Speculation over Jaish chief Masood Azhar’s death amid crackdown reports
Speculation mounted about the status of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar on Sunday against the backdrop of reports that the Pakistan government could be planning a crackdown on the banned group.
Unconfirmed reports swirled through the day about the death of Azhar, whose group claimed responsibility for the February 14 suicide bombing at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir that killed 40 troops.
There has been sustained focus on Azhar since foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed his presence in Pakistan last week and said he was “unwell”. Qureshi also said the government was in touch with the JeM, which he said has purportedly denied involvement in the Pulwama attack.
People familiar with developments in Islamabad said Azhar was alive and had recently undergone surgery for a gall bladder ailment and kidney stones. PTI quoted an unnamed security official as saying that Azhar had been treated at a military facility.
Security officials in New Delhi too said there was no confirmation of reports of Azhar’s death.
Earlier reports had said Azhar was ailing from spinal cancer and was being treated at the JeM headquarters at Bhawalpu. He was still active as he was ailing, but not incapacitated.
Indian officials said the government’s focus will continue to be on counter-terrorism efforts as they didn’t want Pakistan to resort to any ploy to reduce pressure from the world community, especially after Pakistan after Qureshi admitted on TV that Azhar is in Pakistan and that the authorities are in touch with JeM.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by JeM referred to India’s air strike at a facility of the terrorist group at Balakot and said Pakistan’s government is following in the footsteps of former president Pervez Musharraf, who had ordered a crackdown on JeM.
“The Indian pilot was released and now they are planning to arrest and detain the faithful. The government is planning to shut their religious institutions. It is going soft on the enemies while acting tough against its own,” said the statement in Urdu.
The statement called on JeM cadres to prepare with “full dedication” to be called to the group’s centres or to the “war front”.