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Pakistan’s terror 'crackdown': Interior minister is Hafiz Saeed's crony; future NSA a buddy of Masood Azhar

When Imran Khan became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in August last year, he kept the portfolio of interior ministry with himself. He said this was because he wanted to keep a direct eye on the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the operations to crack down on corruption, an election promise he had made.

 Pakistan’s terror crackdown: Interior minister is Hafiz Saeeds crony; future NSA a buddy of Masood Azhar

File image of Imran Khan and Shehryar Afridi. Twitter@shehryarafridi1

To assist him in this onerous job, Imran appointed a Minister of State. The man he found for this job apparently after a diligent search was Shehryar Afridi, a 47-year-old international relations graduate from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who had switched to politics after failing the civil services examination. A grateful Afridi, who won the election to the National Assembly from Kohat, said: “I will work day and night to be worthy of the responsibility given to me.”

It shouldn’t matter to India that Afridi’s victory in the earlier election had been set aside because of a wrong declaration of assets. It shouldn’t also matter to India or any country other than Pakistan that only two months after Imran made Afridi the Minister of State for Interior, he ordered an inquiry against him. The allegation: Afridi had spent huge amounts of public money on beautifying his home.

What should, however, matter to India is this: the Pakistan Interior Ministry is also responsible for “war on terrorism” which Pakistan claimed to have launched after the 9/11 attacks on New York. Afridi became a man to watch for India when Imran announced a so-called crack-down on terror outfits on 4 March following the Pulwama attack.

It should thrill the Indians to the bits that Afridi was gung-ho when he tweeted on 6 March that the “operation against proscribed organisations ... shall continue till achievement of objectives”.

Afridi’s true colours

But before Indians can break into a foxtrot over the Pakistani minister’s deep commitment to eradication of terror from the face of the Indian sub-continent, we are reminded of something else he said last year. Afridi vowed last year that as long as PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party of Imran) was in power, nobody could touch Hafiz Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)/Jama'at-ud-Da'wah (JuD) or Milli Muslim League (MML), the political front of LeT.

Gul Bukhari who tweeted this last year is a courageous Pakistani journalist who was briefly kidnapped eight months ago.

That’s about Khan’s current interior minister. Now, let's talk about the man who will possibly be his future National Security Advisor (NSA).

Who is Ijaz Shah?

Just a day before the Pulwama attack, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that Imran was thinking of appointing former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officer Ijaz Shah as his NSA. Shah’s colourful past can be understood from just one sentence in the Dawn story: "Former prime minister and PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) chairperson Benazir Bhutto had named him in a letter as someone who should be investigated if she was assassinated."

Though the Dawn story didn't talk about it, Shah's links with top terror perpetrators have been amply documented by Indian and Western intelligence agencies.

As an ISI head in the Pakistani state of Punjab before he became the head of the country’s Intelligence Bureau, Shah was a key "handler" of many terrorists including JeM chief Masood. He knew Masood from the days ISI helped him establish JeM in 2000.

The fake war on terror

That’s the story of Pakistan’s "war on terrorism". Pakistan wages this fake war in fits and starts. Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif apparently wanted to seriously wage the war in 2016. Here is how it happened — or never happened:

It was four days after India’s surgical strikes in October 2016 that there was an important meeting in Pakistan. Besides Sharif, there was Rizwan Akhtar, then the ISI chief, among those present. Dawn was the only Pakistani newspaper to carry a report on what happened in that meeting three days later on 6 October, with the headline: "Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military".

The civilian government accused the military of shielding terrorists and causing Pakistan’s isolation in the world, Dawn said in the front page report. In a second story on 9 October, the paper said the civilian government had spoken of the military’s complicity in terrorism. A day after the second story, the military took action: not against militants but against Cyril Almeida, the intrepid journalist who wrote the two stories. He was ordered not to leave the country pending an investigation.

But, of course, Pakistan didn’t need to worry about taking action against terrorists. That’s easy — so easy that the government had done it many times. Remember Mark Twain’s quip about smoking? “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

So six days after India’s air raids on Balakot, Khan took “action” against terror outfits. He had little choice. But this had more to do with a desire to appear to “do something” than with any heartfelt craving to curb terrorism. Doing nothing runs the risk of being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Paris-based global terror financing watchdog, which is tightening the screws on Pakistan in an unprecedented manner.

The blacklisting of Pakistan in the past didn’t do a great deal of harm to that country. But Khan is apparently not taking any chances considering the near-bankrupt state of his country’s economy.

So his government banned, for the second time in two years, Jamat-ud-Dawa and the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, two offshoots of Lakshar-e-Taiba led by Hafiz Saeed. For good measure, many including Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) chief Masood’s son Hamad Azhar and brother Mufti Abdul Rauf were taken into “preventive custody” or so Pakistan claimed.

Masood himself is left free, apparently on account of his ill-health, but nobody should be surprised if the government goes through the charade of putting him under a house arrest, leaving him free to plot fresh terror attacks and write his weekly column or sermon — or whatever he calls it — in JeM mouthpiece Al Qalam.

Whether all this will impress FATF or not is anybody’s guess. But it has left many people scratching their heads in confusion in India and elsewhere. In the past, when Pakistan claimed to have closed down terror factories like JeM and LeT, they reappeared as charity organisations or went into commercial ventures like real estate and even media to raise funds and continued their core business of terror.

Pakistan’s war on terror would have been a cute joke if it wasn’t so tragic.

The author tweets @sprasadindia

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Updated Date: Mar 08, 2019 20:41:29 IST

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