Balakot Camp Alive & Kicking Despite Trump’s Resolve or FATF Fear

Heri dicebamus: “The Balakot camp is again fully operational at both levels: the religious and the military one. In the past months 100-150 boys between 9 and 18 years have started their training and their indoctrination in religion and theology. At least 35 cadres of JeM have started their military training there, under the supervision of senior JeM functionaries like the Operational Commander Abdul Rauf Ashgar. Launching Commander Qari Zarrar and Ibrahim Azhar have also visited the Balakot camp to supervise the training”.

This rhetorical device “heri dicebamus” was used in the twentieth century by Gustave Cohen at Sorbonne, at the resumption of teaching after the parenthesis of the German invasion of France during World War II. Upon returning to his class, he resumed the courses forcibly interrupted. As if nothing had happened after long years of painful forced absence, Cohen then began his lesson by uttering a phrase that remained memorable: "Heri dicebamus”, Latin for “As I was saying”.

Also Read: One Year On, A Look at How Balakot Camp Airstrikes Played Out

Balakot Camp Fully Operational: Religious and Military Training in Full Swing

As I was previously saying, a year later the Balakot camp is again fully operational. The training activities that were halted after the Indian Air Force airstrike on February 26, 2019, had resumed in mid-April 2019. Initially, only religious courses started inside the Markaz.

The ‘Askari’ or military training resumed a little later in August 2019. Though Pakistan denied the existence of a training camp at Balakot and that the strikes destroyed the camp leading to casualties, on numerous occasions during the last year there have been indirect acceptance of the strikes, first of all by Prime Minsiter Imran Khan. According to locals: “In the last week of October, Pakistani authorities—fearing an impending attack on the facility by India—directed JeM functionaries to vacate the camp of trained cadres. However, the theological course continued at the camp in presence of senior functionaries. Military training resumed again in the second week of January 2020, and JeM cadres were again undergoing training there”.

The same locals maintain that the Balakot Camp continues to be under supervision of Maulana Yousuf Azhar, brother-in-law of the JeM chief Masood Azhar.

The elder brother of Masood Azhar, Ibrahim Azhar, is believed to be in charge of JeM's operations in Kashmir. He has visited Pakistan controlled Kashmir a number of times in the past few months.

Also Read: Ghus Kar Marenge: Ex-Air Force Chief Dhanoa Recalls Balakot Strike

Continued Support of the Pakistan Establishment to Jaish and Masood Azhar

According to sources, JeM has been directed by its Pakistani Army and intelligence handlers to plan targeted attacks in Kashmir. For this purpose, the group has also started recruiting fidayeen cadres and Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar, brother of Masood Azhar, has been placed in charge of the recruitments.

The rest of the Azhar family, which is practically a mafia/terror enterprise, is still very active despite all the talks by Pakistani Government about acting against terrorist organizations.

Nothing has changed, it seems, least of all the support of the State to jihadi groups.

Asghar, despite being officially placed under protective custody, has been seen holding multiple meetings with ISI operatives. Maulana Ammar and Talha Saif—both younger brothers of Masood Azhar—were noticed by locals attending the release of a book by Masood Azhar titled ‘Saifullah-i-Nishbat’ on January 16, in Peshawar.

Masood Azhar—while Islamabad has been claiming that the leader of Jaish-e-Muhammad has disappeared with his family—has been seen by multiple witnesses roaming freely all over Pakistan. ‘Heri dicebamus’, that the most famous beard of the country has been moving around during all these months. Eye witnesses have confirmed seeing Azhar at the Markaz Usman-O-Ali and Markaz Subhan Allah in his hometown in Bahawalpur between 10-25 November.

He has also addressed JeM cadres during this period. The same eyewitnesses added that Masood Azhar went to Bahawalpur in January, 2020 to see his ailing mother and that he travelled to Rawalpindi in early February, immediately before Pakistan declared him 'missing'.

Also Read: Dear Pakistan, Stop Misleading FATF — Masood Azhar isn’t ‘Missing’

Funds Being Collected Across Pakistan for Jihad

Truth is that, despite all the smoke Islamabad is trying to throw in the eyes of the international community in general and of the FATF in particular, JeM has continued carrying out all its activities. Religious courses resumed at Markaz Usman-o-Ali and Bahawalpur and other JeM centres. Training is on in Karachi and also in Peshawar, at Markaz Sanan bin Salma, with the help of Taliban Commanders and trainees.

Locals believe that most of the trainees will be infiltrated into Kashmir. JeM has also resumed collecting funds all over the country for jihad.

The fund collection for the so called ‘Nusrat Fund’ continues.

People believe that JeM has collected at least 6 Crore Pakistani Rupees from Peshawar and bordering areas of Afghanistan. According to western police investigations, a portion of the fund has also been received through overseas Pakistanis. JeM charity wing Al Rehmat Trust has been circulating pamphlets seeking donations for the group, in a more clandestine fashion to avoid being noticed by the FATF. People are being encouraged to donate money to fund the purchase of uniforms and other daily requirement of JeM Mujahideen.

Despite the so called arrest of Mohammed Hafiz Saeed, the LeT/JuD, too, continues to operate freely. The group has been collecting funds in the name of Khidmat Committees for carrying out jihad in Kashmir. Top leaders of the group also continue to deliver sermons and address large crowds.

In order to avoid the FATF attention, Hafiz Saeed, Abdur Rehman Makki, Yahya Mujahid and some other senior leaders who were in 'protective custody' were told to maintain a low profile and limit their activities. However, as usual, they had full access to all their resources.

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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