The curious case of Pakistan’s flip-flop on JeM, explained

On Wednesday, former Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf alleged that Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has aided the country’s premier intelligence group, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). However, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi denies the group’s existence in the country.

JeM made headlines in February when one of its suicide bombers attacked a convoy of CRPF jawans in Pulwama; nearly 40 personnel died in that attack.

Initial intelligence reports said JeM is a Pakistan-based terror group. So, India retaliated with airstrikes across the Line of Control (LoC) in Balakot.

The Ministry of External Affairs called these strikes a success because the IAF managed to take out JeM terror camps, trainers, operatives, and leaders.

But now, Pakistani officials seem to disagree on basic facts about JeM.

‘ISI has used JeM before’

Musharraf confirmed that JeM is a terror group based in Pakistan and that ISI has used its help before.

In an on-air telephone interview with journalist Nadeem Malik, Musharraf said investigating and arresting JeM militants is the right decision.

“I have always said they are a terrorist organisation and actions must be taken against them. I am very happy that the government is taking a tough stand,” said Musharraf.

He added that JeM had tried assassinating him in the past.

On December 14, 2003, he escaped a bomb that went off moments after his convoy crossed a bridge in Rawalpindi.

Again, just two weeks later, two suicide bombers rammed Musharraf’s motorcade and detonated car bombs. Although he escaped unscathed, 14 people, including the terrorists, died.

At the time, officials were uncertain about which group had orchestrated the attacks and considered al-Qaeda’s role.

However, Musharraf told Malik that he believes the attempts on his life were JeM’s doing.

A hate-hate relationship?

When Malik grilled him on why he did not take serious action against JeM as PM, Musharraf alleged that Pakistani intelligence officers and the terror group were hand in glove.

“At the time, things were different… Our intelligence officers were involved… India and Pakistan were involved in tit-for-tat bombing. They were organising bombings in India,” he added.

On why JeM would target him, Musharraf claimed that Pakistan taking action against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, who had begun entering Pakistani cities and mountain ranges, antagonised the group.

“We apprehended approximately 100 rogues and handed them over to the US. But people wrongly thought we had handed over Pakistanis. We never handed over a single Pakistani, only non-Pakistanis,” said Musharraf.

He also blamed the US for the presence of terrorist groups in Pakistan.

Musharraf’s words corroborate Indian officials who claimed that they had provided a dossier of information on JeM terror camps to Pakistan even before the Pulwama attack.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said, “Pakistan has taken no concrete action to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil.”

Where is JeM chief Azhar?

In an interview, Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi confirmed to CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour that JeM Chief Masood Azhar was in Pakistan; Qureshi, however, added that Azhar had taken ill.

“He is in Pakistan and, according to my information, he is very unwell. He is unwell to the extent that he cannot leave his house,” claimed Qureshi.

When Amanpour asked why officials haven’t arrested Azhar, Qureshi said if India provides evidence that is acceptable to Pakistan courts, the government is willing to take action.

However, again to CNN, Pakistan Armed Forces Major General Asif Ghafoor contradicted Qureshi’s statements.

On JeM claiming responsibility for the Pulwama attack, Ghafoor said, “First of all, that claim wasn’t made from within Pakistan, because Jaish-e-Mohammad does not exist in Pakistan.”

He added that the recent crackdown on terrorists in the country was not a consequence of international pressure, but a matter of domestic policy.

Pakistan government vs. armed forces

In the past, Pakistani armed forces and government have often found themselves in power struggles.

In 1977, then General Zia ul-Haq had led a military coup against PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and imprisoned him. They found Bhutto guilty of ordering Ahmed Raza Kasuri’s assassination and, subsequently, hanged him.

Kasuri was a Pakistani MP who was critical of Bhutto. In the assassination attempt, Kasuri escaped but his father, Nawab Mohammad Ahmed Khan, was killed.

Again in 1999, a Musharraf-led coup seized power.

In 2012, then PM Yusuf Raza Gilani disagreed when Army Chief General Ashfaq Jayani demanded that Gilani backtrack on his criticism of the armed forces and ISI.

Gilani was then tried for contempt in the Pakistani Supreme Court.

BBC reports that ever since the 2014 Peshawar attack on schoolchildren, the Pakistani armed forces and some charismatic generals in particular enjoy public support.

The Pakistani media is also reluctant to criticise the military. Even if journalists make comments on-air about the armed forces, their audio is muted.

BBC says a prime time TV host said the crew muted her voice as soon as she said “military” because it did not know if she was going to praise or criticise the officers.

This year, the armed forces and government are already providing conflicting accounts of the same issue.

The escalating tensions might strain relations between the Pakistani government and armed forces, a relationship that is weak to begin with.

Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius

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