Exactly 18 days after the Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir which killed over 40 CRPF men, Pakistan finally announced action against the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which had claimed responsibility for the attack.
Shehryar Khan Afridi, the interior Minister of Pakistan, in a widely televised briefing told media, that over 44 people associated with proscribed terror groups (including the brother and the son of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar, namely, Maulana Abdul Rauf Asghar and Hamaad (Hamza) Azhar) were being put immediately into ‘preventive custody’.
The news channels in Pakistan, toeing the military line as always, backed the government move, calling the ‘preventive detention’ as a massive measure to crush ‘dehshadgardi’ (terrorism), often wrongly terming it as ‘arrests’.
Pakistan’s PR Gimmick to Appease International Community
Sources deep within the Pakistan government indicate that the Pakistan government officials had to plead and almost beg before the Jaish-e-Mohammed leadership to cooperate in this ‘preventive detention’ to ease the international pressure, and most of those detained were being kept at VIP government guest houses and lodges under ISI cover, and were getting all luxury and assistance.
The sham action by Pakistan is a massive PR gimmick to appease the international community, which has been pressurising Pakistan to act against terrorism on its soil. Yet, history tells us we must take this move by Pakistan with a pinch of salt.
In December 2018, members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, met the Pakistan Interior Minister Shehryar Afridi, and subsequently leaked a short video of the conversation to the media. Afridi was being complained to by the LeT cadre about the US pressure, after the terror designation of Milli Muslim League, a political front for Lashkar, and how things were getting difficult for them to operate as fearlessly as before. Afridi was heard reassuring the terror cadre, saying, “Inshallah! Till the time we are in power and PTI government is in the National Assembly of Pakistan, no mother's son would be able to touch Hafiz Saeed sir”.
Image of ‘Naya Pakistan’ Busted
While the video, for many, wasn't surprising at all (as deep down, the support for terror outfits and worship of their leaders is common), it did however, shatter the image of 'Naya Pakistan', an idea which seems to have crumbled.
The support of Imran Khan’s PTI – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf – to radical and terror outfits, is not a new phenomenon either. PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in early 2018, granted over 300 million to the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak town of Pakistan, which is also known as the ‘University of Jihad’, for raising several indoctrinated terrorists for Taliban and other banned terror outfits.
While the move was widely condemned, PTI leaders termed it as a government contribution for better ‘education and learning’. Over 3,000 young Pakistani boys from poor families continue to be trained in their sprawling campus which is 90 kms from Peshawar, and once was also a centre of ‘learning’ for the dreaded Mullah Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Pak to Take Real Action Against Terror Groups: Unrealistic Expectation
In recent days, a panic-stricken Pakistan, after the Balakot air strikes, has adopted old tactics that the Indian security establishment can very well see through.
The words of commitment to eliminate terror and not provide a safe haven to terror groups, always fall flat, as we saw after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.
In his book ‘Choices: Inside the Making of India's Foreign Policy’, former National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary, Shivshankar Menon, explains, “The immediate Pakistani reaction to international and Indian pressure (after Mumbai 26/11) was to show Pakistani police officers locking Jamaat-ud-Dawa offices, and to briefly place Hafiz Saeed under house arrest. But he was released in early June 2009 and is now treated by the Pakistani authorities and media as a respected social and political leader.”
Menon’s words echo yet again in 2019, with different characters in the same playing field.
While Hafiz Saeed continues to prosper at the Muridke headquarters of LeT and JuD, now it's Maulana Masood Azhar who is the Pakistan Army's favourite asset for the proxy war. If the perpetrators of the heinous Mumbai 26/11 attacks continue to roam free, can we realistically expect the Pakistan ‘Deep State’ to take any action against Jaish-e-Mohammed or other terror entities?
Who Are the ‘People’ in Pakistan, in Touch With Masood Azhar?
Merely 24 hours after the supposed 'crackdown' by Pakistan on terror groups, the Pakistan Army spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor, told CNN that, “Jaish-e-Mohammed does not exist in Pakistan”. The statement, quite contradictory to the actions over the last few days, reflects the growing reluctance of the Pakistan Army to do away with Maulana Masood Azhar, who has helped fight their proxy war in Kashmir by brainwashing hundreds of Pakistani youth.
The denial also came merely days after Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the BBC that Maulana Masood Azhar was ‘very unwell at his house in Pakistan; unable to move out’.
On persistent questioning by the anchor as to how he knew this so well, Qureshi said “people” were in touch with him directly. In other words, the minister certainly indicated the Pakistan ISI when he said “people”. The declarations in the interview by Qureshi have busted the stated position of Pakistan, that Masood Azhar is not in Pakistan.
What JeM Chief’s Latest Statement Suggests
In a fresh audio statement released by Masood Azhar through his spokesperson Saifullah, Azhar warns the establishment of Pakistan and the liberals within the country, against a 'crackdown'.
“Our peer sahab Qureshi ji is embarrassingly being seen giving justifications. Neither the pressure is ending, nor the worries”, says Azhar in the statement written in Urdu. In an attempt to clearly warn the establishment, Azhar says the Pakistan government should tell the international community that our country is not a Hollywood or a Bollywood studio where you will only see liberals, and if you fail, he says, we surely can get us a new prime minister and a foreign minister.
Azhar’s latest statement not only proves that he is alive, but his tone also suggests his proximity to the real power centre in Rawalpindi, which has been the biggest stumbling block for peace in the region, in the wake of these proxy groups running amok.
While the UNSC 1267 committee’s terror designation of Maulana Masood Azhar is almost certain to come by mid-March, the smokescreen Pakistan has created with its flimsy action against JeM and other banned terror outfits, if taken as gospel truth by the international community, will remain a ghost that will continue to haunt not just India, but the world, in the days to come.
(Aditya Raj Kaul has a decade long experience in covering conflict, internal security and foreign policy for various national media outlets. He tweets at @AdityaRajKaul. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
. Read more on Opinion by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsTell Your Mothers It Is Okay To Eat The Bigger Slice Sometimes . Read more on Opinion by The Quint.