Just the other day Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that there are no safe havens for terrorists in his country and on the face of it, his claim sounds convincing because many high-profile terrorists suddenly seem to have fled Pakistan.
Readers would recall that after last year’s terrorist car bomb attack in Pulwama, J&K, when CNN asked Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi about the whereabouts of its mastermind Maulana Masood Azhar, who is also chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) ), confirmed that “He is in Pakistan, according to my information” and then went on to say “He is unwell to the extent that he can’t leave his house, because he’s really unwell.”
But a year down the line we find Islamabad telling Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that not only Azhar, (who was supposed to be “unwell to the extent that he can’t leave his house,”) but his entire family are “missing.” Could it be that this UN designated global terrorist has ‘fled’ Pakistan as he feared persecution in Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan”?
The same seems to be the case with former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan whose terrorist outfit was responsible for the Army School Peshawar massacre in which 132 students and eight staff members lost their lives. He is also behind the cowardly and unsuccessful attempt to murder Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai.
Ehsan had apparently ‘surrendered’ to the Pakistan army three years ago and for reasons unknown, instead of being lodged in a jail as one would have expected, he was accommodated in a ‘safe house’ alongwith his family.
The Pakistan army decided that Ehsan would be tried by a military court but once again for inexplicable reasons, Rawalpindi didn’t even care to file a charge-sheet against this unrepentant murderer. So, could it be that despite enjoying a blissful life with his wife and children without any fear of being brought to justice for his terror related acts, Ehsan still chose to fly the coop along with his family because he feared that Khan would make an example out of him?
Speaking of making examples, by convicting Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) co-founder and the 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed on whom the US State Department has announce a bounty of $ 10 million, Pakistan has shown to the world how serious it is when it comes to dealing with those who plan, perpetuate or finance terrorist activities.
Having found Saeed and one of his associates guilty on two counts of terror financing and money laundering, a Pakistani court has sentenced both to five and half years in prison on each count. Both have also been fined a sum of Rs 15,000 each. But, since both sentences will run concurrently, the duo will only have to serve for five and a half years each in prison and remission for good behaviour will reduce this period significantly.
Since Pakistan is itself a victim of terrorism, why are its courts still so casual and lenient while dealing with terrorism related is difficult to explain.
Whereas Khan may boast about Pakistan having a robust and independent judiciary, there is very strong evidence of Rawalpindi’s interference in the judicial process. Then, last year we heard Khan saying that “Until we came into power, the governments did not have the political will (to act against Pakistan based terrorist groups)” and admitting “we still have about 30,000-40,000 armed people who have been trained and fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir.”
Today, when PM Khan says that there are no more safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan, one is tempted to ask him as to where has this humungous body of “30 to 40 thousand-armed people” gone? Is it that just like the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief and former TTP and JuA spokesperson, these veterans of irregular warfare in Afghanistan and Kashmir too have fled Pakistan out of fear and simply disappeared without any trace? Or is it just that they have been instructed by Rawalpindi to lie low and cool their heels till the FATF meet concludes? Could Khan’s threat that “This government will not allow Pakistan’s land to be used for any kind of outside terrorism” forced those who have “fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir” to leave the country to search for new safe havens?
A supposedly ailing Pakistan based terrorist leader who could be a source of embarrassment to the government at FATF meeting suddenly goes ‘missing’. Another terrorist who had a hand in the murder of 132 innocent students negotiated his ‘surrender’ with the army and then manages to escape from custody, while a terrorist with $10 million bounty for master minding the Mumbai attacks that left 166 dead and 293 injured is instead tried only for money laundering and terror financing, and given such a lenient sentence that makes mockery of the law.
Welcome to Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan’!