Pakistan must realise that any action against JeM is in its own interest
On March 4, the Pakistan government launched a “crackdown” against banned terror organisations such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). It issued an order to streamline a process for the implementation of sanctions against individuals and entities of all banned outfits as designated by the UN Security Council. In other words, the Pakistan government took over the control of all proscribed outfits operating in the country.
This action, however, was not surprising. India has seen such “crackdowns” before. In fact, it was far more dramatic against the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) after the Mumbai serial attacks in 2008. But that crackdown has not produced anything concrete: The Mumbai attack trial is heading nowhere; the accused are moving around freely in Pakistan, and organising more attacks against India. The net result of the latest crackdown will not be any different.
It is, however, significant that Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in two separate interviews to CNN and BBC on March 1, acknowledged the presence of a “very unwell” Masood Azhar in Pakistan, but claimed that the JeM leadership was denying its involvement in the February 14 Pulwama attack. Without naming the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Qureshi revealed that his claim was based on the information given by those (ISI) known to them (JeM leaders). This comment confirms what India has been claiming for years: there is a strong linkage between the ISI and the Pakistan-based terror groups.
So has Pakistan finally realised that it can no more hide serpents, which are meant to bite India, in its backyard from the world? Or is it a tactical position adopted by Pakistan to let the crisis blow over and in the meantime improve its precarious economy that needs a bailout? The terror groups can then be reinvigorated to continue Pakistan’s regional proxy wars in India, Afghanistan and now in Iran also.
Like his predecessors, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has also inherited the institutionalised policy of use of non-State actors by the Pakistan army and the ISI for its regional ambitions. But now his neck is on the chopping block, thanks to aggressive Indian posturing and international scrutiny. Any concession to India, even symbolically, would not go down well with the Pakistan army and the ISI. He will have to do a delicate balancing act. It is a difficult contradiction to manage. Coming out of the crisis unscathed is almost impossible. Khan also knows that he heads a government that has a thin majority and can be toppled any time by the military establishment.
So what are the options available to Khan as he faces mounting international cry to put Azhar Masood on UN sanctions list and take action against JeM?
First, deny the involvement of the JeM leadership in Pulwama attack by saying that Masood is unwell and could not have organised the attack. This is laughable. Masood doesn’t have to even move out of his room to organise an attack; his well-oiled terror infrastructure is functioning smoothly in Pakistan under the overall control of the ISI.
Second, assuage Indian anger by assuring action on any specifics given by New Delhi. The promise rings hollow given the fate of hundreds of Indian dossiers given to Pakistan about the country’s involvement in terrorism, beginning with the militancy in Punjab. None of the Pakistani leaders took action against those causing mayhem in India. Former Pakistan’s foreign decretary Salman Bashir had the audacity to say that the evidence handed over to him on the Mumbai attack mastermind, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, were pieces of literature.
Third, start with a clean slate. It is difficult to accept the contention of Khan and Qureshi that their government has come with a new mindset and approach on the issue of terrorism. That would only mean that India should forget previous attacks committed by Pakistan’s non-State actors and make a fresh beginning with the Khan government.
This would not be acceptable to the Government of India and the citizens. Will Khan apply the same logic domestically and not pursue those who were responsible for the attack on school children in Peshawar in December 2014 just because he was not in power that time?
Pakistan should realise that any crackdown against JeM is in its own interest as the group has strong links with Sunni sectarian organisations that target prominent Shias. Pakistan should listen to former President Pervez Musharraf, who only recently accepted on TV that Masood Azhar had tried to kill him and he had no sympathy for the latter.
The onus is now on Khan to prove that he is ready to move forward in developing peaceful relations with India. Let him make a beginning by handing over at least those Indian terrorists who are being protected by the ISI in Pakistan. No more evidence or dossier is required in the case of Dawood Ibrahim, whose house in Clifton has become a tourist landmark in Karachi.
Avinash Mohananey is a former Intelligence Bureau officer, who served in J&K and Pakistan
The views expressed are personal