KARACHI, Dec 11: The targeting of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamaatud Dawa and the rounding up of the activists belonging to the two jihadi organisations appear to have been triggered by information originating in India following the capture of one of the 10 men who attacked several targets in Mumbai towards the end of last month.
During the course of Dawn’s own investigations last week our reporters were able to locate a family who claimed to be the kin of the arrested young man in Mumbai.
The sole survivor among the 10 attackers was named as Ajmal Kasab and was supposed to belong to the village Faridkot in the Punjab. Media organisations such as the BBC and now the British newspaper Observer have done reports trying to ascertain the veracity of claims appearing in the media that the young man had a home there.
On Friday last, the BBC reported unusual activity in Faridkot near Deepalpur. A BBC correspondent located a house in the village, the then inhabitants of which carried the surname of Kasab (or Qasab as the word is often spelt here). But the residents denied any link with either Ajmal or with any Amir Kasab, the name of Ajmal’s father as reported by some of the media.
At the weekend, the Observer in England claimed that it had managed to locate the house everyone was looking for so desperately. Its correspondent said he had got hold of the voters’ roll which had the names of Amir Kasab and his wife, identified as Noor, as well as the numbers on the identity cards the couple carried.
Even though the news stories by both BBC and the Observer made a mention of the LeT, some television channels in Pakistan suggested that a connection between Mumbai and Faridkot could not be established beyond a shadow of doubt.
However, the man who said he was Amir Kasab confirmed to Dawn that the young man whose face had been beamed over the media was his son.
For the next few minutes, the fifty-something man of medium build agonized over the reality that took time sinking in, amid sobs complaining about the raw deal the fate had given him and his family.
“I was in denial for the first couple of days, saying to myself it could not have been my son,” he told Dawn in the courtyard of his house in Faridkot, a village of about 2,500 people just a few kilometres from Deepalpur on the way to Kasur. “Now I have accepted it.
“This is the truth. I have seen the picture in the newspaper. This is my son Ajmal.”
Variously addressed as Azam, Iman, Kamal and Kasav, the young man, apparently in his 20s, is being kept in custody at an undisclosed place in Mumbai.
Indian media reports ‘based on intelligence sources’ said the man was said to be a former Faridkot resident who left home a frustrated teenager about four years ago and went to Lahore.
After his brush with crime and criminals in Lahore, he is said to have run into and joined a religious group during a visit to Rawalpindi.
Along with others, claimed the Indian media, he was trained in fighting. And after a crash course in navigation, said Amir Kasab, a father of three sons and two daughters, Ajmal disappeared from home four years ago.
“He had asked me for new clothes on Eid that I couldn’t provide him. He got angry and left.”
While Amir was talking, Ajmal’s two “sisters and a younger brother” were lurking about. To Amir’s right, on a nearby charpoy, sat their mother, wrapped in a chador and in a world of her own. Her trance was broken as the small picture of Ajmal lying in a Mumbai hospital was shown around. They appeared to have identified their son. The mother shrunk back in her chador but the father said he had no problem in talking about the subject.
Amir Kasab said he had settled in Faridkot after arriving from the nearby Haveli Lakha many years ago. He owned the house and made his earnings by selling pakoras in the streets of the village.
He modestly pointed to a hand-cart in one corner of the courtyard. “This is all I have. I shifted back to the village after doing the same job in Lahore.
“My eldest son, Afzal, is also back after a stint in Lahore. He is out working in the fields.”
Faridkot is far from the urbanites’ idea of a remote village. It is located right off a busy road and bears all the characteristics of a lower-middle class locality in a big city.
It has two middle-level schools, one for girls and the other for boys which Ajmal attended as a young boy. For higher standards, the students have to enroll in schools in Deepalpur which is not as far off as the word remote tends to indicate.
It by no means qualifies as Punjab’s backwaters, which makes the young Ajmal’s graduation to an international “fearmonger” even more difficult to understand. The area can do with cleaner streets and a better sewage system but the brick houses towards the side of the Kasur-Deepalpur road have a more organised look to them than is the case with most Pakistani villages.
The Observer newspaper reports that some locals seeking anonymity say the area is a hunting ground for the recruiters of LeT and provides the organisation with rich pickings.
The approach to Faridkot also points to at least some opportunities for those looking for a job. There are some factories in the surroundings, rice mills et al, interspersed with fertile land. But for the gravity of the situation, with its mellowed and welcoming ambience, the picture could be serene.
It is not and Amir Kasab repeats how little role he has had in the scheme since the day his son walked out on him. He calls the people who snatched Ajmal from him his enemies but has no clue who these enemies are. Asked why he didn’t look for his son all this while, he counters: “What could I do with the few resources that I had?”
Otherwise quite forthcoming in his answers, Amir Kasab, a mild-mannered soul, is a bit agitated at the mention of the link between his son’s actions and money. Indian media has claimed that Ajmal’s handlers had promised him that his family will be compensated with Rs150,000 (one and a half lakh) after the completion of the Mumbai mission.
“I don’t sell my sons,” he retorts.
Journalists visiting Faridkot since Dawn reporters were at the village say the family has moved from their home and some relatives now live in the house. Perhaps fearing a media invasion, nobody is willing to say where the family has gone.