Nobody has taken responsibility yet for the bombing by drones at the Jammu air force base on 27 June, but the attack has again raised the spectre of cross-border operatives targeting India after a COVID-19 induced lull in terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir.
The fact that the Indian Air Force base is just 14 kilometres away from the International Border with Pakistan and the increasing use of drones linked to terror activities means that the role of Pakistan-based outfits is not being ruled out in Sunday’s attack.
Just the last week, Pakistan was told it will have to remain on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)’s ‘grey list’ over pending commitments to rein in terror actors. Experts have noted that while it has taken steps against major terror players, Islamabad needs to cover more ground to uproot them from Pakistani soil.
Here’s a look at the terror profiles of two of the biggest among such groups based in Pakistan: Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
Recent record of terror attacks linked to Pakistan-based groups
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), an online database, between 2010 and 2020, the number of terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir totalled more than 50 just in in 2018 whereas the years between 2000 and 2005 each saw more than 150 attacks annually.
Among the major attacks in the last few years is the Pulwama bombing of February 2019 that left more than 40 security personnel dead and the Uri attack of 2016 that killed more than 20 Indian personnel.
Both attacks have been attributed to JeM, while the 2016 Pathankot Air Force base attack, too, has been linked to the outfit headed by Masood Azhar.
Formed in 2000 by Azhar after he was freed following the 1999 Indian Airlines IC-814 hijacking episode, the group “aims to undermine Indian control of (Jammu and Kashmir) and unite the province with Pakistan under their own interpretation of Shariah Law”, says Stanford University’s Centre for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). From 2001, JeM has been designated as a terror group by the US along with LeT, after the two outfits were found to have been behind the attack on the Indian Parliament that year.
Following pressure from the international community and the threat of actions like that from FATF, Pakistan has launched campaigns to rein in terror groups operating from its soil. But while LeT founder Hafiz Saeed and its top leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack, have been arrested, success has evaded Pakistani authorities when it comes to JeM.
Saeed has been sentenced to 11 years in prison while Lakhvi was arrested days before Pakistan’s earlier review with FATF officials in February.
In fact, the US’ 2019 country report for Pakistan on terror said that progress by Islamabad “remains unfulfilled” on “the most difficult aspects of its 2015 National Action Plan to counter terrorism”.
The report noted that while Pakistan authorities have indicted Saeed and some of his associates “they have made no effort to use domestic authorities to prosecute other terrorist leaders such as JeM founder Masood Azhar and Sajid Mir, the mastermind of LeT’s 2008 Mumbai attacks”.
Ahead of the February 2021 FATF meeting, Pakistan had rushed to register cases against Azhar, Mir and Rauf Asgar, part of the top leadership of JeM, and even carried out raids to arrest them “but only Azhar’s wife and a few aides were found at that residence”.
India had at the time, said that “it has become routine for Pakistan to come up with such farcical actions prior to
Where Do LeT, JeM operate from? Who are key figures?
A recent report by US think-tank Brookings Institution noted that “anti-India militant groups continue to have a foothold in Pakistan”.
That’s a view echoed by the US counter-terrorism authorities, who have found that Pakistan allowed “groups targeting India, including LeT and its affiliated front organisations, and JeM, to operate from its territory”.
According to the US’ National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC), JeM “continues to operate openly in parts of Pakistan despite the 2002 ban on its activities”.
It further added that “JEM has at least several hundred armed supporters located in Pakistan, India’s southern Kashmir and Doda regions, and in the Kashmir Valley. Supporters are mostly Pakistanis and Kashmiris, but also include Afghans and Arab veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviets.”
Apart from Azhar, who is at large, NCTC lists Maulana Abdul Jabbar as the leader of a JeM faction known as Jamaat ul-Furqan.
LeT has been the target of a crackdown by Pakistani authorities and its top leadership of Saeed and Lakhvi are in prison on terror charges.
NCTC says that while the outfit’s “exact size is unknown… the group probably has several thousand members, predominantly Pakistani nationals”.
The group is said to maintain “facilities in Pakistan, including training camps, schools, and medical clinics (and) coordinates its charitable activities through its front organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).
International sanctions against these groups
The US state department says that designation as a foreign terrorist organisation makes it “unlawful for a person in the US or subject to the jurisdiction of the US to knowingly provide “material support or resources” to a designated FTO”.
Further, entry into the US and use of financial institutions connected to the US is also prohibited for such outfits.
Being designated as a terror group by the US is intended to encourage other nations, too, to crack down on such outfits and “deters donations or contributions to and economic transactions with named organisations”.
It is widely believed that Pakistan government actively helps terror actors because, as experts have pointed out, Islamabad is not averse to using these groups to push its geopolitical interests.
So, if providing shelter to pro-Taliban elements has given it a role to play in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s alleged support for anti-India groups is supposed to help it overcome the strategic asymmetry in terms of the might of the armed forces.