Amid global scrutiny on the activities of Jaish-e-Mohammad after it claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terror attack, and with China announcing its Vice Foreign Minister’s arrival in Islamabad to discuss India-Pak tensions, the Pakistan Army spokesperson Wednesday claimed that the JeM “does not exist” in the country.
In an interview to CNN, Major General Asif Ghafoor said, “Jaish-e-Mohammad does not exist in Pakistan. It has been proscribed by the United Nations and Pakistan also. Secondly, we are not doing anything under anybody’s pressure.”
Ghafoor also claimed that the JeM’s claim of responsibility for the Pulwama attack had not been made from inside Pakistan. Asked about India’s air strike in Balakot, he said “their claims are false”.
The remarks came just a day after Pakistan placed 44 “members of proscribed organisations” in “preventive detention” for investigation, including two family members of JeM chief Masood Azhar.
Last week, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had told BBC that Azhar is in the country and is “very unwell”, and that the establishment was in touch with the Jaish leadership.
However, sources in Delhi pointed to an earlier CNN interview with Foreign Minister Qureshi in which the interviewer repeatedly referred to Azhar as the “JeM chief”. “Qureshi did not deny it even once. This counters Pakistan’s claims at the UNSC that Azhar is no longer the leader of JeM, and has retired, is unwell and is a preacher… Qureshi’s interview establishes that they not only know that he is in Pakistan, but that they are in touch with them,” said sources.
China, meanwhile, called for the creation of an “enabling atmosphere” for its close ally Pakistan to cooperate with “other parties”. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou’s visit is “designed for communication with Pakistan for the situation concerning both India and Pakistan”. “China will play a constructive role to promote dialogue between them,” Lu said.
Asked whether Kong would discuss counter-terrorism efforts with Pakistan, Lu said, “In fact, Pakistan has been making efforts and exercised policies to combat terrorism. We think we should encourage this.” Without referring directly to India, he said: “We hope relevant parties will create an enabling atmosphere to help Pakistan to cooperate with other parties to form synergy.”
Asked whether Kong would visit India too, Lu said, “China is in contact with India and Pakistan concerning the current circumstances.”
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Sources said Delhi is asking Beijing to support the terror listing of Azhar at the UN. After 9/1, the US made a choice against Pakistan. Delhi has told Chinese interlocutors that it has to take a call on their strategic ally. Sources said Beijing’s envoy has told South Block that it is a “political call” to be taken by the Chinese leadership.
India, meanwhile, is likely to highlight the JeM’s activities in J&K and link them to Azhar’s statements in its dossier to the UNSC member countries. New Delhi is also learnt to have firmed up evidence to suggest that Azhar is the head of JeM.
The involvement of Jaish cadre in terror incidents in the Valley between 2017-19 will be key, officials said, adding that JeM has carried out attacks every time Azhar’s provocative speeches were aired.
On February 5, 2019, nine days before the Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed, Azhar was heard saying in an audio clip available with Indian agencies about “a befitting reply to India’s atrocities on their mothers, sisters and youths”.
Sources said India will also cite details of JeM’s activities available in the public domain, including its propaganda mouthpiece, Al-Qalam, where Azhar is believed to have written “anti-India propaganda under a pen name ‘Saadi’”.
Sources also pointed to the suicide attack carried out by JeM on an Army camp in Sunjwan on February 10, 2018, when five officers were killed. They said Al-Qalam claimed that participants of a congregation in Lahore on February 20, 2018, praised the organisational activities of JeM and the role played by Azhar.
According to Indian agencies, the Jaish chief also played a key role in orchestrating an attack in Kashmir on April 27, 2017, when an Army camp in Kupwara was attacked, resulting in the death of one Captain and two soldiers. On April 17, 2017, an article appeared under the name of ‘Saadi’ in Al-Qalam: “This long sacrifice of the Kashmiris has strengthened Jihad. So many young and educated people are joining this movement. They are determined to continue…”