Pakistan said it is not bowing to Indian or international pressure as it cracks down on militant groups in the wake of the crisis over Kashmir.
On Tuesday, authorities said they detained 44 members of banned organizations, including the son and brother of Masood Azhar, the leader of militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
JeM claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Pulwama in Indian-controlled Kashmir on February 14, which resulted in the deaths of 40 Indian troops and precipitated the current escalation in tensions between the two nuclear-armed powers.
Speaking to CNN, Pakistan’s military spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said that any clamp-down on militants was part of an ongoing domestic policy.
“We are not doing anything under anyone’s pressure,” Ghafoor said Tuesday, adding that Pakistan would root out “anybody who operates from Pakistan … we feel that it is not in the interest of Pakistan.”
The detained militants – Masood Azhar’s brother Mufti Abdur Rauf and son Hammad Azhar – were named in a dossier that India had sent to Pakistan in the wake of the Kashmir bombing and were being held in what Pakistan called “preventive custody” as there was no “actionable proof” against them, Islamabad’s Ministry of Interior Secretary Azam Khan said to reporters Tuesday.
According to India’s Foreign Ministry, the dossier contains specific details of JeM complicity in the Pulwama terror attack and the presence of JeM terror camps and its leadership in Pakistan.
In the wake of the February attack, India called on its neighbor to “take credible and visible action … against terrorists and terror groups operating from areas under their control.”
Last week, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi confirmed to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that JeM chief Azhar is in Pakistan and “very unwell.”
“He is unwell to the extent that he cannot leave his house,” he said.
‘Eyeballs to eyeballs’ along the border
The Pulwama attack prompted retaliatory measures by India, which said last week that it had struck a JeM camp within Pakistan. Pakistan disputes the existence of the camp but acknowledges that Indian jets had dropped a payload within its borders.
“Not even a single brick has been found there if there was infrastructure, and not even a dead body found there. Their claims are false,” Ghafoor said.
Islamabad retaliated for the strike by sending its planes over the line of control that marks the de facto border between the two countries. In the ensuing dogfight, Pakistan claimed its air force shot down two Indian fighter jets, capturing one pilot. India said just one plane was downed.
Ghafoor told CNN that the countries “came close” to conflict but the release of Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistani custody last Friday brought the two neighbors back from the brink of war.
The two sides have been “eyeballs to eyeballs” in Kashmir, he said, and that it was now “up to India” to “move forward towards de-escalation.”
“Should they decide to escalate more, this situation will go bad,” Ghafoor said.
While tensions along the disputed border have somewhat cooled, the situation remains “serious,” Islamabad’s ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed Khan, said Monday.
On Monday, the Pakistan navy said it intercepted an Indian submarine in its waters, a claim India denies.
Pakistan said Tuesday that it was ready to go after the assets and bank accounts of militant groups within its borders and in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, according to a statement on its Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
The freezing and seizure order complies with the UN Security Council requirement that member states target the assets of entities and individuals listed by the sanctions committee.
Jaish-e-Mohammed, which translates to the Army of the Prophet Mohammed, is a Pakistan-based group that operates on both sides of the border of the disputed state and seeks to unite the Indian-controlled area of Kashmir with Pakistan.
While the US and the UN Security Council (UNSC) listed JeM as a terrorist organization in 2001, the effort to include its leader, Masood Azhar, as an “internationally designated terrorist” was vetoed by China in the past.