Pulwama terror attack: France wants JeM chief listed as global terrorist, all eyes on China

In a significant development, France has announced it will demand that the United Nations designate Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist, in the wake of the devastating Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir, which claimed the lives of 40 Indian soldiers last week, for which the Pakistan-based terrorist group has allegedly claimed responsibility.

Claiming to have “incontrovertible evidence” that JeM had Pakistan’s backing, the Indian government has vowed to “completely isolate” Pakistan on the international forum if Islamabad does not take action against homegrown terrorists, escalating the already-tense relationship between the . PM Narendra Modi has since given the Army a free hand in Kashmir promising a hefty price, after revoking the Most Favoured Nation trade status from Pakistan.

Following the attack, Kashmir police identified the suicide bomber who rammed his explosives-laden SUV into the CRPF convoy as Adil Ahmad Dar, who reportedly joined the JeM in 2018. On Monday, three JeM operatives were in an encounter led by the Indian Army. The group is believed to include the mastermind behind the terror strike, Ghazi Rashid.

Fifth strike lucky?

The French government for the fifth time will move such a proposal asking for a ban on Azhar, whose JeM was already proscribed by the UN and touted as a terrorist by the US in 2001.

Following the Pulwama attack, French Ambassador to India, Alexandre Ziegler, told ANI that the country has been trying to include Azhar in the United Nations sanction list for the past two years.

In November 2018, France along with the UK had backed the US’s proposal to ban Azhar at the UN Sanctions Committee for the fourth time, but it was vetoed by permanent member China, which defended its decision to repeatedly block the attempts claiming a lack of consensus.

Beijing, keen on shielding Jaish this time as well, reportedly refused to back India’s appeal at the UN to designate Azhar a global terrorist, a day after the Pulwama attack.

Wherein lies Beijing’s interest

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.

China, which wields the veto power, has repeatedly blocked India’s bid to designate Azhar a terrorist under the Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the United Nations Security Council despite JeM already being on the list of the UN’s banned terror outfits.

India’s proposal to designate Azhar as a global terrorist under the 1267 regime, first put forward in February 2016 after the Pathankot attack, was also blocked by China. The most recent one was denied in January 2017.

Exercising its power to block global consensus is believed to be Beijing’s way of retaining its alliance with a crucial all-weather ally when it comes to South Asia’s regional politics. But a number of other factors may be at stake. China’s technical hold on the sanction at the behest of Pakistan also enables it to protect its strategic and economic interests in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as well turn up pressure on Asian rival India while making a point to the western powers led by the US.

US, Russia may also back the proposal

In a readout released on Saturday, the Ministry of External Affairs reported that US National Security Adviser John Bolton had spoken to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Friday, promising to help bring those behind the attack to justice.

“The two vowed to work together to ensure that Pakistan to be a safe haven for JeM and terrorist groups that target India, the US and others in the region,” the foreign ministry said, adding, “They resolved to hold Pakistan to account for its obligation under UN resolutions.”

France also reportedly arrived at decision after a conversation between Doval and Philippe Etienne, Diplomatic Advisor to the French President on Tuesday, French sources informed PTI. It is set to move the proposal in a couple of days, according to The Hindu.

Russia also said it will support India’s move at the UN Security Council to declare Azhar a global terrorist. “Definitely, we would also like to convey our condolences about the terrorist attack that happened,” Russian Minister Denis Manturov told ANI. “Russia supports India in of terrorism,” he said.

Pakistan’s response

Pakistan has condemned the attack and rejected India’s allegations, especially when the new government of Imran Khan has been trying to push for peace talks since coming to power.

According to Al Jazeera, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua held a meeting with ambassadors of the United States, China, Russia, Britain  France on Friday, to push back against India’s accusations.

In a statement, Janjua complained about “a familiar Indian pattern of immediate and reflexive assignment of blame on Pakistan without investigations.”

On the same day, Pakistan’s Foreign Office also summoned India’s top diplomat, Acting Deputy High Commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia, to protest India’s “baseless allegations”, according to state-owned Radio Pakistan.

The history of JeM

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 President General Pervez Musharraf.

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.

Terrorist activities over the years

The proscribed terrorist has carried out multiple attacks over the last nearly two decades, but its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, continues to elude international sanctions.

The chief of the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit is particularly 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 has claimed responsibility for the first-ever suicide attack in Kashmir in 2000 and one 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 2002-2008, the Azhar-led JeM kidnapped and beheaded American journalist Daniel Pearl, made 2 attempts to assassinate Musharraf and even attacked coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Azhar’s background

Azhar had founded JeM in 2000 with help from Pakistan’s intel agency ISI, Taliban regime in Afghanistan, as well as Osama Bin Laden. He was formerly a member of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and has even been linked to al-Qaeda.

He gained prominence in the nineties when he was imprisoned in India for terrorist activities in the Valley. But in December 1999, India had released Azhar in exchange for passengers of Indian Airlines IC-814 that was hijacked and flown to Kandahar. Azhar went to Afghanistan after his release from India and then launched JeM on January 31, 2000, in Karachi.

According to this report in the Gulf Times, however, Azhar is 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 , is strong enough to carry out such a devastating attack.

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.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

Jaish-e-MohammedKashmirMasood AzharPakistanPulwamaTerrorismUnited Nations