Is Balakot ‘Back in Business’ Months After Indian Air Strikes?
Local sources claim that Jaish has started a training module for survivors of the Indian strikes on Balakot camp.
“The Balakot camp is again fully operative in both sections, the religious and the military ones. In the past months, 100-150 boys in the age group between 9 and 18 years have started their training and their indoctrination in religion and theology. And at least 35 cadres of JeM have started their military training there, under the supervision of senior JeM functionaries like the Operational Commander Abdul Rauf Ashgar. Launching Commander Qari Zarrar and Ibrahim Azhar have also visited the Balakot camp to supervise the training,” a local source told this writer.
‘JeM Has Begun Training Module for Survivors of Balakot Strikes’
According to local sources, the camp on top of Jabba Hill, attacked in February 2019 by the Indian Air Force, is again in full swing, after been quickly restored in little more than a month and showed to the international press — pretending that nothing had happened there and that the complex which is atop a hill and far away from any village, was only a madrasa for children. And children are there, indeed, but it doesn’t just house children.
Balakot, despite being attacked and thereafter being observed by the international community, is again in business as part of a wider strategy launched by JeM and LeT in the past few months.
Or, to be more precise, of a wider strategy launched by Pakistani army and intelligence agencies, to keep their assets ready to strike any moment.
According to the same local source, in fact, “JeM has also begun a training module for the survivors who were present at the Balakot camp during the February 2019 attack by the Indian Air Force. These cadres are being trained in Markaz Usman-e-Ali in Bahawalpur. And similar training, including military training, has begun in Markaz Saeedana Bilal, Chelabandi in Muzaffarabad”.
Calls for New Terror Cadres
The “reopening” of Balakot was confirmed by the India Army Chief General Bipin Rawat at the end of September. “Balakot has been reactivated by Pakistan very recently. That shows that Balakot has been affected. It had been damaged and destroyed. And that is why people have got away from there and now it has been reactivated,” he had said.
But the calls for recruiting new cadres had been sent out despite the Pakistani government’s claims that action has been taken against terrorist groups. Recruitment has already begun in Swat and Peshawar, apart from parts of Pakistan Administered Kashmir like Muzaffarabad, Poonch and Kotli. The recruitment drive is being spear-headed by Ibrahim Azhar, brother of JeM leader Masood Azhar.
A significant number of hardcore JeM cadres — who were shifted to Afghanistan after India’s strikes on Balakot and accommodated by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network — are most probably back.
For sure, helped by the de-facto martial law imposed on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Article 144 in Waziristan, the Taliban are back in the area, and have been allotted areas of influence by the Army and the intelligence agencies.
The same Taliban and Haqqani network had a meeting with the JeM cadres last February, in order to protect Masood Azhar and to reaffirm their alliance. Masood Azhar, after months of silence and speculations about his death, has again started to realise messages and speeches.
Pakistan Remains Unaffected by Threat of FATF Blacklisting
JeM’s social media activity — that had slowed down in the past few months — is again in full swing, and updates on the ongoing situation in Jammu and Kashmir are regularly being posted. Jaish-e-Mohammed even started a new Twitter account, mainly publishing the messages of his Amir. Since August, the same local sources point out, there are also news of reactivation of launch pads in Pakistan-Administered-Kashmir, Bagh, Zura, Gurej and Kotli, among others. All these launch pads had been shut down for a while, and reactivated again after the Indian government scrapped Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution.
On 13 September, Jaish-e-Mohammed organised a rally in support of Kashmir. The rally was attended by many of its top leaders including: Mufti Masood Illyas Kashmiri, Amir Azad Kashmir and Mufti Ashgar Kashmiri. During this rally, Masood Illyas Kashmiri called on Indian Kashmiris to take up arms.
He also mentioned that if the Pakistani Army made a request to the JeM, he would be able to mobilise at least 5000 armed cadres in a day.
In this context, one should read the warnings issued by Imran Khan many times on international platforms, warnings of a new 'Pulwama style' incident and threats of a nuclear war, if India does not go back on its move on Kashmir. Apparently, despite the Damocles’ Sword hanging over Islamabad, and facing potential blacklisting by the FATF, Pakistan has no such intentions, and will not give up on its usual strategy — using terrorists as tools to solve international disputes. The international community should act before it is too late.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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