There is an escalating crisis in Southeast Asia; a crisis developing from the symbiosis of organised crime, terrorism and the covert domestic and foreign policy ambitions of several Asian nations.
On 19 June 2017, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organised a General Assembly debate to warn that crime groups are globalising and are now primary threats to security and development. The debate also featured a special briefing on Southeast Asia, a region that is particularly vulnerable to the reach and influence of organised crime.[i] The study found that transnational organised crime groups have expanded their operations to this illicit traffic and are engaged in smuggling drugs, people, weapons, timber, wildlife and counterfeit goods across borders. The conservative annual estimated value of this regional illicit market is a staggering US$100 billion dollars. The regional illicit drug market is estimated to be worth over US$30 billion per year.
Southeast Asia hosts the world’s largest methamphetamine market, as well as the second largest opium and heroin market. While opium cultivation and heroin production are geographically confined to the lawless areas in the ‘Golden Triangle’ of northern Myanmar and parts of Laos the production and trafficking of methamphetamine has proliferated throughout Southeast Asia at an alarming speed. Transnational organised crime groups have grown the business by exploiting weaknesses in state capacities to regulate precursor chemicals, as well as gaps in law enforcement and regional cooperation as well as widespread corruption within government structures.
With organised crime groups in China, the Triads, also producing and trafficking significant quantities of methamphetamine into and through the region, Southeast Asia is now the world’s largest methamphetamine market. Its markets are not only confined to the region but extend to Europe, North America and, especially, Africa. The word used for methamphetamine in Africa is “Tik”; that is methamphetamine in a powdered crystalline form. It is widely distributed by Asian organised crime gangs from Pakistan and the Chinese Triads. Indian organised crime gangs specialise in “Mandrax”. After its discovery in 1950, mandrax abuse became the legal way to get high. It produce states of euphoria and sensual or intimate moods. These reactions explain the drug's vicious popularity. Thousands of legal and illegal pharmaceutical firms produce and then distribute the drug in India. Major States like Delhi, Maharashtra and Rajasthan are among the regions legally and illegally manufacturing mandrax. To manufacture one Mandrax tablet only takes 99 paise-they are sold for around Rs. 40 each. The profits keep the market afloat and support much of the organised crime groups in India.[ii]
Myanmar’s drug lords have extended their reach beyond the production of heroin and opium for the manufacture of Tylenol-sized pink meth tablets, known in Thailand as yaba. Each year, two to six billion pills are exported to neighbouring Thailand and China, and more recently Bangladesh.
As many of the ruling parties in the nations of Southeast Asia are military regimes or regimes dominated by the military, there has been a concomitant growth in the symbiosis of these militaries and organised crime groups like the Triads, the warlords of the Shan States, the Afghan Pushtun mafia and the international criminal gangs of India and Pakistan. While this is not an entirely new phenomenon the symbiosis of these organised criminal groups, operating under the aegis of military regimes, has opened the door to the massive funding of Islamic terrorist groups which exist in the same political space. The payoff for the militaries in tolerating and working with terrorist and organised crime has been a surge in their revenues and the ability to use these criminal and terrorist groups as covert mercenaries in the subversion of their neighbours and throughout the worldwide community.
The impact of this relationship became evident to the wider world in March 1993 with a series of 12 bomb explosions that took place in Bombay, India (now known as Mumbai). Following local riots and disorders emanating from India's secular divide, a series of thirteen bombs were exploded in Mumbai resulting in 257 fatalities and 713 injuries. These attacks were co-ordinated by the largest organised crime gang operating in Mumbai, Company D, run by Dawood Ibrahim. However, the planning, funding and direction of this bombing campaign lay elsewhere. The planning and co-ordination of these bombs in Mumbai originated across the border in Pakistan, whose ISI Department of the Pakistan Army controlled and directed the attacks. The Company D leadership of the bombings included Dawood Ibrahim and the brothers Tiger Memon and Yakub Memon. Dawood and Tiger Memon escaped, but Yakub was caught and later executed.
The Indian security authorities were on a high state of readiness before the bombings but failed to use the clear evidence they had before them. Three days before the bombing police had apprehended a criminal tied to the personal team of Tiger Memon, ‘Gullu’ (Gul Noor Mohammad Sheikh). He had just returned from Pakistan and had been trained by the ISI in terrorist tactics. He was one of nineteen such trainees sent by Tiger Memon to Pakistan. When apprehended at Nav Pada police station, Gullu confessed his training in Pakistan and revealed the bombing plot. The police ignored his confession.
After the bombings and the international outrage at the enormity of the attack on India the police arrested hundreds of suspects. In a subsequent trial a hundred of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to long terms in prison. In reality, many of the convicted just disappeared rather than serve a sentence, including Tiger Menon, the mastermind of the bombings. Those who were detained often had their sentences diminished or quashed. The Muslim ones tied to Pakistan who were caught were incarcerated by the Indian police but many members of the Mumbai underworld who had worked closely with the Hindu regional authorities found their sentences less onerous.
Dawood and much of Company D escaped to the safe haven of Pakistan where they live in security, guarded and protected by the Pakistan Army. The remnants of Company D in Mumbai split off from Dawood and pledged their fealty to Chhota Rajan, Dawood Ibrahim’s right-hand man. Rajan’s departure divided the criminal enterprise within Company D along communal lines; among them the leadership-level Hindu aides of Chhota Rajan, including Sadhu, Jaspal Singh and Mohan Kotiyan. The ensuing gang war between Muslim and Hindu criminals took the lives of more than a hundred gangsters and still continues. Seven of Company D accused (Salim Kurla, Majeed Khan, Shakil Ahmed, Mohammed Jindran, Hanif Kadawala, Akbar Abu Sama Khan and Mohammed Latif) were assassinated by Rajan's hitmen.
There has been a growing symbiosis of Indian and Pakistani organised crime gangs and the security arms of the two rival nations, India and Pakistan. This symbiosis has expanded, especially in Pakistan, with ties between organised crime, Islamic terrorist groups and underground criminal enterprises of drug smuggling, counterfeit currency smuggling, illegal pharmaceutical smuggling and a web of international criminal and terrorist ties across the globe in support of these enterprises. This has spread across Southeast Asia.
Background to Indian Organised Crime
There were organised gangs of ‘thugs’ in India for years (the term ‘thug’ is an Indian word) A ‘thug’ was a member of an organization of robbers and assassins; devotees of the goddess Kali. The Thugs waylaid and strangled their victims, usually travellers, in a ritually prescribed manner. They were suppressed by the British in the 1830s. This violent aspect of Indian criminality was only a small branch of the tree of crime. Most of Indian crime consisted of supplying goods, credit and services which were unavailable or outlawed by the various governmental organisations; kidnapping and ransoming rich Indians; and ‘shylocking’ among the rural and urban poor to whom the ‘zamindars’ (tax collectors and landowners) had shown little mercy or credit. Some of the bandits (better known as ‘dacoiti’) like Man Singh became legends in their lifetime due to their Robin-hood image of giving stolen money to the poor.
When India became independent many of the states which were formed were ‘dry’ states; alcohol was banned. This Indian Prohibition resulted, as it did in the U.S. and, later Russia, in a windfall of profits for the criminal communities. This illicit sale of alcohol has continued during the succeeding prohibitions both nationally and regionally.
India remains a major transit point for heroin from the Golden Triangle (Shan states) and Golden Crescent (Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) en route to Europe. India is also the world's largest legal grower of opium, and experts estimate that 5–10% of the legal opium is converted into illegal heroin and an additional 8–10% is consumed in high quantities as concentrated liquid. The pharmaceutical industry is also responsible for a lot of illegal production of mandrax, much of which is smuggled into South Africa. Diamond smuggling via South Africa is also a major criminal activity. In addition, a lot of money laundering takes place within the country and with the Middle East mostly through the use of the traditional ‘hawala’ system. The traditional illegal import of 10-tola bars of gold from the Gulf into India is a business which has gone on for centuries.
There are several centres of organised crime in India, based primarily on major cities. Perhaps the most important crime centre is Mumbai. After independence, due to prohibition policies adopted by the Government of Maharashtra, boot-legging or trade in illicit liquor, became a lucrative business for the criminal gangs. The first to rise to prominence in the bootlegging business was Varada Rajan Mudaliar, popularly known as Vardha bhai, who was a Mumbai based ethnic Hindu who started as a porter at VT Railway Station, took to thievery at the Bombay Docks and graduated to boot-legging in the 1960s. He acquired considerable wealth through this activity and became so influential that he used to hold ‘durbars’ in his areas of influence, to settle disputes.
Another prominent Mumbai gangster was Karim Lala, who commanded south and central Mumbai and majority of smuggling and illegal construction financing. Karim Lala and his family members' groups operated in the Mumbai docks; they were often called the Pathan mafia or Afghan mafia, because the majority of the members of these crime syndicate's members were ethnic Pashtuns from Afghanistan's Kunar province. They were especially involved in hashish trafficking, protection rackets, extortion, illegal gambling, gold smuggling and contract killing and held a firm stranglehold over parts of Mumbai's underworld. Lala controlled bootlegging and gambling in the city in 1940 and was the undisputed king of the trade till 1985. Similarly, Haji Mastan and Yusuf Patel started off as small-time criminals and later took to smuggling gold and silver: They made a lot of money and invested it in legitimate business, mainly construction and real estate.
One of the most famous of the Karim Lala gang was Haji Mastan who became the first celebrity mobster in Mumbai, expanding his clout in the film industry by giving money to directors and studios for film production. As Masan’s influence in Bollywood grew, he began to produce films himself.
These Mafia leaders found that the traditional forms of criminality were no longer the best routes to fortune and power as India began to open up into an entrepreneurial giant. Their place as leaders of the criminal underworld were challenged by younger and more aggressive criminals. After a decade of violence, the new leadership took over and moved away from the criminal pursuits of their former leaders and began to adapt to India’s new capitalist opportunities, using their cash to finance otherwise unfinanceable deals.
There are now four major criminal families operating in Mumbai. The largest and most powerful family is the D-Company. This is the name given to the organized crime group controlled by Dawood Ibrahim. The D-Company is not a stereotypical organised crime cartel in the strict sense of the word, but rather a collusion of criminal and Islamic terrorist groups based around Dawood Ibrahim's personal control and leadership; a control exercised by many brutal assassinations of his competitors; in addition to his international trade in narcotics, smuggling and quasi-legitimate businesses. He spends most of his time in Pakistan where he is protected by the Pakistani Army. When he lived in Dubai it frequently refused to extradite him. He was early in realising the opportunities a developing India presented. He used his funds to invest in legitimate and almost-legitimate businesses. Financing illegal construction projects earned him high revenues and providing finance for the Indian moving picture industry (‘Bollywood’) earned him even more.
Many of these businesses are run by his brothers. His brother Anees Ibrahim looks after smuggling, drugs and contract killings. Noora looks after film financing and extortion from film personalities. Iqbal, a low-profile person, looks after his legitimate business activities including the share markets in Hong Kong and jewellery and gold businesses. His gang consists of about 4,000 to 5,000 men (mostly Muslim). 50% of the members are from Bombay and the neighbouring districts. 25% come from Uttar Pradesh, In addition. contract killing, film financing, drug trafficking, smuggling computer parts and illicit trade in arms and ammunitions make up the major areas of endeavour.
They have been supplying arms both to criminals and terrorists. Dawood Ibrahim has invested heavily in projects like the Diwan Shopping Centre in Mumbai and is also said to have financial stakes in the Diamond Rock Hotel in Mumbai. Noora runs Suhail Travel in Mumbai. Dawood reportedly has huge financial stakes in the East West Airlines.
Unfortunately, Dawood mixed crime with politics. After the 1993 Bombay bombings, which Ibrahim allegedly organised and financed with Tiger Memon, both became India's most wanted men. According to the United States Department of Treasury, Ibrahim had ties with Osama bin Laden. As a consequence, the United States declared Ibrahim a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" in 2003 and pursued the matter before the United Nations in an attempt to freeze his assets around the world and crack down on his operations. Indian and Russian intelligence agencies have pointed out Ibrahim's possible involvement in several other terror attacks, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as per Interpol. In 2010, a US Congressional report claimed that "D-company has a 'strategic alliance' with Pakistan's ISI". Ever since he took to hiding, his location has been frequently traced to Karachi, Pakistan, a claim which Pakistani authorities have denied.
A second gang in Mumbai is the Arun Gawli gang is based at Dagdi Chawl in Byculla, Mumbai. He started his criminal activities there and used his chambers there for keeping kidnapped persons, torturing them, extorting money from them and murdering them. He has been arrested several times for criminal activities and detained for long periods awaiting trial. However, he could not be convicted in most of the cases as witnesses were too intimidated to testify. He came out of jail and started his own political party, Akil Bhartiya Sena with a great deal of support among the slum dwellers but was then convicted of the murder of Shiv Sena leader Kamalakar Jamsandekar in August 2012 and is back in jail. The organisation continues but is fighting D Company for turf.
The third group of organised criminals is the Amar Naik Gang This gang originated sometime in 1980 and was collecting protection money from the vegetable vendors in Dadar area of Mumbai. When the leader of this gang (Ram Bhat) was sentenced to imprisonment in a robbery case, Amar Naik took over the reins of the gang. Its main business was the collection of ‘haftas’ (kickbacks) from the vegetable vendors, hawkers, bootleggers and smugglers. This earned him good money. This gang had several violent skirmishes with the Arum Gawil gang, not only outside jail but even within the jail premises where gangsters of both the gangs were lodged, resulting in several killings. When Amar Naik was killed the mantle of leadership fell on the shoulders of his younger brother.
The fourth group of Mumbai criminals are organised in the Chhota Rajan Gang. Chhota Rajan started his criminal career in the Dawood gang but after the 1993 bombing he fell out with Dawood and formed his own gang (mainly Hindu). This gang is principally concerned with the trade in illegal drugs. After several attempts on his life by Dawood’s men he set his operations in the Gulf.
There are hundreds of smaller criminal gangs across the vast territory of India and in its major cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mangalore, and Calcutta. Goa is one of the major hubs of the international drug trade where the Indian Mafia have joined up with Russian, Israeli and Nigerian criminal groups involved in the trade.
While there have always been smaller and more disorganised criminal groups in the Punjab in recent years the Punjabi Mafia has expanded its activities to Canada, especially British Columbia and Ontario where they have engaged in drug trafficking, weapon trafficking, robbery, contract killing, fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, extortion, illegal gambling, murder and prostitution. The Indo-Canadian Mafia are a major source of heroin supply in Canada and have established strong links with the Mexican cartels. Indo-Canadian gangs are the third major homegrown organized crime problems in Canada. They have replicated their gang structures back in the Punjab and have largely re-organised criminal activities in the region in India. The first major Indo-Canadian crime boss was Bindy Johal, although many and more powerful crime characters followed. The Indo-Canadian group has been characterised by high levels of violence and murder. Indo-Canadian gang violence is still high; from 2006 to 2014, 34 Indo Canadians had been murdered by gang violence making up for 21.3% of gang deaths in B.C,
In recent years, several members of the Mumbai criminal gangs have been arrested in Thailand, Indonesia and Dubai and sent back to India for trial. Many more were gunned down as contract killers from rival gangs travelled the world as assassins in the struggle for criminal dominance of the illegal trades. Others suffered from the communalism in the security forces’ response to Company D.
- Several properties of Dawood in India have been seized and confiscated to the extent that none of his aides can live in local properties.
- Dawood is cursed to live in ostracism, surrounded by troops in Pakistan. There are little to no chances of his return.
- Many of Dawood’s aides have either been eliminated by state police or have been executed. Dawood
- Abu Salem, is in the custody of the Indian Government and stands a very slim chances of making any comeback.
- Chhota Rajan has been in the custody of the Indian Govt for few years now.
- The recent gang members convicted of the train blast of 2006 have received harsh punishment.
What Is The Role of Pakistan in The Security-Crime Symbiosis?
One of the most difficult aspects of the symbiosis of organised crime and the security forces of Asia is the appreciation of the domination of the military and security forces over the political and economic structures of the countries in which they rule. Perhaps the best, and the most germane case, is Pakistan.
With 620,000 soldiers, Pakistan boasts the world’s seventh-largest standing army, but its senior officers long ago realised the perks to be gained from commercial ventures. Since independence in 1947, the army has steadily intertwined itself into Pakistan’s economy: so much so that it’s hard to tell where the military stops, and any semblance of free-market capitalism begins.
All too often, there is no dividing line. In her 2007 book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy Dr Ayesha Siddiqa exposes the rampant commercialism pervading every aspect of the country’s military force, until recently headed by President Pervaiz Musharraf. Dr Siddiqa, a former researcher with the country’s naval forces, estimates the military’s net worth at more than £10 billion — roughly four times the total foreign direct investment generated by Islamabad in 2007. She found that the army owns 12 per cent of the country’s land, its holdings being mostly fertile soil in the eastern Punjab. Two thirds of that land are in the hands of senior current and former officials, mostly brigadiers, major-generals and generals. The most senior 100 military officials are estimated to be worth, at the very least, £3.5 billion.[iii]
Many of the country’s largest corporations are also controlled by the military, thanks largely to an opaque network of powerful ‘foundations’ originally set up to look after the pension needs of army personnel. The largest three — the Fauji, Shaheen and Bahria foundations, controlled by the army, air force and navy respectively — control more than 100 separate commercial entities involved in everything from cement to cereal production. Only nine have ever published partial financial accounts, and all are ultimately controlled by the Ministry of Defence, which oversees all of the military’s commercial ventures.
The Fauji foundation, the largest of the lot, is estimated by Siddiqa to be worth several billion pounds. It operates a security force (allowing serving army personnel to double in their spare time as private security agents), an oil terminal and a phosphate joint venture with the Moroccan government. Elsewhere, the Army Welfare Trust — a foundation set up in 1971 to identify potentially profitable ventures for the military — runs one of the country’s largest lenders, Askari Commercial Bank, along with an airline, a travel agency and even a stud farm. Then there is the National Logistic Cell, Pakistan’s largest shipper and freight transporter (and the country’s largest corporation), which builds roads, constructs bridges and stores vast quantities of the country’s wheat reserves. [iv]
There is a deep and strong interlink between the Pakistani Army, organised crime (especially D Company) and Islamic terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan on behalf of the military’s irregular war against its neighbours in India and Afghanistan. Dawood Ibrahim still controls one of the most comprehensive organized crime networks in Mumbai with deep collusive roots among elements of Maharashtra’s political leadership. Meanwhile, the ‘D’ Company has become a major Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) asset and a continuous collaborator with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other Pakistan-backed terrorist groups, facilitating the movement of arms and explosives, as well as of finances, across international boundaries. It is useful, in this context, to briefly examine the sheer multiplicity of sources finance for Islamist terrorist groups operating in India, and the near impossibility of effectively targeting these networks.
“One of the most visible indices of Pakistani state support to terrorism in India comes from the vast quantities of counterfeit currency that is printed in Pakistani Security Presses at the Mlair Cantonment in Karachi, and at Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar. This counterfeit currency has been among the most significant tools of state finance of terrorism and has also enabled the Pakistan Army to keep its expenditure on these activities outside its official budget. While no hard estimate of the actual quantities of counterfeit currency that is pumped into the Indian economy by Pakistan is available, intelligence assessments suggest that approximately INR 120 million to INR 130 million are smuggled in annually through a number of clandestine channels. Some estimates suggest that as much as 25 per cent of the total currency in circulation in India could be fake.
While some of this counterfeit currency is brought in by terrorists who infiltrate India’s various borders – across the Line of Control, along the Western border, through the sea route, from Bangladesh and from Nepal – a significant quantity is moved about through criminal networks, principally those controlled by the ‘D’ Company. The fake notes are transported to Dubai, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Dhaka and Singapore, from where they are then physically smuggled into India by a range of couriers – including Indian workers traveling home – as well as on smuggling boats and by ‘D’ company operatives through select airlines. The overwhelming proportion of this currency first lands in Maharashtra, where the ‘D’ Company is most influential, or is pushed through Bangladesh, Nepal and Thailand. Nepal has, indeed, made the possession of large denomination Indian currencies (INR 500 and INR 1,000 notes) illegal, as a result. While some of this money reaches the terrorists in J&K, according to the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, a large proportion is "distributed among criminals and smugglers in different parts of the country, mostly New Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Lucknow, etc., as the ISI also used the services of these criminals occasionally to transport weaponry and explosive devices." Counterfeit currency transactions are quite profitable for criminals.
Money is also raised by terrorist groups and their front organizations, as well as their political affiliates, in Pakistan, often directly to fund the jihad, but more comprehensively and routinely, towards the various religious charities these groups also run. Part of the money received for charitable works is skimmed off to fund terrorist infrastructure and operations. These organizations also receive substantial contributions from international Islamic charities and foreign sympathizers. Among the prominent charities, non-governmental agencies and political formations across the world that are believed to have funded various terrorist organizations are the World Assembly of Muslim Youth; the International Islamic Federation of Students’ Organisations; al Haramain foundation; the International Islamic Relief Organisation; the Global Relief Foundation; al Rabita Trust; al Rashid Trust; the World Kashmir Freedom Movement; the Consultative Committee of Indian Muslims; and, in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Muslim Conference, the Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis and the People’s League, among others.
Terrorist fronts in Pakistan also raise some revenues from various investments in business ventures – including reportedly substantial transactions in the one-time booming Indian stock market. The narcotics trade, weapons’ smuggling and extortion are additional sources of revenue generation.
The principal sources of revenue generation for Islamist terrorists in India, consequently, lie outside the country, with a bulk of sources located in Pakistan, and protected by Pakistan state agencies, and its military in Pakistani-controlled areas in Afghanistan. The core challenge of tackling terrorist finance is, consequently, limited to the receipt and distribution of funds. The overwhelming proportion of such transfers occur through informal hawala channels, though forged accounts and some highly opaque transactions through the legal banking and wire transfer system also play an occasional part.”[v]
The fundamental basis of this money laundering network is the “hawala” system. In the most basic variant of the hawala system, money is transferred via a network of hawala brokers, or hawaladars. It is the transfer of money without actually moving it. In fact, a successful definition of the hawala system that is used is "money transfer without money movement.” Hawala or money laundering refers to the conversion of illegal and ill-gotten money into legal money so that it can be integrated into the legitimate economy. Money is also transferred through travellers from Pakistan to India, particularly on the bi-weekly Express Train that shuttles between Munabao in Barmer, Rajasthan, and Khokhrapar in Sindh, Pakistan, and the Samjhauta Express across the Attari border. There have also been occasional arrests of passengers carrying substantial sums for terrorists on the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad ‘Karvan-e-Aman’ bus. Proceeds of drug-related crimes are an important source of money laundering the world over.
One of the keys to its growth has been the Pakistan military presence in Afghanistan and the “Tribal Territories”. Pakistani military does what it wants in Afghanistan, just as it does in Pakistan. That is not a secret because about half of the time since Pakistan was created in 1947 the military has openly run the government until popular opposition forced the generals to allow elections again. Terrorism related deaths are overwhelmingly caused by the Islamic terrorists, mainly Taliban and Haqqani Network attacks. To maintain control of the Afghan Taliban the ISI calls on another of their “protected” Islamic terror groups; the Haqqani Network. This group was once a faction in the 1990s Afghan civil war but always had a good relationship with the ISI. Over the last two decades Haqqani have turned into a criminal gang that also manages terror operations in Afghanistan for ISI. On September 2, 2018: The United States told Pakistan that $300 million in military aid was suspended because continued refusal of Pakistan (specifically the military) to shut down Islamic terrorist operations inside Pakistan. The Pakistani military showed, in 2014, that it could do so against Islamic terror groups (Pakistani Taliban, ISIL) that threatened the Pakistani government. But Pakistan has refused to admit it protects Islamic terror groups, like the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and several groups that carry out attacks in India.
However, on 19 December 2018 President Trump announced he was removing a substantial number of troops from Afghanistan. The US military will quickly pull nearly half of its forces from Afghanistan, and likely withdraw the rest by the end of 2019. This proclamation was an outright victory for the Taliban, al Quaeda and other jihadists and opens the door to Pakistan’s ISI domination of the criminal and terrorist links in both countries. This will have a dramatic effect on the Kashmir-Jammu battle between India and Pakistan. “Pakistan’s use of jihadism as a foreign policy tool has been validated. Pakistan also has much to gain from a US withdrawal. It says much about America’s ineptitude and confusion that not a single Pakistani official was ever sanctioned or designated as a terror supporter throughout 17+ years of war. Besides the Trump administration’s decision to withhold some military aid, Pakistani officials never paid a real price for harbouring the same forces that were attacking Americans and their allies.”[vi]
Pakistan’s model of using jihadists to further its foreign policy goals in the region has been validated. Pakistan sponsors the Taliban and other terrorist groups as part of its regional security strategy. But there is more to it than that. Some unknown number of Pakistani officials have themselves fallen under the jihadists’ sway. The Pakistani military and intelligence establishment will continue to export the jihad to neighbouring countries, particularly in the Indian state of Kashmir, but perhaps also elsewhere, using the financial might of organised crime to fund these programs.
In the past few years it has become more difficult for state-sponsors of terrorism to maintain direct links to terrorist organisations as the threat of sanctions and economic pressure from the West has expanded. This has led to increased terrorist dependence on organised crime for financial viability and organisational survival. Structurally, terrorist groups will increasingly mirror organised crime groups and utilise their access and control of market and the hawala system. While the bulk of the terrorist groups will retain their political content, the potential for a few terrorist groups to degenerate into pure criminal groups will, nevertheless, increase. The linkage between organised crime and its ability to thrive in a web of corruption among politicians and militaries and its access to the international market for illegal trades in people, drugs, raw materials, weapons of war and equipment make it an invaluable resource for their partners.
The Key Role of Dubai
The geographic and financial hub of the growing symbiosis of organised crime and terrorism has been the city-state of Dubai. This is especially true of the success of criminal groups like D Company being sheltered in Dubai and protected by its government.
“One of the largest and most unregulated financial centres in the world, with huge turnovers in undocumented movements of gemstones - including those originating in the world's worst conflict areas - gold and cash, and located at the strategic crossroads of the Gulf, South Asia and Africa, Dubai has long been a financial hub for organised criminal and Islamist extremist groups, as well as a primary transit point for the shipping of contraband. The Dawood Ibrahim gang controls much of this contraband movement from and to South Asia, as well as, crucially, a large chunk of the illegal hawala transactions in the region. It is this latter element that constitutes the gravest threat within the context of contemporary international terrorism: hawala is the future of terrorist financing, as various systems of transfer through 'regular' banking and conventional money laundering channels all leave behind paper trails that are vulnerable to eventual discovery. A paperless transaction, the traditional South Asian hawala system leaves behind no evidence once the monies are delivered to the recipient…. The reality of this superficially modernised City State is that it runs a highly efficient operation that uses contemporary technologies and commercial systems that supports the world of disorder, lawlessness and terror, and Dubai is, indeed, a direct beneficiary of, and heavily dependent on, its linkages with this underworld.”[vii]
As was pointed out by Lord Robertson, Secretary General, NATO, April 17, 2002. ""How easy it was for Al-Qaida's bankers to have five hundred thousand dollars wired from a bank in Dubai for anonymous use in automatic teller machines in Florida and Maine. How difficult it has been, even with the backing of United Nations resolutions and 150 nations, to find out who raised or sent those dollars… illegal money doesn't just feed other security threats - it also causes them."
Of particular interest in Dubai has been the important shelter it has offered to many figures in the international crime scene, especially D Company. Occasionally, under pressure, it has arrested several of its member, including those involved in the 1993 Mumbai bombings. However, they have often escaped prosecution and their extradition to India has not been honoured.
Some of Dawood’s D Company people were taken into custody in Dubai; that included twenty-six of the Dawood Ibrahim gang, including two of Dawood’s brothers - Noora (Noorul Haque) and Mustaqim. Both Noora and Mustaqim - along with Mohammed Dossa, another of the arrested gangsters - were accused in the 1993 Bombay Blasts. Both Noora and Mustaqim are permanent residents of Dubai, with substantial business interests in this City State. Indian authorities were unable to extradite them. They were later released for ‘lack of evidence’. Some were allowed to leave for Pakistan.
This set the scene for the liberation, once again, of the most important brother, Anees. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities announced on December 8, 2002, the arrest of Anees Kaksar Ibrahim in Dubai (He was arrested on December 3, three days after his reported arrival from Pakistan). Anees was one of the fugitives on the list of 20 most wanted terrorists. Three days later Anees was released on bail and extradited to Pakistan. This is at least the third time this has happened: in January 1996, Anees was arrested in Bahrain, but was later shifted to Dubai, allegedly on the intervention of some of Dubai's ruling notables and was then allowed to slip away to Pakistan. He was again arrested in 1998 on charges of having murdered a former associate and then rival, Irfan Goga, in Dubai, but was freed after two days for 'lack of evidence'. Anees maintains a sprawling establishment, owns a number of other properties, operates a thriving combination of legitimate and illegitimate businesses, and where he visits regularly. Anees has been the operational head of D-Company, ever since Dawood has been depressed and visiting doctors in Karachi, Pakistan where he is ‘protected’ by Pakistani soldiers.
He is not alone in Dubai. “Indian Mafiosi, who substantially owe their success to operations based in Dubai at one time of their career or another, include Abu Salem currently in custody in Portugal on charges of travel documents fraud, but wanted by both the USA and India for involvement with terrorist activity; Aftab Bhatki, who controls the entire fake currency operations in India on behalf of Dawood Ibrahim, and who has an Interpol Red Corner notice against him on India's request; Raju Anadkar, perhaps the largest money launderer in the region; Babloo Shrivastava, who controlled his kidnapping and extortion empire in India from Dubai, till he made the mistake of travelling to Singapore and was nabbed and extradited to India, where he currently bides his time in jail; Chhota Shakeel, another D-Company associate, who controls operations in Mumbai from Dubai; Chhota Rajan, a former Dawood man, now a bitter enemy, who the 'Company' tried to assassinate in Bangkok in November 2000; and, of course, Dawood Ibrahim himself, though he now finds residence in Karachi, under the ISI's protection, safer than Dubai. A substantial volume of illegal trade to and from Russia also passes through Dubai, and the Russian mafia has now established a significant presence there. The US is also said to be 'advising' Dubai on how to prevent the 'abuse' of its facilities as a free trade zone by criminal and terrorist groups, and US investigators are currently looking into large volumes of clandestine (hawala) financial transactions by various terrorist fronts connected with the Al Qaeda, especially the movement of escalating volumes of gold in innumerable unaccountable transactions since the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Indeed, Dubai is a veritable Utopia as a secure base for criminal and for terrorist financial operations that target other countries.”[viii]
Although Dubai hosts a wide variety of gangsters from the subcontinent, they do not always get along with each other. This was particularly true in the battles, assassination attempts and mayhem between the forces of Dawood and Chhota Rajan after their split and the rise in communalism in the ranks of organised crim. The Dubai authorities have always said that the reason they didn’t extradite the various Indian gangsters but let them ‘escape’ to Pakistan or India was that they wanted to avoid a ‘turf war’ in Dubai’s streets. An additional factor was the struggle within D Company between Dawood’s right-hand man, Chhota Shakeel and Anees Ibrahim over who controlled D Company in Dubai. This conflict has come to a head with the death of Chhota Shakeel.
Who Was Chhota Shakeel?
Chhota Shakeel started out his life as Mohammed Shakeel Babu Miyan Shaikh. His first career was running a travel agency in the lower-middle-class area of Dongri in south-central Mumbai. He was one of the early members in the D-Company along with Bishal Cheetah, Johnny Akhawat and Liger Bhai or Mushu Bhai. He joined Dawood in Dubai in 1988. In those days, Sharad Shetty managed the match fixing, betting and hawala deals for Dawood while Chhota Rajan managed the gang's criminal activities in Mumbai. Shakeel worked his way up the ranks in D Company and was befriended by Dawood after the split with Chhota Rajan in the Mumbai Mob civil war after the 1993 bombings. Shakeel fled to Pakistan where he was sheltered by the ISI.
One of the first things Shakeel did after he entered Pakistan was to cultivate a voice proxy in Rahim Merchant alias ‘Dogla’, a wealthy Pakistani who lived in a bungalow in North Karachi. In conversations abroad, Shakeel sat next to his ‘speaker’ Dogla, and wrote the questions to be asked or answered on a piece of paper. The created a verifiable alternative voice and presence for Shakeel which helped keep him safe. In addition to his interests in real-estate, weapons and narcotics in association with Afghan syndicates and Colombian cartels, Shakeel began investing in mines in Africa, smuggling diamonds to and for the Ukraine’s Odessa Mafia and bartered the diamonds for weapons. He even bought a diamond mine in Sierra Leone. In addition to a Pakistani passport, Shakeel acquired at least two others — one from Botswana and the other from Malawi — presumably to help him in his illegal diamond business. The diamonds were typically smuggled out of Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Republic of Mali by African nationals, collected in Botswana, South Africa and Namibia, taken to Kenya, and thence to Dubai and Karachi. His real-estate empire grew to embrace property in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, the UAE, Kenya, Spain and South Africa, in addition to his existing real-estate in India, Pakistan and the US.[ix] He maintained his role as a principal financier of Hindi films and Bollywood.
In fact, as Dawood found his ability to travel freely severely restricted Shakeel took over the day-today business of D Company. This carried on without internal challenges until mid-2016 when Dawood’s brother, Anees, began skimming money from D Company in Dubai and threatening to oust Shakeel from his leadership post.
Shakeel organised his own group of followers in response and the ISI had to intervene to try and make peace between Shakeel and Anees and to stop any internal fighting in D Company. Dawood played only a passive role and seemed to become even more reclusive. He wanted to maintain his thirty-year friendship with Shakeel (who had attempted the assassination of Chhota Rajan for him in Bangkok), and his ties with his brother Anees. This created problems in the organisation as the D Company chiefs in Mumbai and overseas were never sure whose orders were to be obeyed.
This confusion continued until it was confirmed that Chhota Shakeel had died on 6 January 2017. The two sides agreed on a minor figure in D Company take over active leadership of the organisation until Dawood and the ISI agreed on how to proceed, but that replacement died in a heart attack in Tajikistan in mid-2018. Dawood announced that his brother, Anees, would take over the key post in D Company on 5 January 2019, at the anniversary of the death of Chhota Shakeel a year earlier. There was some confusion about whether Shakeel had really died because the voice of ‘Dogla’ his speaker was intercepted on phone monitors, confusing the confirmation of Shakeel’s death.
The Continuity of the Criminal-Political-Terrorist Enterprise
Despite the change in the structure of D Company the symbiosis of organised crime, terrorism and the competing nation states of the subcontinent has not ended. Still less has the powerful role played in this endeavour by Dubai. The U.S. pull-out of Afghanistan will only serve to exacerbate these divisions and corruption and terrorist activities will give financial impetus to the various criminal fraternities which support and thrive on these conflicts.
[i] Jeremy Douglas, "Organised crime threatening the development of Southeast Asia", UN Office on Drugs and Crime,25 August 2017
[iii] Ayesha Siddiqe, Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy,, Pluto Press 2017
[vi] Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio, "The costs of withdrawal from Afghanistan", Long War, December 21, 2018