Masood Azhar 20190305
Masood Azhar, center, (wearing glasses and white turban), leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad seen arriving in Islamabad, Pakistan in this January 27, 2000 file photo. Image Credit: AP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Tuesday it had begun a crackdown on Islamist militant groups, detaining 44 members of banned organizations including close relatives of the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group blamed for a deadly bombing in Pulwama, Kashmir last month.

The interior ministry said it was a move to "speed up action against all proscribed organizations". Officials said it was part of a long-planned drive against militant groups, not a response to Indian anger over what New Delhi calls Islamabad's failure to rein in militant groups operating on Pakistani soil.

Pakistan is facing pressure from global powers to act against groups carrying out attacks in India, including Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 attack that killed at least 40 paramilitary police.

The incident led to the most serious conflict in years between the nuclear-armed neighbours, with cross-border air strikes and a brief dogfight over the skies of Kashmir. Tension cooled when Pakistan returned a downed Indian pilot on Friday.

In a further sign that tensions were easing, Pakistan's foreign ministry said a delegation would visit New Delhi next week to discuss an accord on Sikh pilgrims visiting holy sites in Pakistan.

The interior ministry said close relatives of JeM leader Masood Azhar had been detained in "preventive custody" as part of the crackdown. It named them as Mufti Abdul Raoof and Hamad Azhar, who one ministry official said was the leader's son.

On Tuesday, Pakistan placed two charities linked to Hafiz Saeed, founder of a militant organisation the United States and India have blamed for numerous deadly attacks, including a siege by gunmen in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people, on the country's official banned list.

The Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation charities were placed on the list after the government announced the restriction last month.

We have all seen this done for the last several decades now. How many times has Hafiz Saeed been arrested and let out?

- Indian government official


Some of the people detained were named by India in a dossier it gave to Pakistan after last month's bombing, Interior secretary Azam Suleman said.

"We are investigating them and if we get more evidence, more proof against them, they will be proceeded against according to law and if we don't get any proof their detention will end," Suleman said.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told CNN last week that JeM chief Azhar was in Pakistan and was "really unwell".

The United States, Britain and France proposed last month that the U.N. Security Council blacklist Azhar.

A Security Council vote is due to be held in mid-March.

However, Pakistan's staunch ally China, a Security Council member, has blocked previous attempts by world powers to sanction the JeM chief.

The United States and Britain have urged Pakistan to deal with militant groups.

Many Pakistani groups and individuals are under UN sanctions, including the JeM, and Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group that allegedly carried out the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, in which 166 people were killed.

There was no immediate official reaction in India to the arrests in Pakistan.

However, an Indian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed scepticism.

"We have all seen this done for the last several decades now. How many times has Hafiz Saeed been arrested and let out?" the official said. "And have they taken action against Jaish camps?"

Saeed, who holds public gatherings in Pakistan, has been at the heart of criticism that Pakistan does not enforce its anti-militancy laws.

Pakistan allegedly has long used Islamist groups to pursue its aims in the region, but it has denied New Delhi's accusations it actively supports militants fighting Indian forces in India's part of Muslim-majority Kashmir.

From time to time - usually as a result of outside pressure - Pakistan has cracked down on anti-India militants but most factions manage to survive and resume activities.

Closing madrasas

Pakistan's foreign ministry announced a new order on Monday to update existing laws that deal with those on U.N. sanctions lists. The government said it had developed a "full-fledged strategy" to deal with militants and it was looking to close "loopholes" that allowed banned groups to operate.

Two senior security officials told Reuters the government has drawn up plans to take over all madrasas - Islamic schools - linked to groups banned by the United Nations and to seize their assets and infrastructure.

At a later stage the government may consider recruiting some of the militants into paramilitary forces or seek other ways to find them jobs and incorporate them into normal society, the officials said.

Terrorist group list 1 20190305
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Terror group list UNSC 20190305
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Terror organisations under watch 20190305
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