File photo: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photograph:( AFP )
Imran Khan's latest admission hasn't gone down well with the Army which kept denying that the incident indeed took place.
Even as Pakistan continues to face massive international pressure over tackling terrorism, the country's Army continues to push infiltrators across the Line of Control (LoC) to carry out their nefarious activities in India.
But with Prime Minister Imran Khan repeatedly stating that his government has been taking steps to crack down on the menace, a rift could widen between the cricketer-turned-politician and the armed forces over providing support to jihadi groups operating unabated on its soil.
It is a well-known fact that terror groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) enjoy the patronage of the Pakistan Army. Terrorists like Hafiz Saeed are regularly seen ranting anti-India rhetoric and collecting the so-called "donations" in their "charitable organisations" to fuel unrest in the neighbouring country.
It may be recalled that in October 2017, Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said that the country was working on a "mainstreaming" programme to induct members of armed groups into the political process.
According to a commentary written by EFSAS, a European-based think-tank, the integration of terrorists and terror-linked groups into Pakistan's mainstream politics is an aim, according to Ghafoor, "to develop a constructive role for them".
A classic example of Pakistan harbouring terrorists is the US raid at Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad in 2011. The raid ultimately killed the notorious 9/11 attacks mastermind, ending a nearly 10-year search. The dramatic development left Islamabad red-faced as they had repeatedly denied Osama's presence in the country.
Similarly, following the designation as a global terrorist by the UN in May, JeM chief Masood Azhar has been shifted to a safe house in Islamabad from his residence in Bahawalpur by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), sources said in May. Pakistan has been hiding Azhar and his relatives from the public glare ever since the terror group carried out the gruesome Pulwama attack in February, which killed 40 CRPF personnel, fearing a direct Indian strike on him.
"Pakistan has not dealt effectively (militarily, politically, or legally) with domestic extremists and is also afflicted by spillover from events in Afghanistan. Attempts to manipulate violent groups to use them against India have contributed to the loss of control and credibility," The Express Tribune quoted Martha Crenshaw, a terrorism expert professor as saying.
Watch: Has Imran Khan delivered 'Naya Pakistan'?
Imran Khan, who assumed office last year, in an election widely termed as rigged by the Pakistan Army, had recently visited the US where he made a startling revelation that his country has around 30,000-40,000 terrorists.
Imran Khan's revelation in the US that there are terrorists in Pakistan has irked Army generals who train terror groups.
He even went on to say that there was no room for any "jihadi outfits or culture" in Pakistan. He claimed that his government made "sincere efforts" in eradicating the culture of "jihadism" and terrorism from the country through what he said short-term and long-term policies.
In an indirect admission that the Balakot was a major operation that rattled Pakistan, Imran Khan said in his Independence Day address that India was planning an even bigger operation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in the aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370 by New Delhi.
"We have information and we have had two National Security Committee (NSC) meetings. The Pakistan Army has full knowledge that India has made a plan to take action in PoK. Just like how after Pulwama, they took the action in Balakot, according to the information we have, they have made more sinister plans now," Khan said while addressing the Legislative Assembly in Muzaffarabad, PoK on the occasion of 73rd Independence Day of Pakistan.
Imran Khan's latest admission hasn't gone down well with the Army which kept denying that the incident indeed took place. The Army had even invited a group of foreign journalists to the site and tried to claim that no air raid had taken place and no casualties were reported.
Action against terrorism, because of international watch and diplomatic pressure, means Imran Khan earning wrath of the Army, which shields and trains terrorists. Pakistan has a history of the Army taking power by usurping governments. Though Imran Khan is a pawn in their hands, they would not hesitate to gain control.
Reportedly, Azhar was granted "VVIP shield" in the wake of the Pulwama attack in February even as Pakistan took control of the "Islamic seminaries" of the terror group in Bahawalpur.
Both Azhar and Saeed are wanted by New Delhi for their roles in terror attacks in India. Saeed, who carries a USD 10 million bounty on his head, is the mastermind of the gruesome 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, while Azhar's JeM attacked the Indian Parliament in 2001 and most recently carried out the Pulwama attack.
Recently, India abrogated Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Rattled by the neighbouring country's historic move, Islamabad has ramped up its rhetoric against New Delhi and is endlessly trying to internationalise the strictly internal Indian matter.
The move was "condemned" by both the Imran Khan government and the Pakistan Army who said they would continue to "stand in solidarity" with the Kashmiris and would respond to what it called any "Indian misadventure".
Unsurprisingly, Azhar, in a purported message, claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi "accepted his defeat" over the Kashmir issue by stripping its special status and said that industrialists will buy land there which will result in Kashmiri Muslims "losing their existence".
Meanwhile, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has given a stern message to Pakistan to "swiftly" complete its action plan to curb terror financing by October or face consequences by getting itself blacklisted, which could pose problems to the country's already stagnant economy.