Admitting that Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar is in Pakistan and is “unwell”, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi Friday said his government can act against Azhar only if India presents “solid” and “inalienable” evidence that can stand in a court of law.
His remarks come amid heightened tension between India and Pakistan in the wake of the February 14 Pulwama attack where 40 CRPF men were killed by a suicide bomber for which Jaish had claimed responsibility.
Following Qureshi’s remarks, India, backed by France, the United States and the United Kingdom, is all set to move a fresh proposal before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) naming Azhar and Jaish responsible for the Pulwama attack, seeking a ban.
“He (Azhar) is in Pakistan and according to my information, he is unwell and so much that he cannot leave his house,” Qureshi said in an interview to CNN. Asked about India trying to get Azhar listed before the UNSC and whether Pakistan would welcome it, Qureshi said: “We will be open to any step that leads to de-escalation and if they (India) have good, solid evidence, please sit and talk. Please initiate a dialogue, we will show reasonableness.”
“If they have solid, inalienable evidence that is acceptable to courts of Pakistan, share it with us so that we can convince the people and we can convince the independent judiciary of Pakistan…We need to satisfy the legal process.”
Qureshi also said that the release of captured IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is a “peace gesture” and must be seen as Pakistan’s “willingness to de-escalate”. Varthaman, who in Pakistan’s custody since Wednesday was released at the Wagah border Friday.
Over the last week, India carried out air strikes against a Jaish training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot after which Pakistan claimed it shot down an Indian fighter jet over Pakistani air space and arrested Varthaman.
Listing Azhar’s involvement in terror, India’s dossier to Pakistan says, “Azhar was a known associate of Usama Bin Laden, having been used as a motivator in various African countries, on account of his ability as a good orator on matters related to jihad. He is known by many as the Pakistani cleric who brought jihad into the religious discourse at mosques in the UK. He was arrested preaching jihad in Jammu and Kashmir in 1994.”
The proposal for the ban under the UN’s Sanctions Committee 1267, when moved, will be the fourth bid in the past ten years. During all previous attempts, China has blocked the ban on Azhar with a “technical hold”.
According to Indian agencies, After 9/11, Laden was cornered and the JeM became the key conduit to bring fighters and their families from Afghanistan into safe havens in Pakistan, run by JeM and Lashkar-e-Taiba. While describing the capability of Jaish, India’s draft proposal says, “JeM is an organisation that does not just impact India, but feeds on pan-Islamism and has been a major threat to global peace and security.”
The group, according to documents accessed by The Indian Express, was responsible for the 2016 Pathankot airbase attack when heavily armed militants attacked the Air Force Station, part of the Western Air Command of the Indian Air Force, in which one civilian and 7 security personnel were killed. The National Investigation Agency named Azhar and his brother Abdul Rauf Asghar as the key conspirators in the attack.
Besides the attacks in Pulwama and Pathankot, the draft proposal names Azhar for the 2016 Uri attack where which a group of four Jaish terrorists attacked an Army brigade headquarters near the Line of Control and killed 17 Army personnel and injured another 30. The dossier further lists dozens of other attacks carried out by Jaish on security forces and Army installations in J&K from 2000-2014, the IC 814 hijacking that helped secure Azhar’s release and the 2001 Parliament attack after his release.