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US says terrorist Masood Azhar enjoys ‘state protection’ in Pakistan

2008 Mumbai attack (Nicholas/WikiCommons)

The United States on Wednesday said in a rare instance of such direct finger-pointing that Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masood Azhar and 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Sajid Mir were “widely believed” to be living “under the protection of the state” in Pakistan, which, additionally, had still not taken “decisive actions” against terrorists based on its soil.

The United State has pushed Pakistan for long through threats and appeals to arrest and prosecute terrorists sheltered there and in the state department’s 2019 country reports on terrorism released Wednesday, it welcomed the prosecution of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba, in 2019, along with 12 associates.

But Pakistan has made “no effort to use domestic authorities to prosecute” other terrorist figures such as Azhar and Mir, “both of whom are widely believed to reside in Pakistan under the protection of the state, despite government denials”, the repot added.

JeM claimed responsibility for the Pulwama terrorist attack in February 2019, that led to significant escalation in tensions between the two nuclear power neighbors. India carried out a retaliatory strike on a JeM camp in Balakot, Pakistan hit back with an air raid, that led to the first air battle between the two air forces in decades.

It was rare for the United States to have so very directly accused Pakistan of not only looking the other way as these two terrorists have lived and thrived there, but also of providing them state protection, which had been long apparent to most South Asian officials and experts.

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The United States has bene critical of Pakistan for yers now for allowing terrorists sheltering on tis soil to operate against India to the east and Pakistan to the west, and had gone so far as to say the Haqqani Network, of the Afghan Taliban, was a “veritable arm” of the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI.

But accusing Pakistan of providing state protection to Azhar and Mir and their likes, is unusual, but not enough. “The United State has known of the presence in Pakistan of jihadi leaders who operate in India and Afghanistan but wants to keep its channel of communication open with Pakistan which is why it has not used the kind of firm language that it uses about other countries,” said Husain Haqqani, the former US ambassador to Pakistan who now lives in the US.

Hafiz Saeed’s arrest and prosecution, for the ninth time, in 2019, had come under intense global pressure as Pakistan had faced with the possibility of being blacklisted at the initiative of the US by a global watchdog on terror financing and money-laundering, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force.

Pakistan narrowly escaped then, but has remained in the dock, as the US terror report reminded. “The FATF expressed serious concern at its October 2019 plenary about Pakistan’s continued deficiencies but noted it had made some progress and extended the deadline for full Action Plan implementation to February 2020.” A final call is expected later in the year, in October.

But in the US state department’s assessment, Pakistan still has much to show and improve. “Pakistan continued to serve as a safe haven for certain regionally focused terrorist groups.,” the report said, adding, “It allowed groups targeting Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and affiliated HQN, as well as groups targeting India, including LeT and its affiliated front organizations, and JeM, to operate from its territory.

The report acknowledged that Pakistan had made “some” and “modest” progress on countering terrorism, “the most difficult aspects of its 2015 National Action Plan to counter terrorism remains unfulfilled – specifically its pledge to dismantle all terrorist organizations without delay and discrimination.”

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© 2020 the Hindustan Times