Gillani was arrested last week by intelligence agencies on suspicion of being behind the kidnapping of American journalist Daniel Pearl
The week-long, grueling interrogation of Pir Mubarik Ali Shah Gillani, who was arrested in connection with the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, has failed to give intelligence agencies any breakthrough, say sources.
Insiders say interrogators are ready to believe now that Gillani knows nothing about the reporter and his captors.
“He has been interrogated jointly by Pakistani and American investigators but nothing has come out of it,” an insider told TFT. Officials familiar with the interrogation say Pearl’s telephone call to Gillani that lasted more than 10 minutes and Gillani’s link with the arrested chief of Jaish-e-Muhammad, Masoud Azhar, are the only two things that go against him and make him a suspect in the case.
“Pearl was doing a story on the linkage between the Taliban and the various jihadi groups and the religious parties in Pakistan. This is why he wanted to connect with some religious leaders who are now under observation,” says a source.
However, sources have refused to identify these leaders, saying this would damage the investigations. “Pearl had made a phone call to another head of a religious party and we are keeping a tight vigil on him also,” TFT was told.
Although, it is unclear so far whether Gillani had any role in Pearl’s abduction, he has certainly become notorious overnight throughout the world. TFT contacted various people, including some of his close relatives, to get some information on Gillani’s background, his alleged links with jihadi groups and the organisation, Tanzeem-ul Fuqra run by him. The group has been declared a terrorist organisation by the US State Department.
Back in the 1970s, Gillani used to be vice president in the Punjab chapter of former Air Marshall Asghar Khan’s Tehrik-e-Istaqlal. At the time he was a clean-shaven man in his 30s. Being the eldest son of Pir Maqsood Shah Gillani, an influential sajjadanashin (spiritual patron) of the Shrine of Hazrat Mian Mir in Lahore, Mubarik was reckoned as the most important political opponents of then Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. This is why the Bhutto regime got three cases registered against him for leading anti-government processions under the Defense of Pakistan Rule (a law much like the draconian Indian TADA), which is a non-bail-able offense.
After his release, Gillani left for Saudi Arabia to escape the wrath of Mr Bhutto’s government. Later, he migrated to the United States of America where he proselytized and converted a large number of Americans, especially African-Americans, to Islam. During his 7-year stay in the US, he set up a madrassah there. It was also in the US that he set up his Tanzeem-ul Fuqara (Saints Group). During this period he contracted three marriages — one with a Pakistani woman and two with African-Americans but remained issueless.
Family sources told TFT that Gillani’s Tanzeem has a large network in the US and his followers still send him hundreds of thousands of dollars as endowments. He owns a large ancestral property, besides a cinema hall in District Kasur near Lahore.
But the family is not very sure about his links with any jihadi groups, especially Jaish-e-Muhammad. One of his cousins told TFT that Gillani never held any office in any jihadi or religious group or party. “His Tanzeem is a group that preaches Sufism,” he told TFT. However, he did admit seeing Masaud Azhar of Jaish-e-Muhammad at Mubarik Gillani’s house on a couple of occasions.
Interestingly, some other relatives told TFT that Mubarik was an aggressive person always. Playing with toy weapons was his favorite hobby as a child. This is why his father Maqsood Ali Shah preferred to keep him away from their ancestral area of Mian Mir Village on Lahore’s Upper Mall. “He was fearful of his aggression and thought he would get into brawls and create trouble for him,” a relative told TFT.
Later, Gillani’s love of weapons took him to the arms business. He set up an arms shop in Lahore and many followers dutifully camped there.
When TFT visited Mian Mir Village to see some more of his close relatives, none could be found in the locality. “They all went underground after the law enforcement agencies started raiding their houses,” a resident of the area told TFT.
Most of them avoided answering questions about Gillani’s past. Gillani’s father, Syed Maqsood Ali Shah Gillani, died only last month while in his eighties. He is buried at the graveyard situated in the premises of the Shrine of Hazrat Mian Mir. When TFT visited his grave, the caretaker of the graveyard said that no one from the family had come to visit the grave since Gillani’s arrest a week ago. “I fear they will not even observe his Chehlum, which is to be held on February 10,” the caretaker told TFT.
Another cousin of Mubarik told TFT that Mubarik is not at all a religious hard-liner. “He has been doing certain things but he has been in this only for money,” he said. However, he refused to give details of what Gillani has been doing. He would also not answer the question of why Gillani, a Brelvi, would be linked with Deobandi and Wahhabi jihadi groups.
Other sources, too, confirm he was raking in money. “He was prepared to play ball with some intelligence agencies and also had links with the Taliban not because he believed in the creed but because it served his purpose of making money,” a source told TFT. US officials believe the Briton, Richard Reid, commonly known as the shoe-bomber, had links with Gillani.
Published in Pakistani Newspaper FridayTimes.