Pak terror groups active in Kashmir, admits Imran Khan
Some 40,000 trained militants with experience of fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan are based on Pakistani soil, Prime Minister Imran Khan admitted on Tuesday night, but added his country cannot be blamed for the Pulwama suicide attack as it was carried out by a Kashmiri youngster.
Khan acknowledged the presence of the large number of militants in his country during an interaction at the US Institute of Peace, a Washington-based think tank funded by the US Congress. Khan contended his government was being backed by the powerful military in efforts to disarm the militants.
Asked about his government’s efforts to crack down on terrorist leaders such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed and banned groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which claimed the Pulwama attack that killed 40 Indian troopers and triggered a face-off between the two countries, Khan sought to create the impression that the suicide bombing was the work of a local affected by the situation in Kashmir.
People familiar with the developments in New Delhi reacted to Khan’s remarks by saying the Pakistani leadership continues to refuse to accept the Pulwama bombing as an act of terrorism. “JeM claimed responsibility and the group and its leader Masood Azhar are based in Pakistan,” said a person who did not want to be named.
Khan contended his government was the first to decide that there would be no armed militias inside Pakistan. “Until we came into power, the governments did not have the political will, because when you talk about the militant groups, they still have about 30,000 to 40,000 armed people who have been trained… have fought either in Afghanistan, maybe in Kashmir,” he said.
“We are the first government that has started disarming all the militant groups. This is the first time it is happening, we have taken over their institutes, seminaries. We have got administrators there.”
Responding to the question about the US asking Pakistan to do more against groups such as JeM, Khan replied: “Pulwama, what happened in February… it was clearly an indigenous thing, it was a Kashmiri boy radicalised by the brutality of the security forces. He blew himself up. But because this group claimed responsibility – which was in India as well, Jaish-e-Mohammed was operating in India – but Pakistan suddenly came in the limelight.”
Khan dodged a question about the prosecution of Hafiz Saeed, whose judicial remand was extended by a Pakistani court on Wednesday, and said: “First we want an independent justice system and you want me to predict what the justice system would do. I repeat one thing again. It is in the interest of Pakistan that we do not allow any armed militias in our country… We have had the worst situation, it has affected our investment. It has destabilised us.”
The people cited above said this wasn’t the first time a Pakistani leader had acknowledged the presence of militant groups as similar admissions had been made by former president Pervez Musharraf and former premier Nawaz Sharif.
Another Indian official, who also did not want to be named, referred to Khan’s remarks and said: “This is what we’ve been saying all along. We’re glad the Pakistan Prime Minister is owning up to it. It is, however, equally important for the Pakistani leadership to act on this knowledge by destroying the breeding ground of terrorists in areas under the control of Pakistan by taking credible and irreversible action.”
Despite Khan’s efforts to put a positive spin on ties with the US, secretary of state Mike Pompeo made it clear during a meeting with the premier that defeating terror alone would help reset ties.
“The secretary looked forward to continued progress from Pakistan on shared security priorities, including defeating terrorist organisations, which he hoped would form the basis of a reinvigorated partnership,” said a statement from the US state department.
Pompeo also emphasised the importance of Pakistan and the US working together to advance shared priorities, including support for the Afghan peace process and counterterrorism.