‘Masood Azhar’s address to Azad Kashmir rally raises questions’

Islamabad: A massive rally organised in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK) by banned Jaish-e-Mohammed led by Maulana Masood Azhar “raises questions about the state’s policy towards militancy”, a Pakistani media report said Sunday.
About 10,000 people attended the rally organised in PaK capital Muzaffarabad by JeM to launch a book authored by Mohammad Afzal Guru, who was hanged last year in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail for his role in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
Analysts described the rally organised on January 26 as a show of strength by the JeM, blamed by India for the attack on parliament, and Azhar, who was released in exchange for passengers of a hijacked Indian Airlines flight in 1999.
Addressing the rally by phone, Azhar asked Pakistan to “lift restrictions on jihad” and warned his group would take “revenge” for Guru’s execution.
The re-emergence of Azhar after a long hibernation “raises questions about the state’s policy towards militancy”, said an analysis in the influential Dawn newspaper.
“The resurfacing of Masood Azhar and other militant leaders exposes the duplicity of our policy on militancy. The country has paid dearly for using militancy as a tool of our regional policy in the past and it is high time that it is stopped,” it said.
The rally’s organisers did not allow journalists to take cameras and mobile phones into the venue, where walk-through gates were installed by police.
The analysis in Dawn by Zahid Hussain, one of Pakistan’s leading experts on security issues, said, “First (Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief) Hafiz Saeed was made ‘kosher’ by being brought into the mainstream and now Masood Azhar is back in the arena. And let us not forget Fazalur Rehman Khalil of Harkatul Mujahideen who now regularly appears on television talk shows and is reportedly being used by the government for back-channel contacts with the Pakistani Taliban groups.”
The reactivation of leaders of banned groups, it added, “does not seem accidental”. It described the phenomenon as a “disturbing development” for the world community and Pakistan’s national security.
The JeM rally was well organised and thousands of people were bussed to the venue. “So, it is not possible that the local administration and security agencies did not know about the event. It is often argued by the civil and military authorities that the ban on the jihadi groups was only applicable in Pakistan and not in (PaK),” it said.
This was an “extremely ridiculous argument” because it cannot explain why Azhar is still operating from his hometown of Bahawalpur in Punjab. His address to the rally “confirms that he has continued his jihadi activities, though he maintained a low profile”, it added.—PTI