Islamabad: June 23, a sleepy Sunday. A blast rocks the Emirates Military Hospital in Rawalpindi damaging also the surrounding buildings. People can see high flames rising from the hospital, glasses are shattered, the smokes rise high in the sky, police and army cars start to arrive.
People start to post on Twitter videos of the location and minutes later Ahsan Ullah MiaKhail, a PTM activist, tweets: "Huge #blast at Military Hospital in #Rawalpindi, #Pakistan. 10 injured shifted to emergency. Jaish-E-Mohammad Chief Maulana Masood Azahar is admitted here. Complete media blackout by army. Media asked strictly not to cover this story".
Another tweet says: "Huge Blast in Pakistan's Rawalpindi Emirate Military Hospital. This is the same Hospital where UN Designated Terrorist #MaulanaMasoodAzhar is said to be treated for kidney failure, PAK army Wants to eliminate him as he is a liability or creating diversion here".
Masood Azhar, for those who have been living in a cave for the past twenty years, is one of the most well-known international terrorists, added on the United Nation's list on May 1, 2019 after a long diplomatic battle carried on by India against Pakistan and China blocking the designation.
He was born and grew up in Bahawalpur. His father was a Deobandi cleric who made sure his son received the right teachings. Masood Azhar graduated from the Jamia Ulum Islamic madrassa, an institution that was closely linked to the extremist organization Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) with its key ideology being supporting the proxy war against Indian forces in Kashmir.
He was arrested in Anantnag while visiting Jammu and Kashmir during a visit to coordinate the activities of the terror group Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. HuA did its best to get Masood released from Indian custody, including kidnapping foreign tourists while they were visiting Kashmir. But he was released, along with other two terrorists in exchange for hostages, only after an Indian Airlines flight en-route to Kathmandu was hijacked and diverted to Kandahar by his brother and another relative.
Azhar was welcomed in Pakistan and allowed to address a gathering of around 10.000 people in Karachi. Immediately after, with the support of ISI, launched a new group vowing to destroy India and liberate Kashmir.
The group is the Jaish-e-Mohammed, and a year after its foundation, in 2001, it carried out an attack against the Indian Parliament. Since then it has expanded its activities and functions: it was active during the 2008 Mumbai attack, carried out the 2016 Pathankot attack and, last February, the Pulwama attack. After Pulwama, it said he has been shifted by ISI into a military hospital in Rawalpindi, because of his kidney failure and to be kept under protection.
Going back to the June blast, the official version of the story, barely covered by Pakistani media censored as usual by the army, is that a gas cylinder blasted provoking the explosion: there are ten injured but no casualties.
Faran Jeffery, an OSINT Twitter handle, usually reliable, says the blast was indeed a result of a mechanical failure at the hospital, and that Masood Azhar was anyway hosted in another hospital, the Combined Military Hospital. After a couple of days of speculations on Masood Azhar, his whereabouts and his health, the story dies a natural death only to resurface in the past few days on Twitter and later in an article published by The Balochwarna.
First to tweet is Dr Nadeem Ehsan, a very influential member of the MQM party. He claims in his tweets that Masood Azhar has been indeed killed in the Rawalpindi blast and that a funeral prayer in absentia of the body has been held for him in Karachi at the Mhamodabad Mosque. He even challenges the mosque to deny his claim.
The day after Altaf Hussein, the leader in exile of the MQM party, makes the same claim asking why nobody is questioning the ISPR about it. The same story has been carried by the Balochwarna. Interesting enough, the tweets are in Urdu and not in English and the Balochwarna article also has been written originally in Urdu. The article blames the army for having silenced the media about the incident preventing any coverage of it. Not surprising, given the state of the Pakistani media at the moment, but the story, if true, raises many questions.
The first is: who did it, and why. A couple of Pakistani activists, asked this question, replied immediately: "The army. Just like APS Peshawar and dozens of other blasts and attacks at their own places. Just like Sami Ul Haq and many others".
After Masood Azhar has been put on the UN terrorists list, in fact, he has become quite embarrassing for Pakistan, first of all because of the sword of Damocles of the FATF blacklist hanging on his head. Pakistan has been asked to do more against its terrorist outfits, and hiding an international terrorist into an official army shelter is not a good option at the moment.
Being forced to hand Masood Azhar to an international court or to India, however, is a worse option: a trial against him would be a trial against the army and the ISI who started, trained and used the Jaish-i-Mohammed against India and in Afghanistan.
There are, of course, other ways to kill somebody, especially somebody in a military hospital, ways more discreet and clean, and there are many holes and loops in this story. But, as they say, where there's smoke there's always fire. And the truth now or later will come out.