Governments abhor getting their scripts wrong, but to get the line wrong on India’s most wanted man, Dawood Ibrahim, is particularly difficult to live down.
Minister of state for home Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary indicated in Parliament on Tuesday that the government did not know about Ibrahim’s whereabouts, saying that he “has not been located so far”. A furore ensued expectedly, after which his ministerial colleague Kiren Rijiju clarified that India “has been providing information to Pakistan about his whereabouts” and that “Pakistani agencies are not cooperating with the Indian government”.
The ruling BJP has struggled to interpret these contradictory messages. Some security analysts have tried to suggest that intelligence agencies are not in a position to tell Parliament that they know where he is. Such a defence is difficult to reconcile with India’s long-held position that Ibrahim is residing in Pakistan. Union home minister Rajnath Singh himself said last December that India “repeatedly asked Pakistan to hand over Dawood Ibrahim”. The UPA government had in fact listed three addresses for Ibrahim — two in Karachi and one Islamabad — in a dossier it had passed to Pakistan in 2012. Ibrahim is listed in a UN sanctions list and his ‘D Company’ even found a mention in the India-US joint statement signed during US President Barack Obama’s visit to India, which reaffirmed the need for joint efforts to disrupt terrorist organisations, such as the LeT and the Haqqani network.
Ibrahim has focused the minds of Indian governments for decades and that of the international community more recently. To get our pronouncements on him wrong has serious diplomatic repercussions. It offers Pakistan undeserved vindication and potentially lets the ISI off the hook for sheltering, protecting and backing Ibrahim’s anti-India designs. It is best for the government to set the record straight even if it entails admitting that the minister’s remark in Parliament was the outcome of poor bureaucratic drafting on an unstarred question, which somehow made it into statements by UPA ministers as well. Failing to reaffirm what it has long known also risks undermining India’s narrative on Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed.