Widespread support for terrorist groups across Pakistan is complicating a government-led crackdown against militants in the wake of a military standoff with India over the recent suicide attack in Kashmir.
Over the past week, Pakistani authorities have initiated a crackdown on militant groups operating in Kashmir, including Jaish-e-Mohammed, seizing their property and assets and banning them from operating.
However, analysts are warning that the crackdown could spark a backlash among large swathes of the population, with groups previously receiving support from the military and intelligence services. They are also known to provide charitable services, meaning they enjoy support among the poor.
“Pakistan, if it takes an aggressive, no-tolerance stand against Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harakat ul-Mujahidin, will suffer a violent backlash domestically,” warned Adnan Naseemullah, an expert in international affairs at King’s College in London. “But a zero-tolerance policy from the Pakistani state will over time shift the focus back on Kashmir and the treatment of the Kashmiri people, which is in Pakistan’s long-term interest.”
Last week, Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry rejected accusations from India that the Pakistani government was involved in last month’s suicide attack in Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitary police, declaring it had “nothing to do” with them. However, he also announced a new strategy to crack down on the militants behind the attack.
“A full-fledged strategy is now in place,” Chaudhry said “We have different strategies for different groups, but the main aim is that we have to enforce the writ of the state. We have to demilitarize if there are groups (on our soil).”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan said at a rally in southern Pakistan on Thursday reiterated that his government would step up its crackdown against the militants.
“This government will not allow Pakistan’s land to be used for any kind of outside terrorism,” he said. “We will not allow any militant group to function in our country now. God willing, you will see that a new era is emerging.”
Pakistan has long been the subject of global criticism for its failure to stop the rise of militant and terrorist organizations in its territory. In 2017, the country’s military began a campaign to deradicalize groups and encourage them to get involved in politics, a move that was heavily criticized by civil society groups and human rights organizations.