New Delhi: On Wednesday, the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) – a umbrella group of jihadi and islamist outfits – reemerged for the first time after India announced that it had launched surgical strikes against terror launchpads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). The group announced it would hold a rally in the Pakistani capital on October 28.
Defence of Pakistan Council announces to hold a public gathering in Islamabad on October 28th. #NAP#NACTA pic.twitter.com/SJix382XOP
— azazsyed (@AzazSyed) October 5, 2016
Among those at the press conference was Hafez Saeed, Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief and alleged Mumbai 26/11 mastermind, who has been designated a terrorist by the UN.
The DPC’s interaction with the press was held a day after the civilian government apparently gave a “blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning” to the military that Pakistan risked increasing diplomatic isolation due to the failure to rein in certain militant groups.
The Dawn newspaper carried an exclusive report recounting the meeting where Pakistan’s spy agency chief, Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, was forced to agree to measures that action against militant groups will not be undone by behind-the-scene forces, as has been the norm so far.
According to the article, at the meeting on Tuesday, which was held at the PMO, a presentation was made by foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, according to the article.
On Chaudhary stating that Pakistan was risking diplomatic isolation, the Akhtar inquired what steps should be taken to stem that risk.
“Mr Chaudhry’s reply was direct and emphatic: the principal international demands are for action against Masood Azhar and the Jaish-i-Mohmmad; Hafiz Saeed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba; and the Haqqani network,” said Dawn.
The report said Akhtar seemingly gave the government carte blanche to arrest whoever necessary, “though it is unclear whether he was referring to particular individuals or members of banned groups generally”.
Against this backdrop, the DPC’s press conference appears to be intriguing.
The group was formed in October 2011 with the specific target of preventing the re-opening NATO supply lines, the granting of most favoured nation status to India and US drone attacks. The main coordinator of the DPC was former ISI chief Hamid Gul, which fuelled speculation that the group was backed by the Pakistan military. After Gul’s death, his son became part of the group.
Pakistan, however, has denied the claims made in the article. It took the spokesperson of the Pakistan prime minister’s office the entire day to issue a statement denying the claims in the Dawn report. “It is an amalgamation of fiction and half truths which too are invariably reported out of context,” he said.
However, the Pakistan prime minister’s original post denying the newspaper article was later modified. A new line was inserted that the ISI was “in line in the best interest of the nation both at the federal and provincial levels to act against terrorists of all hue and colour without any discrimination”.
In New Delhi, the external affairs ministry has refused to comment on the report. “We do not respond to speculative media reports,” said MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup.
Swarup also addressed a question about the DPC press conference in his weekly briefing. “The Defence of Pakistan Committee involves internationally banned terrorists such as Hafiz Saeed. We have always voiced our concerns at the freedom available to such internationally designated terrorists in Pakistan to conduct and promote anti India activities openly. It is up to the government of Pakistan to abide by its assurances that it will deny the use of its territory for such purposes,” he said.
Sources were dismissive of hints of “policy adjustments” made in the Dawn article, terming it part of the smoke and mirrors game indulged by the Pakistani establishment, adding that the event and the measures mentioned in the article seemed to be “more for international consumption”.
With Pakistan needing to “walk the talk”, Indian officials point out that the DPC’s public outing was an “interesting development” in the post-surgical strike period.
New Delhi had framed its ‘surgical strikes’ in the aftermath of the fidayeen attack on the Indian army brigade headquarters in Uri as having targeted only the terrorists waiting to cross over from PoK and not the Pakistan military.
Indian officials said that the DPC press conference showed that the Pakistan army remained “defiant” and were giving a “long rope to non-state actors”.
The sceptical Indian response was not surprising, with officials not sure if there was adequate motivation for the Pakistan army to take an about-turn in its course of using militant groups against India.
On Thursday, the Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif said that “any aggression born out of deliberate intent or even a strategic miscalculation will not be allowed to go unpunished and will be met with a befitting response.”
“We expect the international community to condemn Indian insinuations and fabrications about a nation that has made unparalleled contributions to the global fight against terrorism,” he said at the passing out parade of the Pakistan Air Force cadets.
Sharif’s retirement in November is also looming, with the selection of an army chief being an extremely sensitive decision in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the MEA spokesperson reiterated that that “counter terrorism operation” of September 29 “was to neutralise an imminent threat of terrorists ready to be launched from across the LoC”.
“The desired result has been obtained. The intended message has been conveyed,” he added.
On Pakistan’s denial of the surgical strikes, Swarup said that Islamabad had made similar denials about Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mansoor,“but we all know the truth.”
The government spokesperson also confirmed that India would “review” the most-favoured nation status to Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi was scheduled to hold a meeting on this subject on September 29, but it has been postponed.
“We will undertake a review based on our security and trade interests,” he said.
According to the Dawn report, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also directed “fresh attempts be made to conclude the Pathankot investigation and restart the stalled Mumbai attacks-related trials in a Rawalpindi antiterrorism court”. These were the two conditions that India had put for restarting dialogue process.
Pakistan had launched a diplomatic campaign by sending senior members of parliament to world capitals to highlight human rights violations by Indian security forces in Kashmir. Indian government’s consistent official position has been that Pakistan was behind the clashes in the Valley, as well as other terror incidents.
Following the Uri attack, India coordinated with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan to simultaneously pull out from the SAARC summit, which was scheduled to be held in Islamabad. Sri Lanka joined in three days later.
The Dawn report also said China had “indicated a preference for a change in course by Pakistan”. It specifically pointed hat Beijing has “questioned the logic” of repeatedly putting on technical hold on UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar.
The latest technical hold was extended by China for another three months, just two-days before the deadline ended.
The Indian government confirmed on Thursday that the issue was being taken up by Chinese government.
“On the further extension all that I will say is that the committee has already pondered our submission for the last six months. It will get a further 3 months to ponder, but that will in no way change the strange situation we have of the Committee designating the terrorist organisation but failing to or ignoring the need to designate the organisation’s most active and dangerous terrorist,” said Swarup.
He suggested that if any reforms were required in the working method of the 1267 committee to overturn the technical hold of a single country, then that should be considered.
Criticising the UN Security Council for failing to take action, India’s permanent ambassador to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, said that the UN’s “principal organ” had become “unresponsive to the needs of our time and ineffective to meeting the challenges it is confronted with”.