Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Mysterious 'Major Iqbal' is Pakistan's latest albatross

Mysterious 'Major Iqbal' is Pakistan's latest albatross
Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN | May 26, 2011, 12.35am IST
Headley revealed that "Major Iqbal", a Pakistani army officer in ISI, was also known by the name "Chaudhery Khan."
WASHINGTON: He's acquiring the status of mythic villain, and Bollywood scriptwriters may soon caricature him in the mold of Mogambo and Shakaal, among their more famous screen scoundrels.

But the way David Headley aka Daood Gilani describes him, Major Iqbal was not given to loud laughs or corny dialogues. A serving ISI officer, he was a cold, calculating operational mastermind of the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack who handled its logistical aspects, including forking out the money, choosing targets, and liaised with other shadowy ISI operatives and terrorist outfits.

From the time US Department of Justice attorneys named the mysterious "Major Iqbal" in their indictment following Headley's disclosure during investigations that he was his principle ISI handler, investigators have struggled to get a fix on him. Who did Major Iqbal report to? Where is he now? What is his full and real identity? And most importantly, will Pakistan identify and extradite him – or will it hide him as it has done with many wanted terrorists?

In his testimony on Tuesday, Headley revealed that "Major Iqbal" was also known by the name "Chaudhery Khan." Exhibits presented by the prosecution showed Headley corresponded with him using a Yahoo ID. It was Khan aka "Major Iqbal" who recruited him, walked him through the Mumbai plot, and set him on his way with $ 25,000 to begin surveillance and identifying targets in Mumbai.

Headley says "Major Iqbal" disclosed to him that a previously scheduled attack on Mumbai in September 2008 had to be abandoned after terrorists deployed for the purpose lost their moorings -- and their boat. He also advised Headley to befriend influential people "who live in military facilities" in India, and while he was thrilled with the advances the Pakistani-American made in infiltratingShiv Sena, he was disappointed that Headley did not scout the Mumbai airport as a target.

Headley also revealed that his principle ISI handler directed that the Jewish community center Chabad House be added to the list of targets because he believed it was being used as a front for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency. Chillingly, his associate Sajid Mir, who is also believed to be ISI official, told Headley that they had no compunctions killing women at Chabad House because Israeli women served in their army on account of mandatory draft.

In the rogue's gallery of Pakistani masterminds of 26/11, "Major Iqbal" clearly emerges as the operational chief. While Headley says he is an ISI official, the US chargesheet, while naming him as a defendant, does not mention his ISI affiliation, though this has been identified in both US and Indian case files.

US officials have declined to reveal if, when, and how they will get Major Iqbal (and other defendants named in the case, including Ilyas Kashmiri and Sajid Mir). While Kashmiri is widely reported to be on the lam (a reported drone strike killing him last year turned out to be false), Pakistan is not even acknowledging the existence of Major Iqbal aka Chaudhery Khan, on its rolls.

Nor is Washington pressing -- at least publicly -- for his extradition, possibly because of political and diplomatic sensitivities. This is also likely why his ISI affiliation was not put on record in the indictment despite Headley's disclosure.

Pakistani officials earlier this week created some wiggle room for Islamabad by suggesting that Iqbal may have been a rogue officer who was acting on his own and is no longer with the agency – the same kind of alibi the country's establishment created to explain A Q Khan's nuclear proliferation and other infractions. "ISI and serving officers did not provide support to David Headley, and ISI had nothing to do with the Mumbai attack," an unnamed Pakistani official told the Wall Street Journal.

Separately, another official suggested to a news agency that would be many "Iqbals" in the Pakistan military and it unlikely that even if Headley's accounts were true, the person would have given his real name. Neither official remotely indicated that Pakistan was interested in pursuing the case at its end.

But internal memos within the beltway, as disclosed in recent WikiLeaks cables, leave no doubt that Washington considers ISI a terrorist entity. Only, political compulsions prevent it from acting on it, a handicap that may also help Pakistan save "Major Iqbal." It's a complex script that may be beyond Bollywood. Scriptwriters may just have to leave it to Mossad to deliver justice.

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