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Pakistan dubs terrorist attack as a “brave act”, refuses to mention home terror group JeM

February 18, 2019
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Pakistan dubs terrorist attack as a “brave act”, refuses to mention home terror group JeM

Islamabad: Pakistan’s foremost reaction to the recent Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF soldiers has been defensive, as its Foreign Office urged New Delhi not to point fingers at Islamabad “without investigations” while calling the terrorist attack “a matter of grave concern”.

While the Foreign Office did officially condemn the attack, their intention was to send a message to the world saying India blames Pakistan for its own flawed policies in Kashmir. Their official statement did not have any mention of terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) – who claimed the attack – whose leadership is not only rooted in Pakistan but also has ties with the military’s intelligence.

The narrative that Islamabad is looking to peddle has been evident across local media, with the attack being dubbed a ‘brave act’ in the struggle for freedom and the perpetrator being glorified as a freedom fighter. This narrative has been reinforced by the all-powerful military establishment, which has completely taken over the media’s strings under the current regime, by squeezing media houses financially.

An editor working with a leading English daily, requesting anonymity, revealed how the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) is micromanaging editorial policies. A prominent example of the military’s control over the editorial policy of many media houses is the absolute blackout of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, and complete censoring of any dissent in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, including the Gilgit-Baltistan region.

“Indian Kashmir has to be clearly written as Indian-occupied Kashmir – not even Indian-held or Indian-administered. The attack in Kashmir can’t be called a terrorist attack. Meanwhile, we have also been instructed that any Pakistani security official killed anywhere is to be called a martyr,” the editor explains.

Even so, while the military maintains a strong hold over the media, the stance showcased by Islamabad in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack is popularly backed across the country as well. It has been observed that attacks launched by Kashmiri terrorist are wholeheartedly welcomed by the general public, a sample of which can be seen in the reactions across social media.

[There are countless tweets and posts. A few links:

Such an opinion has been reinforced across the country by Islamist parties that endorse jihad in Kashmir. As recent as last year, after the Pakistani government issued a fatwa (decree) against terrorism entitled Paigham-e-Pakistan, Islamist parties united urging the state to announce jihad in Kashmir. These Islamist groups and the rallies they orchestrate to promote jihad in Kashmir often sees the participation of members from proscribed groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) Chief Hafiz Saeed and JeM’s Masood Azhar.

While Islamabad has issued a firm denial to India’s allegations, there are concerns among officials about global reaction towards Pakistan, particularly at a time when the State is accused of harbouring terrorism. 

Previously supported by China – which has vetoed India’s move to declare Masood Azhar a terrorist at the United Nations – Islamabad is concerned about Beijing backing out in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack. This is especially true given the attack comes days before Islamabad is to explain the functioning of Hafiz Saeed-led groups in the country at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris.

“China backed out of supporting us at the FATF last year, after the US initiated the process to grey-list us saying that there is little point in backing us since we were bound to be put on the watchlist. And given the allegations from countries around the globe, US and China might back out from its veto on Masood Azhar as well,” said a government official, requesting anonymity, who was a part of the Pakistani delegation at the FATF.

Where many express concern about the reaction of global powers, some also point out the ‘electoral’ benefits for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India.

Shamshad Ahmed, former foreign secretary of Pakistan, says, “With the general elections in India coming up in a few months, obviously the [Narendra] Modi regime will look to use the attack to help facilitate its election bid. This is the regime that falsely claimed that it had carried out surgical strikes in Pakistan, so it’s obvious that they will increase the anti-Pakistan rhetoric.” 

Analysts in Pakistan largely put the blame on Indian policies in Jammu & Kashmir, maintaining that their use of violence is enhancing militancy in the valley.

“Sure, this attack bears all the hallmarks of a typical Jihadi hit, but the Modi administration is guilty of employing a very oppressive militant state policy on indigenous Kashmiris throughout its tenure,” says leading geopolitical analyst and Pakistan Today’s Opinion Editor Shahab Jafry, referring to the government’s widely-debated use of force including pellet guns against civilians.

“As for [Pakistan’s] jihadi policy, whatever its current position is, or whether or not there is a partial or complete rollback; these measures will be incorporated away from the public eye. Friends like China have been pushing for a change for a while, but in this particular instance the Indians have also hurt their own position somewhat,” he adds.