KARACHI: ‘Stay at Dubai Hotel. Buy Pakistani clothes. Head to Quetta.’
Nearly 10 years ago, these were the instructions ‘contacts’ provided to scores of foreigners flying in to Karachi. These ‘contacts’ then arranged placements for them to travel to Afghanistan to get there via Karachi and Quetta.
While Karachi’s Hotel Al Dubai may not be al Qaeda’s favourite any more, it has achieved newfound notoriety by being featured in scores of documents of Guantanamo Bay detainees released by WikiLeaks. US officials have highlighted it as a key stop for transiting jihadis.
Even though the government cracked down on safe houses used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives, Hotel Al Dubai is still open for business. It is located on Sohrab Katrak Road near the Passport Office in Saddar. The four-storey building has 72 rooms, and is near the markets selling electronic items and crockery.
Even though there are tens of hotels in Saddar, the Hotel Al Dubai is considered to be among the top ones in the area, since it features marble floors and well-dressed staff members who are on 24-hour duty. Its popularity can be gauged from the fact that it has a waiting list. The rooms are priced between Rs1,000 and Rs5,000 and they are one-, two- and three-bedroom options. The airconditioned rooms are slightly pricier. Offices are located on the first floor of the building while the rooms for the guests are located on the three remaining floors. In order to get a room you need to present an identity card.
The receptionist, Farooq, was busy dealing with clients on a weekend afternoon. He told The Express Tribune that the hotel’s Peshawar-based owner, Anwar Durrani, rarely visits. Hotel Al Dubai’s operations are dealt with by its manager Khan Mohammad Khan, who also meets with other hotel managers and law-enforcement agencies to discuss the city’s situation. The bulk of the hotel’s clients are from Quetta.
But when the Karachi operations of al Qaeda took a hit in 2003, the hotel’s fortunes also declined. Most of its occupants are now travellers from Quetta. Farooq admitted that it was a hub for foreigners in the years after 9/11. “Around 12 years ago, a lot of foreigners including Arabs, Afghans, Yemenis, Egyptians and Bengalis would stay here. Now, the number of foreign clients is far lower.” Ironically, while the hotel was a hub for foreign fighters, Farooq blamed the decline in clientele on terrorism. “Foreigners only arrive every 10 or 20 days and this is affecting our business.”
Nearby shopkeepers also miss the foreign clientele. “Business was good when foreigners stayed at the hotel,” said Younus, whose electronic goods shop is located at the hotel’s ground floor.
While anti-terrorism investigator SSP Fayyaz Khan said that they had no information on al Qaeda operatives who had stayed at the hotel, raids have been conducted at similar hotels in Saddar and Cantt over the presence of suspected terrorists.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2011.
More in PakistanArchaeology and museums department: Sindh doesn’t have money to pay workers of devolved sites