In a move that is being called “hogwash” by India, Pakistan has written a letter to Afghanistan to arrest Maulana Masood Azhar. The Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, a UN-designated terrorist, is India’s most wanted.
Top sources told CNN-News18 that the Pakistan foreign office in its letter to the Taliban has claimed that Masood Azhar is possibly hiding in Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. “He could be in Nangarhar and Kunar areas, so he should be found, arrested, and informed,” the letter says, as per the sources.
Indian government officials told CNN-News18 that this could be Pakistan’s attempt to comply with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) mandate and get off the intergovernmental organisation’s grey list.
Sources say this is the second time that a letter has been written to Afghanistan. The first was in January this year when Pakistan took up the issue with Afghanistan at a ministerial level. The second letter was just ahead of FATF’s on-site visit to Pakistan that happened from August 28 to September 3. Pakistan is hoping to be taken off the grey list at the October plenary of FATF. But it has to comply with a 34-point task list.
The FATF team has been briefed by Pakistan authorities that Maulana Masood Azhar is not in Pakistan as he has fled to Afghanistan a long time ago, said sources.
Top officials in India called this a repeat of the Sajid Mir “arrest” drama. “This is an eyewash. Pakistan is always in denial mode,” an official dealing with Pakistan told CNN-News18. A second officer added, “Instead of searching for him in Nangarhar, they should find him in their safe houses of Bahawalpur and Rawalpindi.”
Sajid Mir, wanted in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case, was declared dead by Pakistan until last year. Ahead of the FATF deciding on Pakistan’s fate, Sajid was suddenly found, arrested, and convicted on terror charges.
India believes the current finger-pointing at Afghanistan is a replay of the same script. Indian intelligence agencies believe Masood Azhar is living in an ISI safehouse in Bahawalpur. His frequent visits to a Rawalpindi hospital have also been documented and cited by India.
“If FATF fall for this then it will be clear that they don’t have any problem with terrorism if it doesn’t affect them,” security analyst Sushant Sareen told CNN-News18.
Geostrategist Brahma Chellaney said Pakistan could get away with this because of US support. “The whole drama is ahead of the October plenary of FATF which is likely to fall for this because of American support. The F16 and World Bank deals are proof that the Biden administration has embraced Pakistan,” he said.
Dr Tara Kartha agreed. The former director of NCSC said it is clear that the US and Pakistan have struck a deal. “F16, IMF…what we need to ask is what is the US getting in return? Zawahiri?” she asked while speaking to CNN-News18.
Masood Azhar was freed from an Indian jail on December 31, 1999, after the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC 814. He was designated a global terrorist after the Pulwama attack in February 2019.