Russia points to Dawood Ibrahim in Mumbai attacks

December 19, 2008

Indian newspapers are reporting that Russian intelligence says underworld don Dawood Ibrahim – an Indian national who India believes is living in Karachi in Pakistan — was involved in the Mumbai attacks.

The Indian Express quotes Russia’s federal anti-narcotics service director Viktor Ivanov as saying that Moscow believes that Dawood’s drug network, which runs through Afghanistan, was used to finance the attacks. Ivanov said these were a “burning example” of how the illegal drug trafficking network was used for carrying out militant attacks, the paper said, citing an interview in the official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The stories caught my eye not just because of the alleged link to Ibrahim, but because it highlights the extent to which Russian and Indian intelligence may be cooperating over Mumbai and on the wider issues over Afghanistan and the heroin trade. (A colleague in our Moscow bureau tells me that Ivanov is close to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and has good connections in the Russian intelligence community.)

“The gathered inputs testify that regional drug baron Dawood Ibrahim had provided his logistics network for preparing and carrying out the Mumbai terror attacks,” the Asian Age quoted Ivanov as saying. “The super profits of the narco-mafia through Afghan heroin trafficking have become a powerful source of financing organised crime and terrorist networks, destabilising the political systems, including in Central Asia and the Caucasus.”

The Times of India also quoted the special representative of the Russian president for international co-operation in the fight against terrorism, Anatoly Safonov, as saying the drug network was a joint problem for India and Russia.

Pakistan has historic reasons to fear any strengthening of Indian-Russian cooperation in Afghanistan. India and Russia both supported Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance when it was opposition to the country’s Pakistan-backed Taliban rulers, before they were thrown out by the U.S.-led invasion following 9/11.  Their close relationship during the Cold War left Pakistan feeling particularly vulnerable during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 and 1989, when it faced India on its eastern border and Russian troops on its western border. 

But back then Pakistan could rely on U.S. backing to fund the mujahideen who helped drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Nowadays it faces intense pressure from the United States to crack down on Taliban and al Qaeda militants on the Pakistan-Afghan border; growing Indian influence in Afghanistan, and — since the Mumbai attacks — a belligerent India which has blamed them on Pakistan-based groups.

So the Russian report about Ibrahim, who India has accused of masterminding serial bombings in Mumbai in 1993 which killed at least 250 people, is likely to hit a raw nerve in Pakistan.  So too would any evidence that Russia and India are working more and more closely together in Afghanistan, which Pakistan has traditionally tried to bring under its own sphere of influence to give it ”strategic depth” in the event of war with India.

One to watch.

(Reuters photo: A fishing boat passes the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai/Jayanta Shaw)

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