Monday, February 18, 2019
By Alex Williams
A Christian woman held in protective custody since being cleared of blasphemy in Pakistan last year says she has no idea when the green light might be given, allowing her to finally leave the country.
Asia Bibi, who was moved from Islamabad to Karachi after a legal challenge to her acquittal was dismissed, has spoken via phone to one of her daughters.
According to a friend quoted by The Times, the 47-year-old said: "No one is telling me when they will release me and send us abroad."
The newspaper says Ms Bibi is being stopped from completing her asylum paperwork while authorities put pressure on her to refrain from criticising Pakistan during media appearances once she leaves.
It is understood the mother-of-five intends to be reunited with her children in Canada - which has already offered her sanctuary.
Pakistan has previously insisted that Ms Bibi is technically free to leave, despite concerns that her departure is being deliberately delayed.
One senior official told The Times: "Bibi will leave soon once the documentation process is completed and we get the green lights from the host country."
Ms Bibi spent eight years on death row after being convicted of insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. She always denied any wrongdoing.
Her acquittal last October prompted protests by hard-line Islamists, who claim she should be publicly executed.
The permanent mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations has complained about Islamabad’s dealings with the Taliban in violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty.Just a day after Iran accused Pakistan of supporting the suicide bombers that killed 27 Revolutionary guards on Wednesday, Afghanistan has protested against Islamabad to the UN Security Council.
Revolutionary Guards have broken up a group of militants in southeast Iran who were linked to a suicide bombing that killed 27 guards near the border with Pakistan last week, the Corps said on Monday.
"Last night, a terrorist cell was identified and destroyed in an operation," the Corps said in a statement carried by the semi-official Tasnim news agency. Three militants were arrested and explosive material was seized from houses in the cities of Saravan and Khash, it said."They were linked to the suicide bombing attack last week. The Corps will continue its efforts to take revenge over the deadly terrorist attack," it said.
The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic minority Baluchis, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Shi'ite Muslim Iran says militant groups operate from safe havens in Pakistan and have repeatedly called on the neighboring country to crack down on them.
Iranian authorities also accuse regional rival Sunni Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of financially supporting militant Sunni groups that attack Iranian forces. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE deny backing such militants.
On 14 February 2019, a 20-year-old suicide bomber, identified as Adil Ahmed Dhar, rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a bus carrying Indian paramilitary personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. It was one of the deadliest terror attacks in three decades, killing 44 and critically injuring many others.
A Pakistan-based jihadi terrorist group, Jaish-e-Muhammad ("Army of Muhammed"), claimed responsibility for the attack.
Founded in 2000 by Maulana Masood Azhar – a portly and bespectacled radical Islamist cleric – at the behest of Pakistan’s military establishment, Jaish-e-Muhammad has close financial and operational links with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba - and anti-Shia groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi/Sipah-e-Sahaba-e-Pakistan. Its formal aim is to force India out of Kashmir for the entire region to become part of Pakistan, but it has a long history of using jihadist ideology to organize terrorist attacks across the world. The group's prime mentor is Pakistan, but a world superpower has also got its back: China.
Much before Masood Azhar founded the Jaish-e-Muhammad, he was a part of the radical Islamic group called Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. As its member, Masood Azhar travelled to Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Kashmir, Britain and other parts of the world, spreading hardcore jihadist ideology, seeking funds and recruiting young people as jihadists.In the mid-1980s and early 1990s, Masood Azhar and other purveyors of radical Islam, supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, launched a genocide in the Kashmir Valley, an ethnic cleansing pogrom in which tens of thousands of Hindu Kashmiri Pandits were targeted, massacred, and driven out of their homes. Nearly 350,000 of them fled the valley; today, there are only 2764 Hindus left there. As Amy Waldman of the New York Times writes:
"The Pandits' story is one of the tragic and often overlooked footnotes of a conflict that has claimed perhaps 60,000 lives. The Pandits were the elite of Kashmir, filling the medical and education professions. India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a Kashmiri Pandit... But in the early 1990s, most Pandits were driven out." The tentacles of these terror networks, however, are not restricted to Kashmir. They extend far beyond, using the mass media - especially the internet - to spread their militant jihadist ideology. There are accounts of young British Muslims, fascinated by his vitriolic jihadi speeches against India, the U.S. and the West, listening to his sermons over and over again, a classic stage in radicalization. One report tells how women, listening to his sermons, are moved to tears and give away their jewellery for the cause of jihad.
As the editor of the magazine Sadai Mujahid ("Voice of the Mujahid"), Masood Azhar extolled the virtues of jihad in Afghanistan and then later in Kashmir. Through his books – Ma’arka ("The Struggle"), Faza’il Jihad ("The Virtue of Jihad") and Tuhfa-e-Saadat ("The Gift of Virtue") – he spewed vicious hate and called for jihadi militancy in the name of Allah.
In his book Yehud Ki Chalees Bimariyan ("Forty Diseases Of The Jews") - considered to be "the most anti-Semitic book in the Urdu language" - Masood Azhar declared, "Judaism became another name for those beliefs, ideas, and practices which were invented by Satan." He calls Jews "the cancer seeping into all of humanity" and provokes "real" Muslims "to challenge the Jews in the battlefield of jihad."Notwithstanding his extremism, Masood Azhar was warmly welcomed by Britain’s leading Islamic scholars. He addressed gatherings in some of Britain’s most influential mosques in the early 1990s, speaking about "jihad, its need, training and other related issues," and telling them that a large proportion of the Koran had been devoted to "killing for the sake of Allah."
A BBC investigation revealed that Azhar, in a speech titled "From Jihad to Jannat (paradise)," told the audience that "the youth should prepare for jihad without any delay. They should get jihadist training from wherever they can. We are also ready to offer our services." He is considered to have been the first Islamist preacher "to spread the seeds of [the] modern jihadist militancy in Britain."Among the earliest recruits as a suicide bomber for the Jaish-e-Muhammad was a 24-year-old Briton from Birmingham: Asif Sadiq. Nearly two decades ago, on Christmas Day 2000, using the pseudonym Mohammad Bilal, he drove a car packed with explosives into an Indian army outpost, killing nine soldiers.
Over the past two decades, as Jaish-e-Muhammad, supported by Pakistan’s military establishment, spawned insurgency in Kashmir and other parts of the world, its terror footprint increased dramatically.
Its supporters and graduates have been involved in numerous acts of terror: the kidnap and beheading of the American journalist Daniel Pearl; the 2005 London underground bombings; an attempt to blow up a transatlantic airline through liquid bombs; the bombing of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly; an attack on the Indian Parliament; an attack on the Indian embassy in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan; an attack on the Pathankot airbase and on the Uri army camp – to name a few. Consequently, its members have been on the terror watchlist of most of the world’s intelligence agencies.
In October 2001, the United Nations designated it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization; two months later, in December 2001, the U.S. followed suit. Following reports that the U.S. State Department was considering declaring Jaish-e-Muhammad a foreign terrorist organization, the group transferred its money to low-profile supporters to hide its assets.
In 2002, due to pressure from the United States, the Pakistan government imposed a ban on Jaish-e-Muhammad. But this ban existed only on paper. The Pakistani military establishment continued to work closely with the jihadi group informally, and the group continued its activities by changing its name to Tehreek Khudam-ul-Islam. Later, when the new organisation was banned in 2003, the group started to operate as the Al-Rahmat Trust, a "non-political," "charitable," "community organization." The United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, India, Russia, the UAE and several other countries have banned the Jaish-e-Muhammad.However, despite being the mastermind behind terrorist activities including murder, kidnapping, and soliciting for a global war on the U.S., UK, Israel and India - Masood Azhar, once detained by the Indian authorities, is now a free man in Pakistan. Although he was detained in "protective custody" (a house arrest with all necessary facilities) for a few months, he was released for "lack of evidence."
He reportedly lives in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, in a 6.5-acre Madrassa located close to a Pakistani army post in the Punjab province. In many instances, the Pakistani military establishment has treated him like a celebrity. He holds rallies, sharing the dais with Pakistan’s military generals and politicians, and gives lectures in which he calls to "destroy India."
Despite volumes of evidence – news reports, academic studies, intelligence reports – the United Nations Security Council has failed to put Masood Azhar on its 1267/1373 list of banned terrorists.
A permanent member of the UN Security Council, Beijing has consistently vetoed the UN Security Council efforts to get Masood Azhar on its list of banned terrorists. In 2018, 14 out of 15 members of the Security Council, including Saudi Arabia, supported putting Masood Azhar under the UN sanctions list. China – as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with the power to prevent the adoption of a substantive draft council resolution, regardless of otherwise unanimous international support – was the only member to block it.
That Pakistan is a fertile ground for terror networks is a well-known fact. But why would China tacitly support jihadi terrorists?
On paper, China reiterates its "commitment" to fight terrorism. However, keeping India distracted – by requiring it to deal with terrorism and its aftermath - is in China’s interest. China regards India as a potential challenger for strategic and economic leadership in Asia, and is committed to quashing those ambitions. Implicitly supporting terrorism and insurgency in India is the easiest, cheapest and most effective ways to accomplish this task.
China therefore has a vested interested in insurgencies targeting India's territorial integrity. Its International Institute for Strategic Studies published a policy document in 2009 arguing that China should make an effort to break India into 20 to 30 independent states with the help of "friendly countries" such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.That China vetoes Masood Azhar from being on the sanctions list and supports Paresh Baruah, the leader of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), an insurgency group in the North Eastern state of Assam, further provides evidence of China’s intention to keep India distracted by insurgent terrorism.
China's appeasement of Masood Azhar strengthens India’s case against Pakistan as the hub of global terror groups. But Beijing has good reason to play on Pakistan's side.
By blocking Azhar as a UN designated terrorist, China - which has, on several occasions, explicitly stated that it wants to be Pakistan’s "all-weather strategic partner"- has gained Pakistan’s subservient loyalty. In this case, blocking Azhar, a person close to Pakistan’s military, is a powerful symbolic gesture and token of support for Pakistan in times of trouble. Masood Azhar is just a pawn in China’s larger geo-strategic game.
In return what China gets is a Pakistani government willing to prostrate itself in front of the Chinese. Such posturing is evident in the Pakistani ambassador to Beijing’s sycophantic declaration that the relationship between the two countries is ‘"higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, sweeter than honey."
This subservience – and desperation – to challenge India’s growing power in the global arena is reflected in Pakistan offering the Gwadar port to China to use as a naval base. The Gwadar port is an alternative to sea routes from Africa and West Asia through the South China Sea. China has pledged to invest $51 billion in an economic corridor that runs across the entire length of Pakistan, connecting the Gwadar port to China’s Xinjiang region. China also gets access to Pakistan’s natural resources.
Pakistan is also China’s port of call for support and mediation with groups such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In the past, Pakistan supported China in the OIC against Beijing’s crackdown on its Muslim Uighur community, which includes concentration camps and the demonization of the Uighur community as "terrorists." Pakistan has also loyally supported China at the Non-Aligned Movement’s meetings regarding its aggressive conduct in the South China Sea.
Strategically, China uses Pakistan to counter Indian power in the region, while Islamabad gains access to civilian and military resources to balance Indian might in the sub-continent – and to desperately needed funds.This "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" agreement between China and Pakistan is one of the key reasons why terrorist organizations such as Jaish-e-Muhammad are able to bypass international sanctions, cultivate insurgent movements and get away with terrorism.
That Beijing, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is complicit in abetting terrorism by protecting a murderous jihadi who has committed crimes against humanity, in contravention of the UN's own principles, exposes the deep faults in the international system. And it exposes the hypocrisy of a superpower like China.
The only way to force rogue states like Pakistan to end their support for jihadi terrorist activities is by sanctioning terrorist groups and their international sponsors. And if economic and political sanctions don't work, then, perhaps military options would.
Peace with India would be very expensive for the Pakistani army and come in the way of its idea of Pakistan.
JeM has for years sought to end India’s sovereign hold on Jammu and Kashmir.
Just two months after the September 11 attacks in the United States, the JeM attacked India’s parliament in New Delhi. Experts suggest the US asked India not to retaliate militarily as it would have affected its deployment across several bases in Pakistan for operations in Afghanistan and lead to Islamabad mobilising the army for its own mission instead of helping the US seal the Afghan border.
Now, Pakistan is also likely to reiterate to the US the pet narrative that militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is a “home-grown disaffection” and cite reports that the car packed with bombs that killed Indian troops was driven by a local youth, Adil Ahmad Dar.
Overall, the situation highlights the strategic limitations of the US and other nations in forcing Pakistan to abandon militant groups. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned the attack and strongly rejected insinuations it is linked to the incident.
It is also possible that with India-Pakistan relations in deep freeze, and the US in talks with the Taliban for a withdrawal from Afghanistan, the JeM wants to push India and Pakistan to the brink of war. It needs to be noted that the JeM, which has close links with the Taliban, carried out attacks inside Pakistan after former President Pervez Musharraf agreed to help the US military in the aftermath of September 11. Its attacks included two failed assassination bids on Musharaf in 2003. It was only later that the JeM was rehabilitated by Pakistan’s Army so it could be used against India. The car bombing on February 14 was quite similar to those carried out by the Irish Republican Army or militants in Afghanistan or Iraq and is possibly a hint of things to come. While car bombs have been rare in Kashmir, it is not the first time the JeM has used them. It deployed them twice in 2000 in Srinagar, albeit with limited success.
In October 2001, JeM militants rammed the main gate of the Legislative Assembly building, killing 23. Thwarting such attacks would not only require excellent intelligence on men and materials, but also mean restricting traffic movement and exhaustive checks of vehicles – disrupting everyday life in Jammu and Kashmir during a crucial election period. India has already indicated it would stop all civilian traffic during the movement of troop convoys. The ruling BJP, claiming to be more nationalistic and “muscular” than other political parties, is facing tremendous pressure to take a tough line on Pakistan. It could again launch “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control but Pakistan is likely to be prepared.
The other option is an attack using combat aircraft or armed drones on militant training camps. However, the problem is that Masood Azhar is based around Bahawalpur – and any aerial attack across the international border could lead to escalation. An attack across the de facto border known as The Line of Control may abate public sentiment – but will not punish the actual culprits.
There are many hawks in India who are recommending full-scale military action against Pakistan. But there are a few things to consider when contemplating full-scale war with Pakistan.First, India lacks the conventional forces overmatch over Pakistan that would allow it full control over the escalation ladder. If the element of surprise fails, Indian troops could get bogged down and there is the potential for escalation. Secondly, Pakistan’s fear of being quickly overwhelmed may encourage it to rapidly raise the stakes with nuclear threats.Thirdly, keeping an Indian attack limited may also not be a priority of Pakistan. It would, on the contrary, be keen to escalate the conflict to a level where the threat of nuclear war becomes imminent and the international community is forced to intervene. This could allow Pakistan to “internationalise” the Kashmir conflict – it administers part of Jammu & Kashmir (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) but insists most residents want either independence or to be under Islamabad and not New Delhi’s control.
Lastly, the Pakistani army does retain the potential to wreak some limited amount of damage on the Indian side of the border and the economic and stability cost to the border states would be debilitating. If the ruling BJP limits itself to economic and diplomatic measures only, it may suffer in elections. With opposition parties piling on pressure to act, the government may have to undertake some kind of punitive action – the outcome and benefits of which cannot be predicted. Right now, by indicating “the armed forces have been given full liberty to decide the time, place and mode of retribution”, the government seems to have outsourced the problem of a credible response to the armed forces.