Where is Masood Azhar? Will Pak Or Taliban Take Account for ‘Missing’ JeM Chief?
It's an open secret that JeM maintains close ties with the Taliban, helping it with a steady stream of Pak recruits.
Pakistan, even in the middle of the worst flooding in its recent history, is never short of entertainment. The latest farce started few days ago with a scoop reported by the Pakistani channel Geo News.
According to Geo News, the Pakistani Government has written an official letter to the Taliban Government stating that Masood Azhar is hiding in Afghanistan, living most probably between the provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar. In the letter, apparently, Islamabad is asking the Government of Kabul to arrest the Jaish-e-Mohammad(JeM) chief and hand him to Pakistan.
Masood Azhar’s Explosive Hideout Claims
Nobody has confirmed or denied the news in the Pakistani Government, but Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari when asked by the press about Masood Azhar, declared, “Our information is that the said individual is in Afghanistan."
The Taliban reacted almost immediately, stating that: “The JeM leader is not here in Afghanistan. This is an organisation which could be in Pakistan. Anyway, he is not in Afghanistan and we have not been asked anything like this. We have heard about it in the news. Our reaction is that this is not true."
It also added, “We also call on all parties to refrain from such allegations lacking any proof and documentation. Such media allegations can adversely affect bilateral relations." And we're still waiting for the next chapter.
Letter or not, let's stick to the facts. Not so long ago, Pakistan had said Azhar was under house arrest in Bahawalpur, then they said they had no idea of his whereabouts.
Meanwhile, despite all the claims that he was nowhere to be seen, the JeM chief continued to publish articles on Pakistani social media networks exhorting JeM cadres to indulge in Jihad and praising the Taliban takeover of Kabul, claiming that Taliban victory would drive to Muslim victories elsewhere.
JeM’s Role in the Rise of Afghan Taliban
Now, it's an open secret that for the past year or so, JeM, through its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) handlers, has maintained close ties with the Afghan Taliban, providing them with a continuous stream of Pakistani recruits from the provinces of South Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA).
The JeM’s training camps, including the one at Balakot, have supplied a sizeable number of battle-hardened fighters that have aided the ground successes of the Afghan Taliban. Further, the JeM has also provided suicide bombers to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network for executing attacks in Afghanistan.
According to local sources, the province of Nangahar in Afghanistan has practically been handed over by the Taliban to JeM. On ISI's instructions, JeM cadres have been shifted to Nangahar from Khyber Agency and Parachinar on the Pakistan-Afghan border.
Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar Kashmiri, brother of Masood Azhar, is in charge of the Nangahar camps. Masood has been seen in the country more than a year ago, immediately after the Taliban took charge. Asghar, despite being at a point placed officially under protective custody, has been seen holding multiple meetings with ISI operatives.
In particular, there were news of Asghar accompanying to Islamabad his brother Masood Azhar to meet their ISI patrons allegedly to discuss the role of JeM in the incoming months. The same sources mantain that during the meeting, there were few differences on the issue.
Terror Outfits Play Loyal Aides to Taliban
The ISI line of course prevailed, and JeM, along with Lashkar-e-Taiba(LeT), was put on the job of raising funds for the Taliban and to facilitate the movements of Jihadi (including Al Qaida members) from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
The rest is history. Al-Qaida’s chief Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by a drone in Kabul, almost certainly with some kind of help from Pakistan. Islamabad, a little later got the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) help it so desperately needed. Next goal, for Islamabad, is to get out of the Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) grey list which adversely impacts the finances of the country.
This is the reason why, not so long ago, the Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Sajid Mir, declared dead for the longest time, has been abruptly 'resurrected' by the Army. This is the reason why Muhammad Hafiz Saeed has been 'arrested' for the umpteenth time and might also be the reason why Masood Azhar has allegedly been shifted to Afghanistan under the protection of the Haqqani.
Conspiracy Theories Fan the Flame for Global Insurgency
But of course nobody, except maybe Bilawal Bhutto, is so naive to believe that Islamabad would so easily give up one of its main strategic assets. There's no safer place for Azhar than the place where he's been living and thriving until now, in the loving care of ISI.
Unless, as one of the theories circulating in the country says, is that Masood might already be dead and Islamabad is trying to score points from his death trying to stage another brilliant strategic operation. Interestingly enough, China has recently put a hold on a proposal by the US and India at the UNSC to designate Abdul Rauf Azhar as an 'International Terrorist.' Let's wait and watch.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)
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