Terrorism remains publicly acknowledged by the Pakistan government as a policy, making it difficult for India to conduct normal relations with them — according to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. “… terrorism from Pakistan continues,” Jaishankar said while speaking at an online event hosted by the Asia Society today.
“Terrorism from Pakistan continues & remains publically acknowledged by their govt as a policy they’re justifying. Makes it very hard to conduct normal relations with them. They don’t do normal trade with India, we don’t have a normal visa relationship,” the foreign minister said.
Jaishankar said that Pakistan had blocked connectivity between India and Afghanistan and from Afghanistan to India. “Normal neighbours do visas and trade. They give you connectivity and most important they don’t practice terrorism. And I think until we address that problem, this challenge of how do you have a normal relationship with this very unique neighbour is a very troubling issue for our foreign policy,” he said.
Ties between India and Pakistan nosedived after a terror attack on the Pathankot Air Force base in 2016 by terror groups based in the neighbouring country. Subsequent attacks, including one on Indian Army camp in Uri, further deteriorated the relationship. India retaliated to the first attack with a surgical strike across the LoC and the second with an airstrike on Balakot, one of the training camps of Jaish-e-Mohammed led by Maulana Masood Azhar.
Pakistan tries to whitewash its romance with terrorism before FATF meet
Meanwhile, an intelligence assessment shows all is not quiet in Pakistan, as terror groups are trying to re-energise themselves from the days of the Afghan jihad, create new fronts, and figure out new ways of targeting India.
The assessment shows the terror groups are targeting especially the Sialkot-Shakargarh and Bhimber-Samahni sectors. The Pakistani establishment is supporting them with drone-drops of weapons across the border. The military forces of Pakistan are further boosting signals of mobile towers along the Line of Control (LoC) to facilitate communication.
Pakistan-based terror groups have changed tactics by shifting the military (askari) training camps to the Af-Pak region. This follows their existing camps turning into religious indoctrination centres, adds the assessment. Ahead of the crucial Paris Plenary of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the report suggests that Pakistan is trying to window dress its adherence to the anti-terror-financing strictures of the body.
FATF’s meeting on 21-23 October will decide whether Pakistan remains in the “Grey List” due to inaction on part of Imran Khan government on proscribed terror groups and in curbing money laundering activities or be removed from it on the basis of facile action taken to escape the economic guillotine. The grey list is referred to as jurisdictions under increased monitoring by FATF. It comprises countries whose systems aren’t strong enough to prevent money laundering or terror financing but which have promised to work on addressing these issues.
According to the assessment of India’s national security planners, the change in strategy on part of the Pakistan-based groups, particularly the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), to move terror training to camps around the Durand Line could be aimed also at operating in collusion with Afghanistan-based Taliban and the Haqqani Network (HN) groups following the signing of the US-Taliban-Afghan peace accord. The leader of the HN is proscribed terrorist Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also the deputy leader of the Taliban. The group controls Nangarhar and has a strong presence in Kabul. He has a $ 5 million bounty on his head.
Other intelligence reports that corroborate the assessment suggest that while Islamabad has asked the Muridke-based LeT to maintain a low profile ahead of the Paris meeting, there has been no let-up in the terror activities of the Bahawalpur-based JeM with India being the primary target. The JeM has been infiltrating its cadre into Jammu and Kashmir on the one hand while planning joint terror strikes with its fellow Deobandi-ideologue, the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“The JeM has intensified its focus on Sialkot-Shakargarh and Bhimber-Samani sectors in Jammu in order to rachet up violence in the union territory,” said a senior counter-terrorism official who asked not to be named. The Sailkot-Shakargarh sector is a so-called chicken-neck area, and it, as well as the Bhimber-Samani sector are strategically important from the perspective of Indian defence. Not surprisingly, both routinely witness cross-border firing.
While 26/11 main accused Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed’s son Talha are handling the LeT, JeM is a full-fledged Masood Azhar family enterprise. His brother Mufti Rauf Asghar acts on behalf of the ailing Azhar. Other siblings like Maulana Ammar and Azhar Ibrahim work in tandem.
Besides the two main terror outfits, the Pakistani deep state is trying to re-vitalise groups active during the days of the Afghan jihad and also create new fronts. This will help it spin a narrative of homegrown terrorism in Kashmir. Islamabad is upset with the international community for ignoring the 5 August 2019 abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian parliament,
According to the intelligence assessment, Islamabad has given the task of resurrecting the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen to a serving colonel of Pakistan military intelligence with support from HuM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. Their objective is to shift the focus from Afghanistan to Jammu and Kashmir. Khalil currently lives on the outskirts of Islamabad. He runs a chain of madrassas known as Jamia Khalid bin-Al-Waleed in Pakistan.
Khalil has had friends and associates in the Taliban and HN since the 1990s. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir resident Maulana Mohammed Sajjad Shahid Kashmiri is the new head of Tehreek-e-Millat-e-Islamiya (TMI), the Jammu and Kashmir chapter of the revived HuM.
Intelligence inputs suggest the Pakistani deep state is trying also to revive the 313 Brigade. It’s a 2008 splinter group from Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), which is much closer to Al Qaidah than any Kashmiri terror group.
The handler of both Daniel Pearl murderer Omar Sheikh and 26/11 conspirator David Headley, Illyas Kashmiri, founded the 313 Brigade. Former LeT operatives Huzaifa Bhai, Obaid-ur-Rehmani Barlas Kashmiri and Sumama Bhai are using it currently to recruit cadre in the valley through cyber platforms.
The group promotes Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGuH) since the elimination of Zakir Musa and Hamid Lehari by Indian security forces last year. A US drone strike killed Illyas Kashmiri in 2011.
Over the past two years, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed a spurt of new terror outfits such as the Resistance Front, TMI, AGuH and J&K Ghaznavi Force. They were all created to propagate the Pakistani narrative that terrorism in the union territory is homegrown.
According to Indian counter-terrorism experts, Pakistan created these outfits out of LeT, HuM, HuJI members who underwent terror training in that country but were not active on account of having been arrested, exposed or released after serving jail sentences in India.
In order to facilitate infiltration as well as provide secure communications to terrorists, the Rawalpindi GHQ has resorted to aligning mobile communication towers along the LoC to ensure the signal spills into Indian territory.
Further, Pakistan has enhanced the signal strengths of two radio base stations at Pandu and Thub in PoK so as to reach audiences from Buglanaar up north and Samba down south across the LoC.
The Rawalpindi-based promoters of Pakistani terror groups are now exploring new technology to transport arms, explosives and ammunition through Chinese made drones from across the LoC. They need new technology also for the use of explosive-laden drones to carry out attacks on Indian targets.
It is for this reason that India recently tested anti-drone technology on the LoC and international border. India is working also on an indigenous laser-based anti-drone system.