Pak crackdown on terror: How Imran Khan still controls the narrative?

Imran Khan, India, Pakistan, Hafiz Saeed, US, terrorist, JuD, Taliban, The Federal, English news website
Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan said, there are possibilities that a conventional war between the two countries will end in a nuclear war, if one side was losing. Photo: PTI File

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart fight their respective battles to restore a ‘New India’ and ‘Naya Pakistan’, a new war of words has broken out after Islamabad announced the arrest of 44 people affiliated with outlawed outfits, including the son and brother of JeM chief Masood Azhar.

The question that everybody’s asking is — how sincere are Imran Khan’s efforts?

Incidentally, the names of the son and brother of JeM chief Masood Azhar — who were among the 44 arrested — were on a list of suspects submitted by India to Pakistani authorities in an official dossier following the Pulwama terrorist attack on February 14. The arrests on Tuesday came a day after Pakistan announced the freezing of accounts and seizure of assets linked to outfits banned by the UN Security Council (UNSC).

But can India afford to ‘believe’ Pakistan? Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying that Islamabad will not allow its soil to be used for terrorist attacks is unlikely to be taken seriously since India has heard these words before without any demonstrable action.

Pakistan has banned many such groups in the past and also arrested their leaders, only to release them for lack of evidence. For instance, Jaish-e-Mohammad was banned in Pakistan since 2002 following the attempted assassination of Pervez Musharraf. But the JeM has since been seen carrying out a number of terror attacks in India as well as Pakistan.

Another example is that of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder and Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. But these outfits have been successful in circumventing the curbs on them by merely changing and operating under different names.

Ban promise

On February 21, Pakistan had said JuD and its charity wing Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation would be placed on a list of banned organisations. It’s a different story altogether that the updated Pakistan’s National Counter Terrorism Authority’s internal notification still shows the two on a ‘watch list ’ and and not banned.

Imran Khan, especially after the latest escalation between India and Pakistan, is trying hard to make the right noises for his dream of ‘Naya Pakistan’ with some ‘Naya action’. And he seems to be succeeding in doing so as well.

The latest moves came after heightened tensions between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama terrorist attack in which killed 40 Indian soldiers were killed on February 14. The attack was claimed by the Jaish.

While the incident saw India carrying out airstrikes on JeM terror camp inside Pakistan, Islamabad retaliated and managed to shoot down an Indian aircraft and capture an IAF pilot. It was how things unfolded after this on both Indian and Pakistani sides that has tilted the balance in favour of Imran Khan who quickly returned the Indian pilot as a “peace gesture”.

When the Pakistani prime minister declared in Parliament to release IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, all members were seen thumping their desk in approval — a clear sign of Khan enjoying the support of both his partymen as well as the opposition and his countrymen.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the Indian Prime Minister. The Opposition in India has been accused of debunking the BJP government’s claims with Prime Minister Modi customising the military success as his personal achievement for electoral gains.

While BJP president Amit Shah claimed over 250  terrorists were killed, UP Chief Minister Adityanath said 400 people were killed. On Tuesday, home minister Rajnath Singh accused the Opposition of doing politics over the strike and suggested the Congress to go to Pakistan and count the bodies if they want to know how many terrorists were killed. All this even as Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said the IAF is not in a position to clarify the numbers of casualties. “The government will clarify that. We do not count human casualties; we count what targets we have hit or not. We hit our target.”

Questions over the government’s claims of “a number of terrorists killed” were raised after a few international media houses have reported that only one man was injured on the ground in Balakot and some trees were burnt.

Blame Game

As doubts were raised if the Modi government was inflating its achievements, the BJP, including the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues, started blaming the Opposition of doubting the intentions of the government and the armed forces.

Anyone, including some journalists, asking questions about the airstrikes have been widely chastised by the government, blaming them of taking Pakistan’s side. Speaking at the ‘India Today’ Conclave recently, Modi called all such people the “enemy inside” India. According to Modi, Pakistan is laughing at India due to such questions raised by the Opposition and certain sections of the media.

India has long accused Pakistan of sheltering militant organisations and repeatedly demanded a crackdown on such outfits. Pakistan, meanwhile, has often denied the charges. This time around, too, questions are bound to arise about Pakistan’s sincerity, considering its past. But Imran Khan still managed to steal Modi’s thunder. The Pakistan government’s crackdown on terrorists has met general approval from his country.

“For the sake of our own national security, prudence required a full clampdown on any militant group accused of using Pakistani soil for cross-border attacks. The latest action has come at a time when Pakistan is on FATF’s grey list and is reportedly taking steps to avoid being blacklisted. The government says that it is now pursuing a policy of zero-tolerance towards militancy and religious extremism. That sounds good,” an opinion piece in Dawn observed.

“The goal should be unambiguous: ridding Pakistan of all forms of militancy, terrorism and religious extremism.” read another editorial.

However, the biggest message from Imran Khan to India and the international community as well as his own country came with the sacking of a provincial minister in Pakistan for his anti-Hindu remarks. This will further help bolster Pakistan’s image since Khan took action against blatant bigotry, especially when his Indian counterpart continues to maintain silence and ignore similar bigots in his own government and party.

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