Pakistan govt, army must get their stories straight to prove they are serious about acting against terrorist groups

  • The Pakistan military spokesperson said there was no presence of JeM in the country

  • This was days after the foreign minister said JeM chief Masood Azhar was in Pakistan, but too unwell to act

  • Former president Pervez Musharraf said Pakistani intelligence had used JeM to carry out attacks in India during his tenure

  • Islamabad is at the risk of being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force

No matter how many times China comes out in support of Pakistan, claiming that the country was "making efforts and exercising policies to combat terrorism" on its soil, regardless of how many other nations differ in this opinion, Pakistan's biggest enemy in this regard is its own inconsistency. The government and military making contradictory claims with regard to terrorism only harms Pakistan's own image and further embeds its "safe haven" reputation.

On Wednesday, the spokesperson for the Inter-Services Public Relations — the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces — Asif Ghafoor claimed that the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) does not exist in Pakistan. Saying that the JeM claim of responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir in India had not been made from inside Pakistan, he said: "The Jaish-e-Mohammed does not exist in Pakistan. It has been proscribed by the United Nations and Pakistan, as well."

Ghafoor added that instead of blaming Pakistan, the world should assist and facilitate Pakistan in getting rid of such organisations. But a statement by former Pakistani president and army chief Pervez Musharraf complicated this stand on Wednesday, when he said in an interview that Pakistani intelligence had used JeM to carry out attacks in India during his tenure as president.

 Pakistan govt, army must get their stories straight to prove they are serious about acting against terrorist groups

Pakistan military spokesperson Asif Ghafoor and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi

Moreover, Ghafoor's remarks are a complete contradiction to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's admission on 1 March that JeM chief Masood Azhar was, indeed, in Pakistan, but was "unwell to the extent that he can't leave his house". Two days later, there were unconfirmed reports that Azhar had died of liver cancer. Finally, on Wednesday, a purported audio clip of Azhar making a speech emerged in a bid to quell rumours of his death.

"Fear god," Azhar said in the speech, "and stop persecuting mosques, madrassas and the mujahideen. Remember, that when a Muslim flees the battle against hypocrites, the wrath of Allah is upon him... Fear not only the world community; fear god, too. God can protect you from the world community, but it cannot protect you from god."

His speech sheds doubts on Pakistan's claim of cracking down on terror groups on its soil. Late on Tuesday, Islamabad had announced that it had listed 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and its supposed charity wing Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) as banned terror organisations as against its earlier stand of keeping them on the list of groups "under watch". JuD and FIF were among the 70 organisations the Ministry of Interior proscribed under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, and whose assets have been frozen.

In another development, Islamabad announced that Azhar's brother Mufti Abdul Rauf and son Hamaz Azhar had been taken into "preventive custody". The two were among 44 members of banned groups who had been detained.

On paper, all such news may sound like Pakistan is making headway in taking action against terror groups based in the country. But Azhar being able to freely release a statement amid this "crackdown" says otherwise. "Even as I was working on this speech, some work related to a congregation came up. My energies were diverted to writing a speech," the JeM said.

The Government of Pakistan and the army need to get their stories straight before making statements that are bound to draw even more attention to the terror crisis in the country. One contradicting the other will only cast more doubts on the already murky claims by the government of taking action against terror groups that the army denies exists in Pakistan.

There's another aspect to this supposed crackdown on terror in the neighbouring country — the fear of being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and subsequently facing global economic sanctions. The FATF, which had grey-listed Pakistan in June 2018 for aiding funding for terrorist activities, had given Islamabad a list of recommendations to implement to get de-listed. The FATF's International Cooperation Review Group, which reviewed Pakistan's action plan recently, is not satisfied with the country's progress and has given it time till May to make headway in curbing terror financing.

It might be noted that any economic sanctions after being blacklisted by the FAFT would deny cash-strapped Pakistan access to loans from the International Monetary Fund.

The first and foremost step Pakistan — and we mean both the army and government — must take is acknowledge together the presence of terrorist groups in the country and not feign innocence when the world blames it for the attacks in Kashmir.

"We feel that now the ball is in India's court. Should they decide to escalate the situation, it will get worse," Ghafoor said, albeit incorrectly. The ball has always been in Pakistan's court. In no way can the situation with India improve unless Islamabad takes the onus to crack down — and *really* crack down — on terrorist organisations and their sources of financing in the country.

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Updated Date: Mar 07, 2019 18:25:35 IST