Paris: The Jaish-e-Mohammed has admitted that India attacked its centre in Balakot in Pakistan but claimed that were no casualties in the air strikes that raised tensions between the neighbours to their highest in years.
The Islamist group has also lashed out at Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for “embarrassing the Muslim Ummah by releasing the Indian pilot” and exhorted Pakistanis to join the jihad in Kashmir.
The Jaish comments are contained in an audio recording that has surfaced following the release of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman by Pakistan Friday.
Varthaman was captured by Pakistani forces on Wednesday after his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet was shot down during a fight with Pakistani fighters a day after the Indian air strikes on Balakot. He was released late on Friday.
It is unclear who the main speaker in the audio clip is, but the recording begins with an introduction of the chief guest of the event – Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar, the brother of Masood Azhar, the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed, and thanks him for his presence.
Sources in Peshawar said that the audio is from an event held in Peshawar city on Thursday evening at a mosque on G.T. Road called Masjid wa Madrassah Sanan bin Salma.
Other speakers and participants at the event included Moulana Mujahid Abbas, Moulana Qutubuddin, Moulana Nizamuddin, all of who are affiliated with JeM. The event was held to pay tribute to the late Moulana Yousuf Ludhianvi, a Sunni extremist leader who was targeted and killed in Karachi in 2000.
Officially, JeM has been banned in Pakistan since 2002.
Listen to the full audio here:
Desire to become martyrs
In the sermon, the JeM leader begins by saying he has to make some clarification about recent developments regarding the Indian claims of a strike inside Pakistan. He goes on to acknowledge that Indian forces did carry out an airstrike and dropped bombs on their markaz (center) in Balakot where he claims students were learning about the duty of jihad.
The speaker rejects the Indian claim of JeM members being killed in the strike and says that no one was hurt. But he wishes it had been so given that they all desire to embrace martyrdom.
The almost-15-minute sermon goes on to explain that jihad has now become compulsory for every Pakistani Muslim as India has crossed over into Pakistani territory. Jihad, therefore, should no longer be viewed as aggression but rather a means to defend Pakistan, he says.
He also explains how in the past jihad had been interpreted as sponsored by Pakistani “agencies” but it no longer should be called so as India has itself claimed now that it has launched war against Pakistan and therefore Pakistanis must respond.
Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc. and an expert on militancy in South Asia, said it is not surprising to see JeM using the Indian action of 26 February as propaganda for its recruitment in Pakistan.
“JeM seems to be using a perhaps unsuccessful Indian action inside Pakistan to further its own agenda of rallying people for jihad,” Siddiqa said.
JeM and other Kashmir focused militant groups, Siddiqa said, continue to operate freely inside Pakistan because they do not pose a threat to Pakistan and serve the Pakistani military’s interest.
“In the current context, it has now also become an ego issue, as the Pakistani authorities wouldn’t want to be seen as capitulating to Indian pressure,” she said.
The other Niazi
The JeM leader in the audio recording also criticises PM Imran Khan’s move of releasing Wing Commander Abhinandan by referring to the PM as Niazi, the family name Khan rarely uses.
“Earlier, a Niazi lost half of the country and 90,000 soldiers and today another Niazi has returned the Indian pilot and has turned our victory into our loss. He has bowed down in front of the enemy and has embarrassed the Muslim ummah,” the speaker says, referring to the events of December 1971 when Pakistan Army’s General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi surrendered to India in East Pakistan.
The sermon concludes with the participants being asked to raise anti-Modi, anti-India slogans and a call for jihad in Kashmir.