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To exit FATF grey list, Pakistan asks Taliban to hunt for JeM chief Masood Azhar in Afghanistan

Pakistan believes Masood Azhar is hiding somewhere in Afghanistan, although Taliban has denied knowledge of his whereabouts. This is the second letter sent by Islamabad in nine months.

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New Delhi: A letter seeking the arrest of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar Alvi, sent by Pakistan to the Taliban-ruled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, was despatched by Islamabad just days ahead of an inspection by monitors from the multinational Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Indian government sources told ThePrint.

An earlier letter seeking Azhar’s arrest was sent to the Islamic Emirate in January, the sources said.

“We have written a one-page letter to the Afghan Foreign Ministry asking them to locate, report and arrest Masood Azhar, as we believe that he is hiding somewhere in Afghanistan,” an official had told Geo News on Tuesday. The Taliban has denied knowledge of Azhar’s whereabouts.

FATF monitors had made a five-day visit to Pakistan beginning on 28 August, to verify on-ground actions the country is required to take before it can exist a grey-list of countries where terrorist groups remain able to access financing.

Following Pakistan’s January letter, ThePrint had revealed that the Jaish-e-Muhammad had continued to hold public events to mark the killing of jihadists in Kashmir. Fighters of the JeM — in video obtained by ThePrint showed — fired shots in the air at a function near Rawlakote, and shouted pro-jihad slogans.

The event was attended by the JeM head for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Muhammad Ilyas.

Islamabad’s request to the Taliban was issued after an anti-terrorism court in the city of Gujaranwala had issued an arrest warrant for Azhar – a UN-designated global terrorist – on charges of raising funds for a terrorist group. The Pakistan government also incarcerated key leaders of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) it had earlier claimed to be unable to locate, notably 26/11 perpetrator Sajid Mir.

Evidence has long existed of ties between the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Taliban. In May, United Nations sanctions monitors reported that the JeM “maintains eight training camps in Nangarhar, three of which are directly under Taliban control.”

Last year, the United Nations had recorded that the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed “were stated to have approximately 800 and 200 armed fighters, respectively, co-located with Taliban forces in Mohmand Darah, Dur Baba and Sherzad Districts of Nangarhar Province.”

Following the 2016 Jaish-e-Mohammed attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, the law minister of the Pakistani province of Punjab, Rana Sanaullah, had announced that Azhar had been taken into “protective custody”.

The Jaish chief has since issued several articles and speeches, but is not known to have made public appearances. Indian intelligence officials believe Azhar—who suffers from long-standing cardiac and renal health issues—has since remained at homes in Rawalpindi and Bahwalpur, under the protection of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

Leadership of the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s empire of seminaries and military training camps has, intelligence sources told ThePrint, largely fallen to Azhar’s brother, Abdul Rauf Rasheed Alvi. Rauf was sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department in 2010 for his role in “deadly attacks against innocent civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.”

Following the 2019 suicide-bomb attack in Pulwama, Pakistan had announced that it was taking over administration of the Jama-e-Masjid Subhanallah in Bahawalpur, the headquarters of Jaish-e-Mohammed. The seminary, with space for over 12,000 students, was built on land revealed to be owned by Rauf.

Later, however, Bahawalpur Deputy Commissioner Shahzaib Saeed told a group of visiting journalists it was just “routine seminary having no link with the Jaish-e-Mohammed”.

Fawwad Chaudhury, former information minister for Punjab province, weighed in, too, proclaiming “India is doing propaganda that it is the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s headquarters.”

The seminary, a Bahawalpur resident told ThePrint, continues to be in operation, with armed guards protecting access to the complex. The Masjid Usman-o-Ali, the JeM’s other major facility in Bahawalpur, also remains open.

Also read: How Punjab’s most-wanted yesteryear terrorists are operating openly in Lahore, popping up on FB


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