Days after Islamabad Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed that Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar was in Pakistan, the country’s military on Wednesday claimed that the terror group “does not exist” in Pakistan.
Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor said the JeM claim of responsibility for the Pulwama attack had not been made from inside Pakistan.
“Jaish-e-Muhammed does not exist in Pakistan. It has been proscribed by the United Nations and Pakistan also. Secondly, we are not doing anything under anybody’s pressure,” he claimed.
The already sour relations between India and Pakistan worsened after Pakistan-based JeM claimed responsibility for the February 14 Pulwama attack that left over 44 CRPF personnel dead.
Ghafoor when asked if the two countries were close to war after the attack told CNN, “We were I would say close to war because when they [India] violated the airspace under token aggression, we went for response.”
“Along the Line of Control (LoC) we were 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,” Ghafoor said on the situation along the LoC
He said 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.”
Following the Pulwama attack, the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out “non-military pre-emptive” airstrikes targeting the JeM training camp in Balakot in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, about 80-km from the Line of Control (LoC) early on February 26, reportedly killing a “very large number” of terrorists.
Following the strikes, the next day, Indian and Pakistani fighters engaged in an aerial combat.
When asked about Indian claims regarding the Balakot air strike, Ghafoor said that not even a single brick had been found there nor were there any causalities.
“Their [Indian] claims are false,” he said.
Last week, Qureshi had said that Azhar was in Pakistan and that the government will arrest him only if India gives unalienable evidence that is acceptable in the courts of Pakistan.
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.
The US, the UK and France had earlier moved a fresh proposal in the UN Security Council to designate Pakistan-based terror group JeM’s chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, a listing that will subject him to global travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo.
(With agency inputs)