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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

Target terror groups repeatedly and intensively

The Indian government should hold the Kashmiri separatists, basically proxies for Pakistan, to account

analysis Updated: Feb 15, 2019 17:53 IST
Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) vehicle damaged during the Pulwama attack, Feb 14
Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) vehicle damaged during the Pulwama attack, Feb 14(ANI)

The Kashmir valley is the favourite hunting ground of Jaish-e-Mohammed’s bed-ridden leader Masood Azhar and his brothers Rauf Asghar and Athar Ibrahim.

The cat and mouse game between Azhar’s family and Indian security establishment dates back, almost to the day, to February, 1994 when Azhar, then an ideologue of the Harkat-ul-Ansar, was captured along with the then chief of Harkat, Sajjad Afghani (in many ways, Azhar’s protege) in Srinagar by the security forces. Azhar and Afghani was subjected to intense interrogation over the years by Indian security officials, particularly the then Additional Director (Intelligence Bureau) Ajit Doval at Kot Balwal jail in Jammu. People say that Azhar was desperate to escape the Indian prison after his protégéSajjad Afghani was killed in a jail shoot-out in June 1999.

Not long after this, Azhar’s Pakistani handlers planned and successfully executed the hijacking of Indian Airlines IC-814, with Ibrahim in the lead, and managed to secure Azhar’s freedom and his transport to Kandahar airport; all this was done with the help of Taliban. The date: December 31, 1999. Such was the clout of Azhar that he was given a personal audience with Taliban emir Mullah Omar before he crossed over to Pakistan through the Spin Boldak-Chaman crossing in Quetta.

Merely days later he formed the Jaish-e-Mohammed and announced this through a suicide bombing attack against the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly on October 1, 2001, killing as many as 38 people.

Azhar and his family continue to mourn the death of Afghani and also three of their own at the hands of Indian security forces. This includes Usman Haider, Ibrahim’s son, who was gunned down in Tral last year. The suicide bombing attack targeting the CRPF convoy at Pulwama is similar to the 2001 assembly attack (both used cars loaded with explosives) and a definitive escalation in terror activity in the Valley. The use of RDX in both the attacks and open admission of the carnage by the Pakistan-based group heralds a new chapter in Islamabad-sponsored terrorism in the valley that could spread to the hinterland if not nipped in the bud.

While India has named Azhar as the principal perpetrator of the Pulwama attack, neither Pakistan nor its close ally China will take any action against the Bhawalpur-based terrorist as he is central to their plans regarding the Taliban in Afghanistan. With common Deobandi ideology, Azhar has deep links with the Taliban, which is now on the verge of coming back to Kabul after 2001.

Today, Azhar’s younger brother Rauf is overseeing jihad in Kashmir while elder brother Ibrahim is in charge of the Afghanistan operations of JeM. Pakistan has completely denied its own involvement in the Pulwama attack, but with JeM quick to take responsibility, India is within its rights in targeting Azhar and his cohorts. After all, it is clear Islamabad can no longer control the group, which was publicly banned by former dictator Pervez Musharraf after the 2001 attack on Indian parliament. Rather than get into futile diplomacy of issuing demarches and note verbales to Pakistan for Pulwama, India should also work towards the country’s black-listing of in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) list on grounds of inaction against jihadist groups such as JeM by the Imran Khan regime. This will financially choke Islamabad, which is already in deep financial trouble.

In parallel, the Narendra Modi government should hold Kashmiri separatists, basically proxies for Pakistan, to account in the Valley with Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani playing the director in this terror play produced by Islamabad.

But this will not be enough. The only way separatists in the valley will get the message is when terror groups based in Pakistan are targeted — repeatedly and intensively.

Together, these responses call for a diplomatic, military, and counter-intelligence offensive. Nothing else will suffice.

First Published: Feb 15, 2019 17:53 IST

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