Islamabad, March 6 (IANS) The Pakistan military has claimed that Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) that claimed responsibility for the Kashmir suicide bombing which killed 40 CRPF personnel “doesn’t exist in the country”.
Major General Asif Ghafoor, the Director General of the Army’s media wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), made the remarks while talking to CNN on Tuesday.
Asked if Pakistan will make an “increased effort” in the aftermath of the February 14 Kashmir bombing that was claimed by JeM, Ghafoor said: “First of all, that claim has not been made from within Pakistan because Jaish-e-Mohammad does not (formally) exist in Pakistan. It has been proscribed by the UN (as well as) by Pakistan.”
His remarks were in contrast to the stance of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who had admitted on February 28 that JeM chief Masood Azhar was in Pakistan and was “unwell to the extent that he cannot leave his house”.
Tensions between India and Pakistan increased following the Kashmir bombing. The incident resulted in mounting pressure from the international community on Islamabad to act on terror groups based on its soil.
Pakistan launched a crackdown against Islamist groups on Tuesday and arrested the brother and son of Masood Azhar along with 42 others affiliated with the banned terror groups. The government also seized properties belonging to Hafiz Saeed’s proscribed Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its charity arm Falah-e-Insaniyat.
“Anybody who operates from Pakistan (against other countries), we feel, that it is not in the interest of Pakistan. Instead of blaming Pakistan, it is time that the world should assist and facilitate Pakistan in getting rid of such organisations,” Ghafoor said.
He, however, added that the country was not taking these measures “under anyone’s pressure”.
The military spokesperson also said that “the ball was now in India’s court” following Islamabad’s “peace gesture” of releasing an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot but warned that the situation will “go bad” if New Delhi decides to opt for further escalation.
India had retaliated to the Kashmir attack by bombing JeM’s biggest training camp in Balakot, Pakistan. Later, Islamabad captured the IAF Wing Commander after a February 27 dogfight between Indian and Pakistani Air Force. He was released on March 1 as a “peace gesture” by Pakistan.
“We feel that now the ball is in the Indian court. Should they decide to escalate more, the situation will go bad,” Ghafoor told CNN.
Asked whether India and Pakistan were close to war, he said: “We were I would say close to war because when they (India) violated the airspace under token aggression, we went for response.
“Now it is up to India whether they take that (IAF pilot release) as a peace gesture and move forward towards de-escalation or continue the agenda that they have.”
Talking about the situation on the Line of Control (LoC), Ghafoor said: “Along the LoC we’re are eyeball to eyeball. There is presence of troops at the LoC for decades. But post the Indian aggression and our response the safeguards have been taken by both side.”
He added that troops had been increased “because it is natural as part of military planning. When the situation gets hot there are safeguards. Those safeguards are in place on both sides”.
Speaking about the Balakot raids, in which New Delhi said that a large number of terrorists were killed, Ghafoor claimed that there were no casualties.
“Their (Indian) claims are false and I believe lately there is an announcement from their side also that they cannot claim any casualty.”
Asked if the Kashmir attack triggered the tensions, Ghafoor said the answer lied in the UN Human Rights Commission report which highlighted “Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir”.