Pak government to army: Will take action against terrorists, please don't get in the way

Indian activists carry placards of the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Maulana Masood Azhar during a protest against the attack on the air force base in Pathankot, in Mumbai on January 4, 2016. Photograph:( AFP )

Islamabad, Pakistan Oct 06, 2016, 08.48 AM (IST)

The Pakistani government has told its army that it wishes to crack down on people thought by India and the United States to be terrorists, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported Thursday. The demand is unprecedented.

Pakistan foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told the security establishment at the All Parties' Conference on Monday that the government wished to take action against Masood Azhar and his outfit the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Hafiz Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Haqqani network, the Dawn reported.

Islamabad also underlined its intention to speed up the investigation into the attack on the Pathankot air base (in India) in 2016 and to resume the currently-suspended 2008 Mumbai attacks-related trials.

The Dawn reported that the Pakistani military told the government in reply that it was free to arrest whomsoever it wished to; to which the government -- in the form of Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, he is also Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's younger brother  -- replied that each time it tried to take action against "certain groups", the military "has worked behind the scenes to set the arrested free". 

The government then asked the military not to shield people who are perceived by the international community to be terrorists.

The Dawn reported the foreign secretary as saying it was important this was done because of Pakistan's growing international isolation. 

The Dawn also quoted unnamed sources at the meeting as saying that the foreign secretary had said even China has privately expressed its concerns about Islamabad's policy on terrorism.

The foreign secretary was reported to have said that even China has asked Pakistan why it was protecting JeM leader Masood Azhar, who is wanted by India for a string of terrorist attacks in the country, the Dawn quoted its sources as saying. 

New Delhi believes Azhar masterminded the Uri attack in Kashmir last month and the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001.

China's hesitancy in supporting Pakistan, coupled with intense international pressure, has compelled the civilian government to take a hard line against terrorism.

While India has long demanded action against Hafiz Saeed — he is believed to have orchestrated the 2008 Mumbai attacks — and Azhar and their militant groups, the US has wanted Pakistan to clamp down on the dreaded Haqqani network, an Afghaninsurgent group fighting NATO forces.

The high-stakes meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Sharif and included senior cabinet officials. The military was represented by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general Rizwan Akhtar.

Both the military and the government, however, have refused to confirm the contents of the meeting.

The government's surprise decision to sharpen the rules of engagement with the army is fraught with risks for the latter is widely perceived to be stronger than the democratically- elected government of Pakistan.