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HindustanTimes Sun,20 Apr 2014

Masood’s PoK address hints at Pak backing

Imtiaz Ahmad, Hindustan Times   Islamabad/New Delhi, February 20, 2014
First Published: 00:22 IST(20/2/2014) | Last Updated: 00:25 IST(20/2/2014)

The telephone address by Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar at a rally in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir once again points to the reactivation of the ISI’s political cell, something the Pak army claimed had disbanded.

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Azhar, who was one of the three terrorists released by the Indian government in 1999 in exchange for passengers aboard the hijacked plane to Kandahar, threatened to unleash a wave of suicide bombings across India through his phone address. “There are 313 fidayeen in this gathering and if a call is made, the number will go up to 3, 000,” he said.

One of the group’s members told HT, “Jaish fighters are active in Kashmir and are capable of launching suicide attacks at short notice.’’ The outfit, in fact, was the first terrorist organisation to send suicide squads across the border. After his release, Azhar had specially trained the fidayeen squad. Their first attack outside the J&K assembly on October 1, 2001 had left 39 dead.

 The security establishment is also viewing Azhar’s address as a move backed by the Pakistan administration. His speech comes soon after General Raheel Sharif took over as the chief of Army staff in November last year. This also suggests that the Pak army has once again resumed its active involvement in the country’s political arena. Azhar’s ‘speech’ also comes at a time when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s is making attempts to clamp down on militant groups.

 Widely believed to be an army asset, Azhar is being facilitated by the ISI. But even as Sharif tries to reign in the military, the ISI is opening up new fronts.  Sharif has already suggested civilian control of the country’s intelligence agencies but had to back track on other measures to pull back the military.

 The Pak PM has also pointed towards sabotaging of the Indo-Pak peace talks his government has initiated. The infiltrations late last year and possible incursions in the coming months are seen as part of a strategy at a time when US troops withdraw from Afghanistan and the focus of militant groups shifts to that country.

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