- Imran Khan said previous government didn't act against terror groups
- Imran Khan's admission reinforces India's assertion about terror attacks
- India has maintained groups operating from Pakistani soil are a threat
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday that about "30,000 to 40,000" terrorists who had trained and fought in "some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir" were in his country, a startling admission that reinforces India's assertion about terror attacks by groups operating from Pakistani soil.
At an event in the US, Imran Khan said before his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government came into power, previous governments did not have the political will to act against terror groups operating in the country.
"Until we came into power, the governments did not have the political will, because when you talk about militant groups, we still have about 30,000-40,000 armed people who have been trained and fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir," said the Pakistani prime minister.
"There was a watershed in Pakistani politics. In 2014, the Pakistani Taliban slaughtered 150 schoolchildren at Army Public School. All the political parties signed the National Action Plan and we all decided after that, that we will not allow any militant groups to operate inside Pakistan," he said at the US Institute of Peace.
He said his government was the first to start disarming terror groups. "This is the first time it's happening. We've taken over their institutes, their seminaries. We have administrators there," he added.
Sources in the government in New Delhi said it is important for the Pakistani leadership to act on this knowledge by "destroying the breeding ground of terrorists".
"This is what we have been saying all along. Glad that Pakistani PM is owning up to it. Pakistani leadership, time and again, has accepted this fact. It is however equally important for the Pakistani leadership to act on this knowledge by destroying the breeding ground of terrorists in areas under the control of Pakistan by taking credible and irreversible action," government sources said.
At another event, Imran Khan also said "40 different militant groups" were operating from Pakistan. Past governments, particularly in the last 15 years, were not in control and did not tell the US about the exact "truth on the ground," he said.
"We were fighting the US war on terror. Pakistan has nothing to do with 9/11. Al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan. There were no militant Taliban in Pakistan. But we joined the US war. Unfortunately, when things went wrong, where I blame my government, we did not tell the US exactly the truth on the ground," Mr Khan told US lawmakers at the Capitol Hill.
"Part of the reason was, our governments were not in control. There were 40 different militant groups operating within Pakistan," he stated.
The Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician was speaking at a reception hosted by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Chairperson of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus.
"So Pakistan went through a period where people like us were worried about could we survive it. So while the US expected us to do more and help the US win the war, Pakistan at that time was fighting for its own existence," he said.
To a question on whether 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, arrested recently, would stay in jail or be let off again, Imran Khan said his government had already decided "not to allow any armed militias in our country" in the interest of Pakistan, but because the terror group Jaish e Mohammed claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack, "Pakistan suddenly came in the limelight". He alleged that the attack was "clearly an indigenous thing..."
India's position on Pulwama is clear, sources in the government said. "Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. It is a well-known fact that Jaish-e-Mohammed and its leader Masood Azhar are based in Pakistan. This is sufficient proof for Pakistan to take action," sources said.