Pakistan’s “Dramatic” Control Of Bahawalpur Seminary

As pressure mounts on Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the Pulwama terror attack, it took over the headquarters of United Nations designated terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and appointed an administrator to manage its’ affairs. The terror outfit claimed responsibility for the deadly suicide attack that killed more than 40 CRPF personnel in Jammu and Kashmir on 14th February. The move came after the powerful UN Security Council comprising 15 nations, including Pakistan’s key ally China, named JeM in a statement condemning in the strongest terms the “heinous and cowardly” terror attack and stressed on the need to hold organisers and financiers of such “reprehensible acts” accountable and bring them to justice. The terror attack has heightened tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi.

Last weekend, Pak Interior Minister told that the Punjab government has “taken over the control of the Jaish headquarters in Bahawalpur”, about 400 km from Lahore. The mosque-and-seminary complex in Bahawalpur area is believed to be the headquarters of Masood Azhar’s JeM. It was the first time Pakistan acknowledged that. However, the Pakistan government took a U-turn the very next day and dismissed its own claim that it had taken over the control of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) headquarters and said the complex has no link with the terror outfit. Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the Punjab government took administrative control of Madrassa-ul Sabir and Jamia-e-Masjid Subhanallah in Bahawalpur, in line with the decisions taken during their National Security Council meeting. The meeting was a part of the National Action Plan (NAP) and had nothing to do with the Kashmir attack, he said.

On the very same day, Pakistan also banned the 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed-led Jamat-ud-Dawa and its charity wing Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation. The JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the Laskar-e-Tayayba (LeT) which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai attack that killed 166 people. It has been declared as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in June 2014. India, however, has rejected the moves made by Pakistan. Islamabad’s scrambling to put together this cosmetic response is evidence of the coordinated diplomatic campaign that India has undertaken across multiple capitals and in New Delhi.

According to analysts, the ‘banned’ seminaries operate as JeM’s main base of operations. The mosque called Jamia-e- Masjid Subhan Allah on Bahawalpur’s outskirts, houses the new headquarters of Jaish-e-Mohammed. The place is just eight kilometres away from Bahawalpur’s army cantonment; which is the headquarters of Pakistan’s 31 Corps, an army unit of 30,000 troops. Also, Bahawalpur is the birthplace of its JeM chief Masood Azhar.

India has long been calling upon the UN Security Council to declare JeM chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist, however, Islamabad’s longtime ally China has time and again used its veto power to block the move. However, the condemnation by the UNSC comes just a day after Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi met top UN leaders, including with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council President Anatolio Ndong Mba, briefing them about the escalating tensions in the region in the wake of the Pulwama attack.

Also the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a Paris-based intergovernmental body tasked with countering terrorist funding and money laundering), which had placed Pakistan on its grey list in June 2018, said that Pakistan should continue to work on implementing its action plan to address its strategic deficiencies in countering terror financing. New Delhi had been pushing to get Pakistan moved up to the FATF’s “Black List”, which would have made it even more difficult for Islamabad to get international funds. In a major boost to India’s efforts to get Azhar on the list of global terrorists, France is expected to soon move a proposal at the UN to ban the head of the UN-proscribed group. The proposal, when moved, will be the fourth such bid at the UN in past 10 years.

Script: Dr. Smita, Strategic Analyst on Af-Pak