Where is Masood Azhar? Pakistan says 'ungoverned spaces' in Afghanistan safe havens for terrorists
The Pakistan-Afghanistan spat over the whereabouts of terrorist Maulana Masood Azhar is getting more curious. After Taliban-led Afghanistan rejected Islamabad's claims that the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief is in the neighbouring country, Pakistan issued a rejoinder.
Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson Asim Iftikhar Ahmed said on Thursday that Pakistan has "sufficient reasons" to be concerned that still there are pockets of "ungoverned spaces" within Afghanistan that are being used by terrorist groups as safe havens.
Azhar is one of the terrorists freed by India in exchange for passengers of a hijacked plane of Indian Airlines in 1999. Since his release, he oversaw several terror attacks, including some targeting India.
It's incredible and amusing at the same time to hear Thursday's statement from Pakistan, which is historically known to harbour terrorists. For many years, Azhar had freely roamed the country. It's unclear when and how he moved to Afghanistan, if at all the claims in this regard by Pakistan are correct.
Ahmed was asked about Pakistan's claims that Azhar, the founder of the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed, is currently on Afghanistan soil. He was also asked about the letter that Pakistan wrote asking the Afghan authorities to "locate and arrest" Azhar.
Pakistan's foreign office even shared details of regions where Azhar is suspected to be residing. Pakistan says that Azhar is likely to be in the Nangarhar and Kunhar areas of Afghanistan. The Taliban had rejected the claims.
The spokesperson replied to a question about Azhar's whereabouts and the Taliban's rebuttal saying the Pakistani authorities have formally raised this issue with their relevant Taliban interlocutors on multiple occasions.
He said they have also shared documentary evidence and offered "intelligence and operational" assistance to locate the individual.
The spokesperson said, "Pakistan, as well as the international community, have sufficient reasons to be concerned that there still remain pockets of ungoverned spaces within Afghanistan that are being used by terrorist groups as safe havens. Multiple deadly cross-border terrorist attacks from Afghanistan only increase these legitimate concerns."
Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesperson also said that the Afghan interim authorities have repeatedly assured us and the wider international community that they would not allow terrorist groups to use their territory to operate against any other country.
"We expect the Afghan interim authorities would take concrete and verifiable actions to deliver on these assurances. I think this will go a long way to improve their credibility and increase the confidence of the international community on their capacity and willingness to counter the persistent threats posed by terrorism," he added.
The Taliban reject claims
This comes after the Taliban's interim Afghan government spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid made the strongly-worded remarks on the claims, as quoted by Afghanistan's ToloNews, Mujahid said, "This is not true. Nobody has made such a demand from us. Jaish-e-Mohammad chief is not in Afghanistan. Such organisations can operate on Pakistan’s soil – and even under official patronage. We’ll not allow anyone to use Afghanistan’s soil against any other country."
Masood Azhar's JeM is responsible for multiple deadly attacks in India, including the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001.
The attack had brought India and Pakistan to the brink of a full-scale war. Masood Azhar is India's most wanted terrorist.