Jaish-e-Mohammed Active Again: Pakistan’s ‘Plausible Deniability’?

“The Islamic Emirate urges both India and Pakistan to refrain from taking steps that could pave the way for violence and complications in the region....Linking the issue of Kashmir with that of Afghanistan by some parties will not aid in improving the crisis at hand, because the issue of Afghanistan is not related nor should Afghanistan be turned into the feather of connection between other countries”.

The Taliban, now acting like a de facto government under the name of ‘Islamic Emirate’ issued this message, signed by their official spokesperson Zaibullah Mujahid.

The message has caused mixed reactions, the most common being highlighting the irony of it: a terror group that has thrived on a policy of violence was calling out two sovereign states for maintaining restraint. And maintaining restraint on an issue that, despite the explicit de-linking, has been closely linked for years, both by Pakistan and by the Taliban: who actually set up their centres in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir last January.

Also Read: Top JeM Terrorist Munna Lahori Killed in Encounter in Shopian

JeM’s Close Ties With Afghan Taliban

The JeM in fact, has maintained close ties with the Afghan Taliban, and has been providing them with a continuous stream of Pakistani recruits from the provinces of South Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. The JeM’s training camps, including the one at Balakot, have supplied a sizeable number of battle-hardened fighters that have aided the ground successes of the Afghan Taliban.

Further, the JeM has also provided suicide bombers to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network for executing attacks in Afghanistan, like the bomb blasts mainly on civilian targets while the so-called ‘peace talks’ in Doha were held.

According to sources, in February 2019, a delegation of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network commanders held a meeting with JeM leader Masood Azhar at Markaz Subhan Allah in Bahawalpur, where the Taliban have been offering to shift Azhar to a safer location in Afghanistan.

Also Read: JeM Chief Masood Azhar’s Brother, Son, 44 Others Detained in Pak

JeM Chief Refuses To Leave Pakistan

However, Masood Azhar declined to leave Pakistan, while assuring the Taliban of his continued support from Pakistan. A significant number of hardcore JeM cadres were anyway shifted to Afghanistan after India’s strikes on their training camp in Balakot on 26 February 2019, and the Taliban and the Haqqani Network accommodated a number of these cadres.

The Jaish-e-Mohammed also has a base in Quetta, which is utilised for its Afghan operations, carried out largely in Ghazi via Chaman.

In Afghanistan, it has set up bases in Kandahar, and in the north of Helmand province. JeM’s cadres are currently active in Ghazni (Logar, Nawa), Geelan, Helmand (Sangin, Marja) and Nangarhar ( Kot, Momandara ) areas of Afghanistan.

Also Read: Why Was Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Compelled To Visit Pakistan?

Pakistan’s Sham Of An Action Against Home-Grown Terror

Following the threat of FATF blacklisting looming over Pakistan, the government claimed to have taken action against terror groups in the country, including the JeM. But they did it of course, Pakistani style or, to quote the Americans, in a totally “reversible” way. Therefore, while the group’s Al Rehmat Trust (ART) was formally banned on 10 May, the JeM leadership is already in the process of setting up a new 'charity' front for the organisation.

Similarly, the group’s fortnightly magazine, ‘Al Qalam’, is expected to be soon published under the new name of ‘Madeena Madeena’.

The magazine will continue to have the ‘Rang-o-Noor’ section carrying articles by Masood Azhar. In the past week or so, apparently the ISI gave a go ahead to its army of jihadis. And the Jaish-e-Mohammed cadres resumed their work in full mode.

Also Read: ‘With BJP’s J&K Approach, Another Pulwama Bound to Happen’: Pak PM

JeM’s Social Media Activity In Full Swing After A Lull

JeM’s social media activity, that had slowed down in the past few months, is again in full swing, and updates on the ongoing situation in Jammu and Kashmir are regularly being posted.

Masood Azhar, in a message issued on 1 August, extended his full support to the ‘mujahideen’ operating in J&K.

While referring to the ongoing hostilities at the Line of Control along the Indo-Pak border and to the death of many JeM cadres, Masood Azhar said: “One chapter of Ghazwa-e-Hind and of Jihad Kashmir has been completed. Alhamdulillah, the Mujahideen of Kashmir got victory in Kashmir. Now the next chapter begins. Vast, sublime and victorious,” — wishing the ‘mujahideen’ to succeed against their enemies in the near future. According to reports, Ibrahim Azhar, Masood Azhar’s elder brother, has been moved to Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. And Rauf also, the other brother, could have been sent to take charge of the operations in the area.

Pakistan Can’t Afford Another ‘Lost War’

Activities of JeM’s Markaz Usman Ali and Markaz Subhan Allah in Bahawalpur have resumed, and JeM cadres have been noticed also in their Markaz Syedna Bilal in Muzaffarabad in ‘Azad Kashmir’. Days ago, Imran Khan warned that “Pulwama-like incidents are bound to happen again”.

Pakistan cannot afford another lost war, and cannot even afford to end up being blacklisted by FATF, using once again terrorists as a foreign political tool. But, as the former US Army Colonel Lawrence Sellin recently commented: this could be “an attempt to establish plausible deniability, distancing Pakistan's government from its terrorists' action.”

(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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