On last Saturday, a team of Pakistan police accompanied by sleuths from intelligence agencies cautiously made their way to a residential building called ‘Gilani Manzil’ situated on the outskirts of Islamabad. Their mission: to apprehend three men who were allegedly planning “terrorist activity in collaboration with Al Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan”. Unfortunately, just as the raiding party was in the process of sealing all escape routes, a person named Irtiyaz-un-Nabi Gilani, who was present in the house fired at them and managed to escape. The Police however succeeded in apprehending one Syed Shoiab Andrabi and recovered a usual huge cache of arms and ‘spying’ equipment from the premises.
Under normal conditions, an incident like this would have gone largely unnoticed in Pakistan, where raids by security forces and Police on suspected terrorist hideouts, apprehension of suspects and discovery of weapons have become a routine affair. Yet the ‘Gilani Manzil’ raid did become news- not because there was something special about it, but simply because the people the Pakistani Police was after, were special- they were relatives of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat chief Ms Asiya Andrabi. While this development linking the nephews of Ms Andrabi with the Al Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan caught everyone, including Ms Andrabi, by surprise, there are some other murky issues related to this incident that have largely gone unnoticed.
The first issue is regarding Irtiyaz-un-Nabi Gilani the suspect who made good his escape after firing at the raiding party. It is easy to escape when one is residing in a congested locality, as the fugitive has to just slip into one of the many bye- lanes in the maze of alleys. However, as per newspaper reports, the building in Sector 15 where the suspects were staying was isolated from other houses in the neighbourhood. Since the raiding party was not going to catch some petty criminals, but on a dangerous mission to raid the hideout of suspected Al Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan operatives, it must have taken all precautions and certainly would have been fully prepared for a gunbattle. Therefore, it is intriguing that even after alerting the raiding Police party by firing at them without so much as causing any damage, Irtiyaz could successfully escape the dragnet. But then, let us give the Police the benefit of doubt.
The next issue is that as per Police reports they had not been able to trace Irtiyaz and his brother Mujahid Gilani, who are both nephews of Ms Andrabi, as well as their wives. However, Ms Andrabi has a completely different story to tell. According to the Dukhtaran-e-Millat chief, “Irtiyaz was whisked away by police as he was about to reach home — Khayaban-e-Kashmir — while Mujahid was taken into custody from the hospital. Their whereabouts are still unknown and we are worried about their fate.” Certainly, a person like Ms Andrabi would not have made this claim if she were not absolutely sure of it. So, why is the Pakistan Police denying any knowledge of their whereabouts? Given the fact that the Police and intelligence agencies often use the age-old ploy of denying any knowledge of suspects even when they are in custody as it facilitates their subsequent ‘enforced disappearance’, Ms Andrabi’s worries are well founded.
The most intriguing part of this incident is as to how the relationship of the suspects with Ms Andrabi first became known to the world. As per a newspaper report quoting ‘diplomatic sources’, claimed that the blood relationship of Irtiyaz Gilani with Ms Andarabi came to light when Indian intelligence agencies intercepted the telephone call of a senior Hurriyat leader. Now, if this be true, then why did the Indian intelligence agencies take the risk of publicising their secret eavesdropping programme? Was it to embarrass Ms Andrabi? Unlikely, because by working against the Pakistani establishment, the nephews of Ms Andrabi, in keeping with the dictum that ‘an enemy’s enemy is a friend’ automatically become heroes in the eyes of those very ultra- nationalists in India who harbour a deep animosity towards the likes of Ms Adarabi. So, was it ploy to suggest that the Hurriyat was in touch with forces inimical to Pakistan? Likely, but not very convincing as the pro- Pakistan leanings of this conglomerate has been steady-fast and having stood the test of time, remains unquestionable.
Whatever it be, there is more to this episode than what meets the eye. Surely, the Pakistani intelligence agencies would have made extensive enquiries regarding the background of the suspects prior to launching the raid, especially since they were allegedly working for the most dangerous terrorist groups in Pakistan. And when the suspects themselves made no efforts to conceal their identities and scribes were easily able to collect information about them originally belonging to Srinagar, their subsequent migration to Mirpur in Pakistan administered Kashmir, stay at Muzaffarabad and brief sojourn at Abbottabad before shifting to Islamabad, how come the Pakistani intelligence agencies were unaware of their background? Or was this omission intentional? And what about Zulqarnain Gilani, the brother of Irtiyaz and Mujahid, who as per neighbours, occasionally visited ‘Gilani Manzil’, attired in ‘what appeared to be a military uniform’? The whole incident does have all the ingredients of a spy thriller, doesn’t it?
Tailpiece: It could well be possible that the suspects may have been working for the Indian intelligence agencies and that in order to avoid embarrassment by their confessions, the ‘relationship angle’ was intentionally publicised as it would put Pakistan in a catch-22 situation. However, whatever be outcome of this case, one thing is almost certain- the nephews of Ms Andrabi will atleast not ‘disappear’ and so, whether she likes it or not, she owes this to the Indian intelligence agencies!