Dawood Ibrahim is perhaps the most notorious “underworld don” in South Asia, involved in everything from supporting terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and now Boko Haram to organized crime and even fixing cricket matches. Dawood’s connection to al-Qaeda, allowing the use of his smuggling routes out of Afghanistan into Pakistan, made him a U.S. Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Terrorist in 2003. He is also wanted by INTERPOL. Most recent reporting has Dawood and his criminal syndicate D-Company headquartered in Pakistan under the protection of the Pakistani ISI.
The U.S. has not involved itself in any military action to take down Dawood or D-Company, but has restricted itself to placing Dawood and his leadership on Treasury Department sanctions lists. The threat D-Company poses to U.S. national security is not often discussed domestically; rather, the focus is on the terrorist groups financed by D-Company. But with the recent announcement by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri that the terrorist outfit is creating an India branch, and with the proliferation of jihad throughout South Asia, will the U.S. now finally act to take down Dawood Ibrahim?
Unlikely. U.S. President Barack Obama has had no problem sending in special operations forces or conducting UAV strikes to take out major terrorist leadership, especially in a country like Pakistan that hosts more terrorists than any other country in the world. The list of figures killed in U.S. strikes includes Osama bin Laden, Abu Yahya al-Libi, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Hakimullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Tehrik–e-Taliban Pakistan. Even though Dawood Ibrahim in on a par with these figures in terms of lethality and influence, his support of terrorism has not directly reached the U.S. homeland. It will not be until there is a major attack in India with direct evidence of Dawood’s involvement that the U.S. will become more involved.
The U.S. economic and security relationship with India is of increasing importance, as evidenced during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the U.S. The joint U.S.-India statement mentioned the goal of, “dismantling of safe havens for terrorist and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for networks” for groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and D-Company. It was also reported that the FBI and India’s Intelligence Bureau will begin swapping intelligence on asset sharing by D-Company in the hope of dismantling the organization. Still, it is unlikely that the U.S. action will go beyond this cooperation, at least for the time being.
An Indian official reported that India plans to seek U.S. assistance in extraditing Dawood from Pakistan. Similar statements have been made in previous years, without U.S. response. In fact, it seems unlikely that Washington would push Pakistan on Dawood’s extradition, for fear of inflaming already tense relations with Islamabad and the U.S. desire to continue counterterrorism operations after it exits Afghanistan.
Clearly, India will need to continue to build and grow its own apparatus if it is to take down D-Company. Over the past 20 years, Dawood has wreaked havoc in India, through direct support for proxy militant groups that have killed hundreds of people and cost the state millions of dollars. And now with intelligence reports of an imminent attack on India’s airports and the potential for a combined AQIS-SIMI attack during the holiday season, it is time for India to consider action against D-Company. Pakistan, which still denies that the underworld leader is operating within its borders, will not provide India with any intelligence or assistance and the U.S. will continue to act in a limited secondary support role. Still, however difficult it may be to take down Dawood Ibrahim, it has never been more in the interests of India’s national security to do so.
Elizabeth Bennett is a graduate student at New York University studying international relations/security with a focus on U.S.-South Asia affairs.