Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan told an audience at the United States Institute of Peace, a Washington-based think tank, that there were “30,000 to 40,000 armed people” in his country “who have been trained to fight in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir”.
India has described the statement as a “glaring admission”, and demanded that Pakistan take “credible and irreversible action” against terrorist groups.
How is Imran’s statement different from Islamabad’s earlier public positions?
Imran did not reveal a state secret. The presence of jihadists and jihadist organisations is well known in Pakistan, and to the international community.
What is new is that for the first time an elected Pakistani leader, that too a Prime Minister, has spoken about it candidly.
Those in positions of political power and influence, who have previously made bold to talk about jihadist groups in Pakistan, have been removed from office, or sidelined. This is because from the time of the first Afghan war, the jihadist project has belonged to the Pakistan Army, and its espionage arm, the ISI, the country’s most powerful organisations. Elected politicians were required only to support the project, or to keep quiet if they opposed it.
Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the judiciary on corruption charges, but his troubles truly began after he started to take on the Pakistan Army for nurturing jihadist groups that had pushed Pakistan into a corner internationally. Dawn, the newspaper that reported one such confrontation, found its circulation restricted, and the reporter dragged to court for treason.
In an earlier instance, after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, then National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani had to resign after he acknowledged that the attacks were carried out by Pakistan-based militants.
Is there nothing new for India in Imran’s statement, then?
The numbers that Imran has presented are a surprise. NACTA, Pakistan’s nodal counter-terrorist agency, has on its website a list of 40 organisations proscribed under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act, and another list of 8,307 proscribed individuals.
For India, the numbers are important, but more important is Imran’s admission that the militants fought in Kashmir. It vindicates India’s position on cross-border terrorism in Kashmir from Pakistan.