A slugfest that India won

Vappala Balachandran

Former special secretary, cabinet secretariat                                  

The media has highlighted ‘India’s diplomatic success’ on the likely extradition of Chhota Shakeel’s aide Munna Zingada (Mudassar Hussain Sayyed) from Thailand. ‘Likely’ since Zingada has a month to appeal. Knowing how Pakistan had fought this extradition since long, it could be presumed that it would contest in appellate courts to prevent the extradition. 

Some visual channels attributed this ‘success’ to the NDA leadership. It was claimed that the case got a ‘push’ only after PM Modi’s visit to Bangkok in 2016. This claim ignores that the ‘push’ was possible only after the work of earlier governments. We formalised an extradition treaty with Thailand only in 2013. If at all any credit is to be given, it should be to our diplomats and security officials who had done ‘hard and tortuous negotiations’ for two decades with Thailand; and also to the UPA for signing the treaty during PM Manmohan Singh’s visit. The UPA had also concluded an MoU on exchange of intelligence on terrorism and terror financing and had ratified the treaty on the transfer of sentenced persons. 

There were several reasons why the UPA had treated this as a priority policy. Thailand and other South Asian countries have long been refuge areas for our fugitives. In the absence of extradition treaties, any chance of getting them back was difficult. In 2007, our foreign intelligence located Rajiv Gandhi’s killer ‘KP’ (Kumaran Pathmanathan) in Thailand, living on an Eritrean passport. He had married a Thai woman and was operating a shell export company. Our efforts to nab him failed as we did not have a treaty. Nor did he have an Indian passport. Also, it was suspected that the Rajapaksa government had foiled our attempts by announcing in Colombo that they would soon be getting him from Bangkok. KP disappeared soon thereafter. 

However, KP became audacious enough to give an interview to British Channel 4 in 2009. The anchor began by saying that KP, who had never been interviewed earlier, had 23 passports. Soon thereafter we heard that the Sri Lankan intelligence had abducted him on or around August 6, 2009. He resurfaced in Sri Lanka, indicating his rehabilitation by the Rajapaksa regime. 

The Mumbai Crime Branch had systematically planned Zingada’s extradition since 2012, but faced difficulties. His father Muddassar Hussain had links with the 1993 Mumbai blasts orchestrated by the ISI through Dawood. He was opposed to Zingada’s movement to India. The Crime Branch was originally tracking him in Pakistan (since 1997) for the murder of gangster Arun Gawli’s aide. But he was arrested in Bangkok in 2001 for the attack on Chhota Rajan. He had a Pakistani passport with a bogus name. 

Reports indicated that the ISI, through its embassy, was trying to get a reduction of Zingada’s sentence in the Chhota Rajan case. There were unconfirmed reports that the embassy could succeed through the Thai foreign ministry and ‘informal channels’ in obtaining two royal pardons for him. His jail sentence was reduced to 34 years. The second pardon in 2016 reduced it to 18 years. Pakistan tried to get him over through the prisoners’ exchange treaty. However, India contested it and filed the extradition proposal to Mumbai. The Crime Branch collected Zingada’s fingerprints and DNA samples, and other relevant certificates to prove his Indian origin. They paraded his family, including his father, before the court. 

The Bangkok court was hearing the rival claims since the past two years. During the hearing, Zingada was seen talking to Kamran Dhangal, second secretary in the Pakistani embassy in Bangkok, allegedly an ISI agent. The case was decided in favour of India on August 8. Although the text of the judgment was not released, it was learnt that the court had passed strictures against Pakistan for submitting doubtful documents. Zingada, or Pakistan, has 30 days to appeal. If they do not do it, India will have to take charge of him within 90 days. India feels that Zingada might be able to throw light on Dawood’s activities. This may be an optimistic assessment, considering his hostile demeanour. Several other pro-Dawood gang members who returned to India, have not thrown much light on his activities. 

At the same time, there is no indication that the present government has taken any steps to get KP extradited. The Rajapaksa government had rehabilitated him to assume leadership of the LTTE rump. In 2015, there were reports that he had escaped to China or Pakistan, fearing arrest by the Sirisena government. Why doesn’t the Modi government employ its ‘muscular’ diplomacy to get KP now when a friendly Sirisena government is in power there? 

KP seems to have made a comeback in Sri Lanka. A prominent Indian Internet daily published his interview on August 9, 2018. This was recorded by ‘Mediagrove’ and wrongly claimed to be KP’s first interview ‘to anyone outside Sri Lanka’.