In a big diplomatic victory for India, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has branded Pulwama mastermind Masood Azhar an international terrorist; the UNSC met on Wednesday to finalise what should be done with the chief of Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
Recognising Azhar as a global terrorist will subject him to a global travel ban, asset freeze, and arms embargo.
This comes two months after China resisted the move to blacklist him despite the role JeM is believed to have played in the devastating suicide blast in Kashmir earlier this year, which nearly precipitated into a nuclear standoff.
The bid to blacklist Azhar was tabled before the 15-member UNSC by three of its permanent veto-wielding members in February, for the fourth time in 10 years.
However, according to the latest resolution tabled at the 1267 committee on April 29, Azhar has been listed as an individual, not as the man behind the terror attack on February 14, which killed 40 Indian paramilitary forces in Kashmir.
Experts believe this was done to keep India’s victory lap in check and to save Pakistan’s face in the international community.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley immediately tweeted: “India stands vindicated. Masood Azhar is now a global terrorist. India is in safe hands. This marks a high point for the Prime Minister’s foreign policy.”
BJP chief Amit Shah also credited Narendra Modi, calling him a strong and decisive leader and saying the move reflects his government’s zero tolerance against terrorism.
Former PM Manmohan Singh, under whose governance, the proposal to blacklist Azhar began, told ANI he was glad that it had finally materialised. SP leader Akhilesh Yadav congratulated the diplomatic corps for their untiring effort in achieving the first step to ensure Masood Azhar paid for his crimes. In his tweet, he also demanded that Pakistan immediately arrest him, freeze his assets, and shut down all organisations linked to him.
In fact, all mention of Pulwama has been eschewed from the document, possibly as a condition put forward by Pakistani ally and India rival China, whose elusive vote had prevented the resolution from passing thus far.
Although repeated calls to blacklist Azhar were made in the past, by most of UN’s permanent members on India’s insistence, China had vetoed the move at least three times prior to this. But pressure on China mounted after the Pulwama attack, with as many as 20 countries rallying to blacklist Azhar.
China’s technical hold on the sanction was perceived as Beijing’s way of retaining its alliance with a crucial all-weather ally when it comes to South Asia’s regional politics. Exercising its power to block global consensus at the behest of Pakistan would enable it to protect its strategic and economic interests in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well as turn up the pressure on rival India while making a point to the US-led western power bloc.
Under UN Security Council Resolution 1267, a sanctions regime is prescribed against designated terrorists and terrorist groups, which China has repeatedly strangled when it comes to the Jaish founder Masood Azhar.
In 2009, China for the first time opposed India’s efforts to get him blacklisted by the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee, by putting technical holds.
In 2016 again, India moved the proposal with the P3—the US, the UK, and France—in the 1267 Committee to ban Azhar, after he was accused of being the mastermind of the attack on the Indian airbase in Pathankot that year.
The P3 nations along with India moved a similar proposal again in 2017.
On all occasions, China, another veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, blocked the proposal to brand Azhar as a terrorist under the Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee, despite JeM already being on the list of UN’s banned terror outfits.
The US, the UK, and France moved a fresh proposal in February demanding the designation of JeM chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist. It came riding on the back of French presidency of the UNSC and right after a highly significant statement released by the powerful UN organ currently headed by Equatorial Guinea on February 21, of which China is a signatory.
The UNSC press statement condemned “in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir, which resulted in over 40 Indian paramilitary forces dead and dozens wounded on February 14, 2019, for which Jaish-e-Mohammed has claimed responsibility.”
On March 27, the US circulated a draft resolution in the UNSC after China put India’s proposal on “technical hold”. China, subsequently, conveyed Pakistan’s conditions to the US, but the American delegation argued that Indo-Pak relations were irrelevant to Azhar’s blacklisting.
In March, Deputy Spokesperson for the US Department of State Robert Palladino also said Azhar met the criteria to be blacklisted; this means he has links to the ISIS and al-Qaeda.
“I would say that the United States and China share a mutual interest in achieving regional stability and peace, and that failure to designate Azhar would run counter to this goal,” said Palladino.
Diplomatic sources confirmed on May 1 that China can be expected to come around this time, just hours after officials from Beijing cited “progress” with respect to the impending listing at UNSC.
“I can only say that I believe this will be properly resolved,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a media briefing in Beijing according to PTI.
The Hindustan Times reported late Wednesday that Pakistan will not object to the designation either, although it comes as a big embarrassment for Islamabad, which is already facing multiple sanctions for not tackling its homegrown terror problem.
The history of JeM
Jaish-e-Mohammad literally means the Army of Mohammad.
JeM, which operates on both sides of the border was founded in 2000, designated as a foreign terrorist group by the US State Department in 2001 and banned by the UN shortly after. It was later banned in Pakistan in 2002 by then president General Pervez Musharraf, after India blamed the group for the terror attack on its Parliament in 2001.
In 2003, JeM made an attempt on Musharraf‘s life and subsequently attacked many Pakistani military targets, despite India’s accusations that Pakistan harboured the group.
Even after being banned, the group continued to operate under the monikers of Afzal Guru Squad, Al-Murabitoon or Tehreek-al-Furqan.
Keen on uniting Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan through attacks on security and government targets, JeM recently regrouped and revamped itself under Azhar’s tutelage, and according The Print, with covert Pakistani support. Sources said JeM has its headquarters in Bahawalpur in Punjab province.
Terrorist activities over the years
The proscribed terrorist organisation has carried out multiple attacks over the last nearly two decades, but its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, continues to elude international sanctions.
According to the BBC, India has frequently asked its neighbour to extradite Azhar—reportedly residing in the eastern Pakistani province of Punjab—but Pakistan has refused citing “lack of proof against him”.
He is also accused of having masterminded several terror attacks in India, including the one on an army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016, where 17 members of the security forces were killed.
It also took responsibility for the first-ever suicide attack in Kashmir in 2000, while denying its role on the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, which was followed by a tense standoff between the two nations. Pakistani authorities arrested Azhar for his alleged involvement in the attack but released him a year later after the Lahore High Court ruled his arrest unlawful.
Between 2002 and 2008, JeM kidnapped and beheaded American journalist Daniel Pearl, made two attempts to assassinate Musharraf and even attacked coalition forces in Afghanistan.
More recently, India blamed JeM for an attack on its Pathankot airbase near the Pakistani border in January 2016, which left three security personnel dead.
When Azhar met Osama
Masood Azhar had founded JeM in 2000 with help from Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI, then Taliban regime in Afghanistan, as well as Osama Bin Laden. He was formerly a member of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), had worked under Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and has even been linked to al-Qaeda.
He gained prominence in the nineties when he was imprisoned in India for five years, for terrorist activities in the Valley. But in December 1999, the Vajpayee government negotiated release of three Pakistani prisoners, including Azhar, in exchange for passengers of Indian Airlines IC-814 that was hijacked and flown to Taliban-ruled Kandahar.
Azhar went to Afghanistan after his release from India and then launched JeM on January 31, 2000, in Karachi. He is believed to have met with former Taliban leader Mullah Omar and al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden when he was in the country.
Out of action?
According to a report in the Gulf Times, however, Azhar is hospitalised and out of action for a long time. The publication has also questioned whether JeM, one of the most feared militant groups operating in Kashmir in 2000s, is strong enough to carry out such a devastating attack.
Furthermore, JeM commander Noor Mohammad Tantray was killed by Indian forces in December 2017, which was seen as a massive blow to the organisation.
India claims to have “incontrovertible evidence” that JeM had Pakistan’s backing. The Indian government has since vowed to “completely isolate” Pakistan on the international forum, if Islamabad does not take action against homegrown terrorists, worsening the already tense relationship between the neighbours.
Pakistan has had to bear the brunt of similar accusations from its other allies, including the US, which suspended a substantial military aid package, citing that Islamabad offers safe haven to militants.
A big diplomatic victory for India. It is important to stand firm and keep the pressure on countries that sponsor terrorism. The Financial Action Task Force should blacklist Pakistan & the International Monetary Fund should deny yet another bailout.https://t.co/wkwScPhnLP— Lawrence Sellin (@LawrenceSellin) May 1, 2019
India and Pakistan have gone to war three times since independence from Britain in 1947, twice over Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan claim all of Muslim-majority Kashmir but only control parts of it. Azhar’s blacklisting has now raised hopes that other notorious elements operating out of Pakistan will similarly receive UN’s guillotine.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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