Jaish facility in Balakot bombed by IAF jets in February is fully functional again
Almost seven months after Indian Air Force jets bombed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist facility in Pakistan’s Balakot, the globally proscribed group has revived the complex, where it is training 40 jihadists to carry out attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India, in the garb of a new name to avoid international scrutiny, HT has learnt.
The development, with the blessings of Pakistan, follows India’s August decisions to revoke Article 370 of the constitution, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, and bifurcate the state into two Union territories — J&K and Ladakh.
Islamabad relaxed restrictions over terror groups targeting India after August 5, when the Indian government pushed through the moves on Kashmir, and on the eve of the “Leaders dialogue on strategic responses to terrorism and violent extremism” at the United Nations General Assembly on September 23. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will speak at the conference, followed by Microsoft Corp CEO Satya Nadella and others.
On February 27, IAF fighters flew deep into Pakistan to bomb the Markaz Syed Ahmad Shaheed facility at Balakot in Manshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in reprisal for a February 14 suicide car bombing in J&K’s Pulwama that killed 40 troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force in the deadliest single attack in 30 years of insurgency. Tensions between the subcontinental neighbours escalated as a result.
According to Indian counter-terror operatives, anti-India terror groups that have kept a low profile following Pulwama and its aftermath were reactivated after August 5 with JeM operational commander Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar meeting his handlers in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency, the very next day in Rawalpindi to formulate a jihadist response to the Indian moves on Kashmir.
Intelligence inputs indicate that JeM may target not only Jammu and Kashmir but also Gujarat and Maharashtra under a new name to avoid international scrutiny. Pakistan-based terror groups have been asked to use Kashmiri- origin terrorists and,in this context, are also reviving dormant groups like the Al Umnar Mujahideen led by Mushtaq Zargar alias Latram.
Pakistan watchers say that the Jaish has started advanced “daura tarbiya” courses for 50 jihadists in Markaz Subhan Allah and Markaz Usman-o-Ali in Bahawalpur, with the Peshawar and Jamrud facilities also being activated for action in Kashmir. Daurya tarbiya is a religious programme designed to radicalise a recipient and a precursor to weapons and subversive training.
Refresher courses have been started by the terror group in its camps in Manshera, Gulpur and Kotli with the Balakot facility being reactivated for jihad training for the first time after the Indian air strike. The reactivation of the Balakot facility has been confirmed by the Indian national security establishment and the highest levels of government have been informed.
While Jaish has intensified its recruitment drive for Kashmir action in places like Charsada, Mardan and Swabi of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , the terror group, headed by the now terminally ill global terrorist Masood Azhar, has decided to divert its cadre from the Afghanistan front to J&K in a phased manner.
According to intelligence reports, around 100 Jaish cadre are waiting at launch pads across the Poonch and Rajouri sectors at Neelum/Leepa Valley with the focus of planned attacks on Jammu and not Srinagar. Inputs reveal that Mufti Asghar on August 11 itself had instructed his cadre in Sialkot to focus on the army cantonment in Jammu as well as security force convoys plying on the national highway.
“We have reports about Jaish fidayeen (suicide attackers) waiting for lifting of full telecom restrictions in the state to infiltrate and launch attacks,” said a national security official on condition of anonymity.
In Jaish’s Madina Madina fortnightly magazine, Talha Saif, on behalf of Masood Azhar, criticised the leaders of some Muslim countries for coming under the influence of the United States, and simultaneously urged Indian Muslims to rise against the Narendra Modi government.
Rawalpindi’s other terror arm, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) , has reactivated its terror camps post the revocation of Article 370, including aquatic facilities at Mangla in Mirpur and Head Maral in Sialkot while its leader Hafeez Saeed is in custody in Lahore.
According to available inputs, Lashkar has started a two-month-long refresher course at its Manshera camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while its second line leadership, led by Saeed’s son Talha, is advocating jihad in Kashmir through sermons and video messages.
The third group, Hizbul Mujahideen, has also been activated after its leaders met ISI handlers on August 26 and tasked with infiltrating its cadre across the Gurez sector.