of India’s enemies — is taking an inordinately long time dying. It is over 26 years since the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts that killed 257 people, India’s worst terrorist incident to date, and the crime for which Ibrahim is best known. Periodically, politicians make statements about getting him back from Pakistan. When tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad are high, heroic anchors on some TV channels discuss the logistics of “taking him out”. For very long intervening periods, India acts as if Ibrahim doesn’t exist or, at least, doesn’t matter.
Quietly, however, Ibrahim’s D-Company and its many proxies continue to dominate organised criminal activities in India, now far beyond his ‘original jurisdiction’ in Mumbai. This happens in an environment of enveloping collusion, across partisan political and communal lines, and despite the fact that Ibrahim has also established himself as a facilitator for Pakistan-based terrorist formations, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Indian Mujahideen, as well as al-Qaeda.
Ibrahim’s criminal network extends across continents today, even as his investments in legitimate businesses – including the acquisition of vast benami properties – in the UAE, Dubai, Morocco, Spain, the UK, Australia, as well as some African and Southeast Asian countries, apart from Pakistan and In-dia, provide increasing legal cover to many of his illicit activities. Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $6.7 billion in 2015, and growing continuously. His D-Company reportedly commands over 5,000 cadres, involved in smuggling, global hawala operations, counterfeit currency, extortion, contract killings, illegal betting and, allegedly, major financial scams. Under the protection of Pakistan’s ISI, he has not only forged links with Islamist terrorist groups, but has also been responsible for several conspiracies to execute targeted killings in India, often with the objective of provoking a communal conflagration.
As with any such enterprise, this empire is constantly contested, both from within and without. Ibrahim has, over the years, lost key aides to death, arrest and other causes, while rumours of factionalism have been rife from time to time — including the unconfirmed split with Chhota Shakeel and other key operatives from D-Company, shortly before Shakeel’s rumoured death in 2017. Rivals are also always close at hand — most prominently Chhota Rajan, Ejaz Lakdawala and Arun Gawli — at different times.
This is another reason why Ibrahim remains critical to his crime-terror empire: scale, intimidation, capacities for punitive enforcement and personal loyalty are integral to its continuity and effectiveness. Ibrahim remains the unifying identity and presence that enables institutional continuity, and his wealth
and networks make affiliation and subordination worthwhile for associates.
Succession in such formations always tends to vigorous contestation and fragmentation. Even recent intelligence confirms that Ibrahim remains in active control of the D-Company and its operations abroad. His neutralisation by any means — including a natural death — would bring Ibrahim’s networks under great stress and create major vulnerabilities.
Moreover, Ibrahim’s survival and his flourishing empire — globally and, even worse, in India — are a demonstration of New Delhi’s impotence and the impunity with which her enemies can operate for decades after major and constantly renewed offences. Ibrahim matters
because he is an embarrassment for, and a living accusation against, the Indian state and its intelligence and enforcement apparatus.
Indeed, Ibrahim’s D-Company has long been on international lists of terrorists, including the United Nations’ and the United States’ lists since 2003. Along with a multiplicity of ISI-backed terrorist formations, he is a symbol of the criminalisation of the Pakistani state, and of the abject failure of the international community to enforce global norms of civilised governance on Islamabad.
(Ajai Sahni is executive director of Institute for Conflict Management)
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