London: In an exclusive interview to NDTV, General Parvez Musharraf has said that he cannot confirm whether underworld don Dawood Ibrahim is hiding in Pakistan. The former Pakistani president has also said that Mr Ibrahim, who tops India's most-wanted list, is held in 'high esteem' by many in his country, which makes the possibility of his extradition to India complicated.
"They think that he did a very good job...Because Indians killed 3,000 Gujaratis. In Gujarat they killed 3,000 Muslims. Therefore Dawood Ibrahim reacted. So he is held in high esteem. This is what happens in Pakistan," said the General, who was president of Pakistan for nine years.
This is the first time that a Pakistani leader has acknowledged the possibility that Mr Ibrahim has been given refuge in the country . In May this year, BJP leader LK Advani blogged that General Musharraf had earlier denied that Mr Ibrahim is in Pakistan. Mr Advani said that when they met in 2001 in Agra, he told the President, "...you would be making a great contribution to the peace process if you handed over to India Dawood Ibrahim." Mr Advani says that the General responded, "Mr. Advani, let me tell you emphatically that Dawood Ibrahim is not in Pakistan."
India believes Mr Ibrahim funded and masterminded the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, in which at least 250 people were killed and 700 injured. The blasts in Mumbai took place after communal riots caused by the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992.
Pakistani officials have always denied that Mr Ibrahim lives in Karachi, though he is widely known to own a huge house in a posh part of the city.
Sources in the Home Ministry say they continue to believe that Mr Ibrahim is based in Pakistan and uses multiple passports for international travel. He will continue to remain on India's most wanted list till he is arrested, they maintain. "I think he (Musharraf) in one sense has betrayed himself by saying that Dawood was responsible for the attacks in India. That itself shows (that) the Pakistani establishment knew very well what they were doing," said former Home Secretary GK Pillai.
On March 12, 1993, serial blasts in Mumbai in a span of a few hours in the afternoon shook the city. The 13 locations targeted included the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Air India Building and crowded markets like Zaveri Bazaar.
In 2003, Mr Ibrahim , who is also on the Interpol's list for organized crime, was designated by the US as a global terrorist.
In the past, Indian security agencies have maintained that Mr Ibrahim has bases in Pakistani cities including Karachi. His name has been on the top of the list of fugitives India has periodically handed over to Pakistan .
Barkha Dutt: ...Dawood Ibrahim. LK Advani wrote in a blog that when he met you in Agra he brought up this issue and you got very angry and you said that "These are small things and they are not true." But do you understand General Musharraf the symbolism of what Dawood Ibrahim means to India? And it's widely been believed for so many years that Dawood Ibrahim has a house in Karachi. That the address is known to everybody. There's a Javed Miandad who has married into that family.
Musharraf: Ok, now you are talking about what the Indian perceptions are. But do you know what Pakistanis think of Dawood Ibrahim?
Barkha Dutt: What do they think?
Musharraf: They think that he did a very good job... Because Indians killed 3,000 Gujaratis. In Gujarat they killed 3,000 Muslims. Therefore Dawood Ibrahim reacted. So he is held in high esteem. This is what happens in Pakistan.
Barkha Dutt: But sir, should reaction be through violence and bomb blasts and terrorism?
Musharraf: Yes, it must not be. It must not be, no. I won't agree. I agree with you. It should not be. But things are not as simple. That is what I am trying to say. I think things are very complicated. They are not simple.
Barkha Dutt: But do you accept that Dawood Ibrahim is hidden in Pakistan?
Musharraf: I don't know. I don't know. I wouldn't be able to confirm that. I don't know it.
(General Pervez Musharraf has also spoken on Benazir Bhutto's assassination and the arrest that he could face on his return to Pakistan.Read the full transcript of the interview here)