NIA Chief Sharad Kumar’s remarks to The Indian Express that the role of Pakistan national Arif Qasmani in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast doesn’t carry “any strength” puts to rest, at least for now, speculation that the agency was exploring reopening the probe after it found the alleged involvement of alleged Hindu extremists.
Who is Arif Qasmani and how did he come on the radar of Indian agencies? Qasmani was an affluent Karachi businessman who has worked with people on either side of the war on terror. He was close to Lashkar but drifted away after he started supporting Taliban-Al Qaeda against the US-led coalition in Afghanistan. He is said to have worked closely with the US who roped him in to help reach out to Taliban before he went missing allegedly after being picked up by Pakistan agencies.
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There was only one man who, according to Indian agencies, told them at the time of his arrest in August 2005 that he knew and worked for Qasmani. Incidentally, that man, Abdul Razzak Masood, arrested for alleged terror, got bail and died as a roadside vendor in Hyderabad in October 2012 where he was living after being released on bail in 2009.
Razzak, a resident of Nizamabad was brought to India from Iran, where he had spent five months in jail after he was allegedly caught on his way to join the Iraq jihad in 2005. Although he was arrested at the airport, Delhi Police claimed that Razzak was arrested from Jamia Nagar in Delhi and claimed he was “the chief coordinator of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in Dubai”.
Security agencies claimed that during his interrogation, Razzak said that he was assigned to work for Qasmani in Karachi by Lashkar founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed who subsequently developed a serious rift with him leading to a split in 2004. Razzaq’s older brother Abdul Muqeet Masood told The Indian Express that Razzaq, a Commerce graduate, had moved to Dubai in 2000 where he worked in a company.
“He told us that in 2005, he went to Iran where he was told that he was on a blacklist,’’ he said. “He wrote letters to us from Iran and in fact, he told us that he even spoke to a big officer in Delhi before he came to India”.
Razzak was made an accused in the November 2002 blast at Sai Baba temple in Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad which killed two persons and was also named in the FIRs filed in connection with 2002 American Centre attack in Kolkata and the 2003 Ghatkopar bomb blast in Mumbai. The police had claimed that he directed the attacks while in Dubai.
“He told us he was interrogated by many foreigners while in the custody of Delhi Police,” said Muqeet. “Once the dust settled, he was handed over to Hyderabad Police and we came to know he has been charged of being involved in the bomb blast at Saibaba temple in Hyderabad, which had happened in 2002. He wasn’t in the country even at that time.”
Razzaq was released on bail in 2009. “Consistent torture had severely affected him and at one point he was admitted to Erragadda Mental Hospital,’’ he said. “Once released, he wanted to start afresh but police and agencies didn’t let him. He was consistently harassed. They were pressuring him to work for them. He took a job as an accountant but was thrown out as soon as police told his employers that he is a terrorist”.
Razzaq, Muqeet said, had finally became a roadside vendor. “He wasn’t allowed to leave Hyderabad. He couldn’t live at home in Nizamabad because of that,’’ he said. “On October 10, 2012, we got a phone call that he has committed suicide. When we reached, police had already taken his body. He was religious and he would have never committed suicide”.
According to Razzaq’s alleged interrogation report, he first saw Qasmani in Muzzafarabad while he was with Lashkar’s Hafiz Saeed. Razzaq, security agencies claimed, told them that Qasmani owned several showrooms of cars and other vehicles and was very close to Saeed and Lashkar’s major financier. Razzaq allegedly told his interrogators that Saeed asked him to join Qasmani and shift to Karachi.
Razzaq, as per security agencies, also talked about subsequent differences that emerged between Qasmani and Saeed around 2003 on the issue of Lashkar’s support and participation in the jihad against the Western forces in Afghanistan. Lashkar, Razzaq allegedly told his interrogators, didn’t agree to join the al-Qaeda-led war in Afghanistan and Qasmani split from Lashkar to launch Khair-un-Nas which focused on aid and shelter for the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces and the target for this new group was primarily the Western forces in Afghanistan, not India.
Razzaq allegedly told his interrogators that he didn’t think India should be targeted and instead decided to go to join Iraq Jihad. When he was arrested in Iran, he allegedly told his interrogators, he wanted to cross over to Iraq. Meanwhile, the Americans opened their own channel with Qasmani to use his influence within Taliban. On December 1, 2005, two Pakistani journalists Shahzad Saleem and Amir Mir reported that Qasmani was part of high level meeting with top American officials on November 14 (2005) to broker a deal between Taliban and US led coalition forces in Afghanistan and was subsequently “kidnapped” by Pakistani agencies “because the agencies didn’t approve of the shift in his loyalties”.
Qasmani went missing on November 29. The Pak establishment has denied his arrest. On December 29, 2005, Qasmani’s wife Javeria Arif approached Sindh High Court saying that her husband was “picked up by law enforcement personnel from his residence on November 29 for his suspected links with al-Qaeda and Taliban”.
In fact, Pakistani journalist Amir Mir wrote that Qasmani was “one of the four Pakistanis” held a “clandestine meeting with the visiting American Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs Karen Hughes and other senior US State Department officials at Serena Hotel in Islamabad on November 14, 2005, to broker a deal between the Taliban and the United States”.Qasmani returned to the spotlight again in 2009 when US Department of Treasury named him along with three others to be directly linked to al-Qaeda and the LeT. Terming Qasmani as the chief coordinator for Lashkar’s dealings with outside organisations, the Americans said that he “facilitated Lashkar attacks like the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai and the February 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing”.
They also said Qasmani took money from Dawood Ibrahim “to facilitate the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai”. At the time of these attacks, a source aware of the NIA’s Samjhauta Express blast investigation said, there wasn’t any information about Qasmani whereabouts especially after he was picked up by Pakistani agencies. He said that “our own agencies had shared this information after the initial suspicion for Samjhauta was against Lashkar”. In fact, on July 4, 2009, former top RAW officer B Raman (who died in 2013) wrote that the “notification does not specify whether the evidence against the four designated individuals (including Qasmani) cited in it was collected by the US intelligence or whether some of it came from India too. Some inputs from India are likely”.