In the face of Pakistani denials that Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar is not in Pakistan,Indian intelligence agencies have obtained fresh inputs that Azhar was moved out of Bahawalpur in mid-December to a safer place in the North-West Frontier Province.
Its learnt that the input has been credibly verified and is likely to be shared with US agencies soon,given the extent of NATO operations in that area. While Pakistan has been inconsistent with its statements on Azhar,sources said,the Jaish leader was confined to his large house in Model Town area of Bahwalpur for at least three weeks after the Mumbai attack but was subsequently moved out from there.
India has also decided to move the United Nations to ban Azhar as an individual under UNSC Resolution 1267 dealing with listing Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives,and those associated with them.
While Jaish-e-Mohammed as an outfit was put on this list in 2001,Azhar is not named though he is on the Interpols wanted list. However,he continued to operate from his hometown Bahawalpur in Punjab province of Pakistan. The organisation has now assumed different names,prominent being Khuddam-ul-Islam. Investigators may have found no links between him or his outfit and the Mumbai attack,but New Delhi feels that is one case not complicated by questions of evidence as argued generally by Islamabad.
Azhars release was an outcome of a terrorist act,the hijack of IC 814,and required no evidence to be shared. India has also refuted Pakistani claims that New Delhi had never filed a chargesheet against him during his five-year prison term in Jammu & Kashmir,saying the chargesheet was filed but had to be withdrawn for legal reasons so as to facilitate his release from prison and subsequent exchange at Kandahar.
After the Mumbai attacks,statements and reports from Pakistan switched from one extreme to the other. At one point,Pakistan Defence Minister Chaudhary Mukhtar Ahmed said Azhar had been placed under house arrest but later this was denied by officials including by Pakistans High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik. Islamabad has always sought to make the point that JeM was suspected in the attacks against former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Azhar would have been picked up had he been traced.
The complicated and deniable relationship between the Pakistan military and jehadi outfits has blown away every shred of evidence that India sought to present on the issue. The most telling was a short article written in The News,a leading English daily of Pakistan,on June 23,2008. The writer,Ahmed Bilal,belongs to Bahawalpur but worked abroad in the IT sector and was on a short visit to his hometown when he wrote down his impressions under the title Another Lal Masjid.
As the car stopped at the main gate of my parents house,a poster pasted on the gate caught my attention. The title of the poster was Azmat-e-Quran Conference, and the key speaker was going to be someone named Masood Azhar¿ I wondered what was going on,and the name Masood Azhar brought some old memories of watching this man on the news. Yes,this is the same Masood Azhar who founded the Jaish-e-Muhammad organisation and served time in Indian jails before getting freed by hijacking an Indian Airlines jet.
Over the years,Masood Azhar had converted his small house into a multi-storied concrete compound housing 700 armed men,who freely did target practice there. All this was located in a central part of the city,ironically called Model Town. The police dared not touch these men,and instead of putting pressure on them to stop their activities,local politicians actually hired these men as bodyguards during the elections.
This tallied with what Indian agencies have been collating since his release. He is said to have reduced public appearances for the past few years and his face of the organisation has been his brother Mufti Abdul Rauf while Ibrahim Athar,one of the IC 814 hijackers,is the head of the operations wing. Azhar also personally knows Osama bin Laden from Sudan and his is among the few India-specific terror outfits that have close contacts with the Al-Qaeda.