The Other Underworld – Criminal links to the Mumbai attacks?

December 1, 2008

Part 4

As media attention on the roots of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks intensifies, theories are emerging about the role played by notorious Mumbai underworld figure Ibrahim Dawood.

Dawood, Japanese journalist Yoichi Shimatsu explains, “emerged as the coherent leader of a multi-religious mafia” amongst Mumbai’s sprawling slums in the 1980s. With his fortune supplied by smuggling, extortion, murder and political favors, Dawood also became a go to man for supplying the U.S. financed Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

As Shimatsu writes, “Dawood personally assisted many a U.S. deep-cover operation funneling money to Afghan rebels via American-operated casinos in Kathmandu, Nepal” – building deep links with intelligence services in multiple countries.

Dawood apparently chose to use his position and contacts to begin a campaign of counter-terror during the 1990s. Shimatsu again:

Dawood could have led a comfortable life as top dog. Instead he suffered a spasm of conscience, a newfound moral outrage, when rightwing Hindu nationalists destroyed a mosque in northern India in 1992, slaying 2000 Muslim worshippers, mostly women and children…One a day in the following May, his henchmen set off bombs across Bombay, killing more than 300 people. His personal convictions had – uncharacteristically – overcome his dispassionate business ethics. Reeling in shock, his top lieutenant, a Hindu, attempted to assassinate Dawood. A bloody intra-gang war followed, but as always Dawood triumphed, even while away in exile in Dubai and Karachi.

This year has seen a downturn in Dawood’s fortunes, however. After years of protection in Mumbai and, recently, in Karachi, his contacts seem to be evaporating. With a new regime in Islamabad, talks have been ongoing between the governments of Pakistan and India to secure Dawood’s deportation on numerous charges. There seems to have been broad agreement between the South Asian nations that this is a good idea, barring some obstacles, such as Pakistan’s recent desire for India to share what knowledge it has regarding the 2007 Samjhauta train bombings.

Yet Dawood has not arrived in India. Instead, we don’t know where he is. Shimatsu writes that “Washington and London both agreed with the India’s legal claim and removed the longstanding “official protection” accorded for his past services to Western intelligence agencies. U.S. diplomats, however, could never allow Dawood’s return. He simply knows too much about America’s darker secrets in South Asia and the Gulf, disclosure of which could scuttle U.S.-India relations.”

With all of that in mind, it seems, “Dawood was whisked away in late June to a safe house in Quetta, near the tribal area of Waziristan, and then he disappeared, probably back to the Middle East.” It’s worth noting that sources within the ISI have maintained that, instead of hiding out in Dubai, Dawood is in fact dead.

Commentators have been quick to pin the blame on Dawood for last week’s atrocities, despite a total absence of evidence, and the strong possibility that the underworld “don” is either in custody or dead. Shimatsu sees Dawood as seeking to derail Indo-U.S. amity, striking a direct blow against the Tata Group, which owns the Taj Mahal Hotel and is a key nuclear supplier. The U.S. and India inked a controversial nuclear pact this year, which will see millions (or billions) in contracts head Tatas way.

In an interview with Tehelka magazine, the former joint director of the Indian Intelligence Bureau, Maloy Krishna Dar, maintained that “I’m definite that without the help of Dawood Ibrahim, this would not have been possible. They couldn’t have known such details about the hotels.”

S Balakrishnan, writing in the Times of India newspaper, links Dawood to the attacks via a kingpin of the Mumbai docks called Mohammed Ali. An “exporter” tells Balakrishnan that “If anyone wants to ship out anything or get in anything into the city, all he needs to do is strike a deal with Ali” while Balakrishnan tells us that “Any terror operation needs vast funds, via the hawala route” – a muslim financing system. He links one hawala operator, a racehorse owner called Hasan Ali, to Dawood, fingering him as the conduit for funds used in the attacks.

Balakrishnan also notes that “Inspector Vijay Salaskar, who died fighting the terrorists, had closely investigated the entrenched links between a prominent gutka manufacturer and the Dawood gang.”

This is potentially important information. Salaskar, who was killed with Hemant Karkare and, hence potentially executed, may have died because of his investigations into the Dawood group. Karkare, I have suggested, was killed because his own investigations threatened to expose elements within Indian military intelligence, the police and far-right Hindutva politics. If so, this suggests an intriguing alliance between those elements and the muslim Dawood. Perhaps that is what was meant by the phrase “non-Wahabi muslims” who reports have linked to blasts directed at muslim targets?

Yet there is a major problem with Balakrishnan’s theory. The case that Salaskar was working on regarding Dawood concluded in 2005. Three years should have been plenty of time for Dawood to take his revenge.

The question is, what was Salaskar working on immediately prior to the 26/11 attacks? Another point worth making is that the Dawood connection is both lazy and convenient for the emerging official narrative. It is lazy because Dawood is regularly invoked as a bogey-man to explain away atrocities in South Asia. He is a highly marketable super-villain, with supposedly super powers. This works to the benefit of other actors, such as Hindutva terror groups or those within the state, or foreign states, with a role in such attacks.

In this instance, the role allegedly played by Dawood links the attacks directly with Lashkar-e-Toiba and Pakistan, while previous attacks associated with his group, which are reminiscent of these atrocities, support the narrative of a marine assault.

But, back to Salaskar. Salaskar was one of Mumbai’s so-called “encounter experts” – men who assassinate underworld figures, or anyone they feel like killing, and frame their deaths as shoot-outs. Their hey-day was in the late 1990s and 2000s, when hundreds of such extra-judicial killings were reported.

Yet by early 2008, the image of the “encounter experts” had been tarnished. Some were in jail, accused of complicity with organized crime or for human rights abuses. For example, “supercop” Daya Nayak was arrested and tried for kidnapping a businessman and threatening him with death if he did not pay him 500,000 rupees. Tarique Khan was told that his death would be made to look like a run of the mill “encounter.”

The encounter teams had become massively corrupt. They were also brutal. As the Mumbai-based human rights campaigner P. Sebastian put it, “invariably the policeman at the receiving end of the AK-47 would come off smelling of roses and without a scratch, while the criminal would be dead as a dodo” while “the criminals were always shot in the head and the chest.”

One of those accused of staging “fake encounters” in order to extort money, was Vijay Salaskar, who narrowly escaped conviction.

In 1998, Jeremy Seabrook of Le Monde Diplomatique reported on the phenomenon of “encounter killings.” At the time, he wrote, “The appearance of this phenomenon in Bombay, where the rule of the extreme communalist Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party is now uncontested, marks a new departure in the criminalisation of politics and the politicising of crime.”

The extra-judicial killings were organized by the far-right BJP and its allies in groups like the Shiv Sena – which has close ties to the criminal underworld. Seabrook judged that “The ruling party, with the connivance of the police, is using the machinery of state to settle disputes with its rivals” while a human rights group reported that “the Shiv Sena is itself the biggest criminal organisation in the city.”

It is easy to magnify the role played by Dawood and his predominantly muslim cohorts while ignoring the similarly powerful and ruthless Hindu mafia groups in Mumbai. Shiv Sena is prime among these.

Like Dawoods group, the SS (not an inappropriate way of putting it) has its origins in an anti-communist crusade. According to Wikipedia:

[A] main characteristic of the early years of the Shiv Sena was the frequent struggles against communist trade unions. Prior to the formation of the Shiv Sena, the Communist Party of India played a dominant role in labour politics in Mumbai. The Shiv Sena was supported by elements inside the Indian National Congress, who hoped that the new organization would be capable of weakening the communist trade union influence. Soon Shiv Sena cadres were involved in a series of violent conflicts with the communist trade union activists. In 1970 the CPI MLA of Dadar, Krishna Desai, was assassinated. CPI charged the Shiv Sena for the murder, and held [SS leader Balasaheb] Thackeray as responsible for the act.

Recently, Bal Thackeray has called for Hindu terror squads to respond to muslim attacks. As the Independent reported on 22 November, “[Thackeray] wrote recently in the party’s magazine: “The threat of Islamic terror in India is rising. It is time to counter the same with Hindu terror. Hindu suicide squads should be readied to ensure the existence of Hindu society and to protect the nation.”

The Hindu nationalist SS has more or less vied with another closely related party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) since 2006. The MNS, which has a much narrower focus on Maharashtra, is led by Raj Thackeray the son of SS founder, Bal. Both parties operate under the umbrella of the BJP and have links to less mainstream groups such as the Abhinav Bharat and RSS, which have been implicated in the Malegaon bombings, amongst other atrocities.

Bal Thackeray, leader of the Shiv Sena, with son Raj, leader of the MNS

Bal Thackeray, leader of the Shiv Sena, with son Raj, leader of the MNS

As Seabrook reported, the SS/MNS have deep roots in organized crime, in addition to access to the corridors of power.

Or, at least, they did until 2004, when the SS and the BJP were defeated in regional elections by the Congress Party. Now, with fresh elections fast approaching, those vanquished forces are preparing to retake Maharashtra. The 26/11 atrocities are the perfect means of achieving this.

Was Salaskar investigating the SS/MNS when he was killed? What we do know is that, despite their poor disciplinary record, the “encounter experts” were brought back into service in July 2008. The decision came directly after attacks across the region on 11 July, 2008, the same attacks that implicated American Kenneth Haywood. As the Hindustan Times reported, the ATS, “is drawing heavily on the experience and expertise of the gunfight specialists and officers who are no longer in service” including Salaskar who “were instrumental in breaking the backbone of underworld don turned politician Arun Gawli’s gang by eliminating most of his sharpshooters.”

By September 2008, all but one of the “encounter experts” had been removed from service owing to charges against them. Only Salaskar remained without a disciplinary blemish on his record. Working amongst the underworld of Mumbai, Salaskar and Hemant Karkare continued to uncover evidence linking Hindutva groups to terrorist attacks.

Yet Salaskar’s involvement with Dawood was long in the past. What was much more recent was Salaskar’s pursuit of members of another mafia clan. As noted above by the Hindustan Times, Salaskar had been working on cases against the group headed by Arun Gawli who, it turns out, is a slightly different character to Dawood.

In fact, he is in many ways the mirror image of the Pakistan-based muslim warrior. This was expressly stated by Raj Thackeray himself in the 1990s when he told a crowd that “If the Congress has Dawood Ibrahim with them, we have Arun Gawli with us.” At the time, and since, Gawli was building up a massive criminal organization amongst Mumbai’s poor.

He was targeted by Dawood’s gang yet escaped harm. As criminal overlords sometimes do, Gawli enjoyed the protection afforded by prison, from which he “ran his criminal empire of kidnappings, extortion and murder from behind bars at Nashik, Pune and Yerawada very efficiently and ruthlessly” as Wikipedia relates. It was also in jail that Gawli founded his political party, the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, as a rival to the SS and MNS, with which he had fallen out.

Facing release in 2004, Gawli used his party to run for the regional assembly. Out of 20 candidates that the party fielded, his was the only successful candidacy, which was fortunate for Gawli as, “His decision to enter politics and become a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly…ensured that he would not get “taken out” by a police hit squad in an “encounter.”

Arun Gawli, member of the Maharashtra assembly and criminal kingpin

Arun Gawli, member of the Maharashtra assembly and criminal kingpin

There can be no doubting the power of Arun Gawli. His network puts thousands of people to work in Mumbai, where money and jobs are scarce, many of them in extortion rackets, smuggling, murder and politics. There can also be no doubting his religiosity. As the novelist Vikram Chandra wrote in a 2000 visit to Gawli’s home, “The walls were covered with large gold-framed pictures of gods and goddesses. Gawli was a fervent Shiva-bhakt, I knew this already. It was part of his legend. It was said that on some days his Shiva-puja lasted for three hours.”

When Chandra asked Gawli “how a man so as religious as himself could do the things he has been accused of doing,” the underworld don replied that “When a man is fighting for justice,” he said, “what is adharma becomes dharma. We do what is necessary” – a chilling expression of the fusion of means and ends.

It is also worth noting that Chandra’s visit was perfectly cordial, except for one point. “He was very polite,” Chandra reported, “and it was only when he spoke of his mortal enemy, the mafia boss Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, that his eyes grew still and hard, and I felt a chill.”

When he emerged from prison in 2004 and entered the world of politics, Gawli had an interesting encounter of his own, so to speak. Express India reported in April 2004 that the underworld kingpin was “‘too scared to go out” owing to a policeman skulking about outside. The police officer was a certain Vijay Salaskar, whom Gawli suspected of seeking to murder him in an “encounter.”

In October 2004, after being elected, Gawli told reporters that “Salaskar had even warned my boys that I would face dire consequences if I stepped out to vote…But now I have no such fear because I have become an MLA. Officers like Salaskar cannot harass me any more.”

Salaskar replied that “Gawli may have become an MLA. But for me, he continues to remain a former Mumbai don and I have to keep tabs on his activities.” Sticking his neck out somewhat, the policeman continued, promising that “Now that Gawli is an MLA, arresting him will involve certain procedures. I will not bow to any political pressure. I will only take orders from the police commissioner, who is my supreme commander.”

Salaskar had earlier killed several of Gawli’s subordinates, so the fears were hardly unfounded. Earlier this year, Gawli was eventually hauled into court, charged with extorting money from a construction firm. Salaskar had been working on extortion cases for the Mumbai police until, in July 2008, he was recalled to “encounter” duty with the ATS. Presumably he played a key role in bringing Gawli before the courts to face extortion charges.

Nothing has come of those charges, as yet.

There is ample evidence that Ibrahim Dawood is a less likely suspect in the killing of Salaskar and Karkare than Arun Gawli. In fact, Gawli and groups associated with his network – in other words, the militant Hindu right – have benefited handsomely from last week’s attacks. If an underworld bogey man is to be fingered on slim evidence, then it would be him.

Gawli, Thackeray and the BJP have been reported to be estranged in recent years. Unity on the far-right should never be assumed. However, what Karkare and Salaskar may have discovered is a concerted campaign amongst far-right activists, to push the BJP onto a more extreme trajectory. As reported by the Times of India, those military officers detained for the Malegaon blasts, were unified by “the anger among them about nothing being done to protect the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ against jehadi terrorists and other threats, and a strong desire to avenge the serial blasts allegedly carried out by jehadi bombers.”

This echoes the sentiments of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, quoted above, who called for “Hindu suicide squads.” One of the express aims of the militant Abhinav Bharat is to push existing Hindutva groups towards militancy, and the ATS investigation had found evidence for this.

India Express also reported that the ATS had uncovered a “hit list” compiled by far-right activists. This list contained the names of prominent RSS members – and their murders may have been intended to be blamed on Islamist groups. That list was linked to Shyam Apte, an ex-IBM engineer with strong contacts in the U.S.

This bears some of the hallmarks of a Gladio-style “strategy of tension” in which public opinion is molded by outside powers and the domestic right to prevent unity and progressive political change.

One final piece of information to consider.

Arun Gawli formed a rival party to the Shiv Sena in 1997. That party also formed a “trade union” arm called the Akhil Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, to infiltrate workplaces for criminal purposes.

It was reported a decade ago that the ABKS had taken control of the workforce at the Oberoi Hotels from the Shiv Sena. There have been no reports since then that this has changed.

The Oberoi was a terrorist target on 26/11. Commentators have puzzled at how the attackers stored ammunition and weapons.

Perhaps they need look no further.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: