Published:  12:10 AM, 25 February 2020

Pakistan learnt no lesson following Balakot strike

Chanchal Chakraborty

The February 14, 2019 suicide bombing on Indian security forces in Pulwama, in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir that killed 40 Indian soldiers, was claimed by JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed). 

Soon after, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told an international news organization that JeM founder Mohammad Masood Azhar is present in Pakistan.  However, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Army denied that JeM “exists formally” in Pakistan. In retaliation to the Pulwama terror attack by JeM, Indian security forces carried out air-strikes on Balakot militant camp of JeM on February 26, 2019, killing nearly 170 militants.

India has a far superior military might in all the three wings, Army, Navy and Air Force, as compared to Pakistan. The recent acquisition and production of latest aircrafts including Rafale, missiles and other weaponries has further strengthened the Indian armed forces.

India has recently created a new post of CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) with the former Army Chief General Bipin Rawat heading the post, giving a new dimension to the whole concept of modern warfare. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently commented that present day war with Pakistan will not last more than a week or ten days. 

Since the late 1980s, a multitude of Pak based armed groups have been actively operating in the Indian state of J&K, and there has been documented evidence of these groups committing a wide range of human rights abuses, including kidnappings, killings of civilians, drug trafficking and sexual violence.  In recent years, four major armed groups are believed to be operational in this region: Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin.  All four are believed to be based in PoK.

Kashmir traditionally has been known for practicing a liberal and progressive form of Islam, including Sufism, which gradually is getting replaced by extremist Islamic ideology, propagated by this sense of separatism, promoted and supported by certain state-sponsored elements.

The above has caused loss of more than 40,000 precious lives of Indian citizens between 1990 and 2019 in various incidents of terror. In addition, at least 3,274 Pakistani terrorists have been killed on Indian soil during the above period.

In Bangladesh,  Pakistan has succeeded in sheltering militant groups including from Indian Insurgent Groups during the tenure of BNP.  Their covert role in the killing of Bangabandhu and his close family cannot be forgotten. The ISI of Pakistan was behind the smuggling of ten truck load of arms/ammunition at Chittagong Port in August 2004, enough to cease existence of Bangladesh. They can never be friends of Bangladesh for their role in committing genocide during the 1971 Liberation War.

The Pakistani establishment has removed restrictions from militant groups/leaders and has allowed cross LoC infiltration to carry out subversive activities in India. As it is, a lobby within the ISI was not in favour of putting restrictions to begin with.

ISI has taken this decision both as a tactical move as well as to release pressure from itself; and has given green signal to JeM to carry out spectacular attacks not only in Kashmir but also in major cities in India.

The idea is to create a Pulwama-Balakot kind of scenario, to attract international attention. Pak PM seems to have tactfully encouraged the terrorist elements through the statement that more Pulwama type of attack can come. This is already an attempt to preempt the accusations of sponsoring terrorism. JeM has since been aggressively mobilizing all trained cadres from hinterland to forward locations along the LoC and has put JeM Operational Commander Rauf (brother of JeM Chief Masood Azhar), in charge of the operations.

This escalation in operational hierarchy is seen as confirmation for a major attack. Recently, Ibrahim Azhar, elder brother of Masood Azhar and the architect of IC-814 hijacking (1999) was relocated to PoK to look after operations. According to latest reports, Rauf will supervise major terror attack deep inside India, while Ibrahim might focus in J&K. The attempt is to give the subsequent attacks an indigenous (Kashmir) colour.

The UN report (08.07.19) on “Update of the Situation of Human Rights in Indian-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir from May 2018 to April 2019” also refers to FATF (Financial Action Task Force), adding that Pakistan “does not demonstrate a proper understanding of the TF (Terror Financing) risks posed by Da’esh, AQ (Al Qaeda), JuD (Jamaat Ud Dawa), FiF (Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation), LeT Lashkar-e-Tayyiba), JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed), HQN (Haqqani Network), and persons affiliated with the Taliban”.  It urged Pakistan to address its “strategic deficiencies” and complete its action plan.

The Pakistan government seems to have been bought in on the recent decision by India, as part of a grand bargain struck during PM IK and Gen Bajwa’s visit to the US in July 2019. Under the bargain, Pak would not be ‘black-listed’ under FATF; would have access to IMF and WB’s assistants; and would not face further sanctions from the US and international community in lieu of aquiscising to the Indian decision.

The financial assistance from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar was also likely to be part of the understanding. In the same stretch, Pakistan’s forays into creating friendship with Malaysia with Imran Khan promising Kuala Lumpur in February 3-4 to buy their Palm oil (as India boycotted their market) and recent visit of Turkey President Erdogan on February 14 is nothing but appeasement policy to seek their favour to ease out from FATF blacklisting.

Given the strategic gap between India and Pakistan, the Pak Army is in no position to undertake any adventure against India, especially at a time when Pakistan is under acute economic crisis. Any further burden on the exchequer could cripple the economy.

The Pak Army also doesn’t have the appetite to take a risk, as this time with a puppet government, it would not be able to pass the blame on civilian government. In order to pre-empt any push-back/ protests from political parties, the Government of Pakistan has already taken action and has silenced most of the opposition. Any questions raised by the opposition parties’ on the issue is being drowned by the ISPR sponsored handles.

As expected, it has antagonized the radical groups, which have so far been under the Army patronage. Coupled with Pak army’s recent measures to restrain the radical Islamists (under pressure from the US and FATF), there is a particular resentment amongst the groups with the establishment.

Relevant to mention that Pakistan is still aggressive in its fake propaganda to seek sympathy of the international community, OIC members in particular. Their effort in organizing Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 05, 2020 in Dhaka and Kabul were met with resistance by the local population who castigated them for their poor record on Human Rights violations and abuse of ethnic minorities.

Relevant to note that Pakistan themselves admitted that Former Pakistan Taliban militant Ehsanullah Ehsan, responsible for shooting Malala Yousafzai in 2012 and carrying deadly attack on Peshawar Army School in 2014, has escaped from prison and reached Turkey.

As the first anniversary of the Balakot strike (February 26) is approaching, there are intelligence inputs indicating around 500 militants holed up at terror platforms in Pakistan to invade India. If Intel reports are to be believed, the Balakot camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) that suffered heavily in the hands of India’s Air Force, has become active again with 27 hard core extremists are being trained there for launching terror attacks against India.

Out of these 27, eight are from Pak-occupied Kashmir. Any such misadventure / terrorist attack by Pakistan based militants on the Indian soil will definitely see a very strong retaliation by India, resulting in further escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan, thus deteriorating the security environment in the region.

To avert such a scenario, it is very essential for the world community to pressurize Pakistan to take prompt action against all the militant groups operating from the soil of Pakistan and close these militant camps in Pakistan/PoK. Recent meeting of FATF in Paris in February again placed Pakistan in Grey list and gave them 4 months time to improve or get delisted for any financial bailout. This is a big lesson for Pakistan, and an opportunity as well, for a change over to stop sheltering militants.

 The writer is a columnist and a freelancer.

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