What stands between JeM chief Masood Azhar and the ‘global terrorist’ tag? Hint: An old rival

The US, the UK, France on Wednesday moved a fresh proposal in the UN Security Council demanding the designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist, in the wake of the devastating Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir. Blacklisting Azhar will subject him to a global travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo.

The Security Council Sanctions Committee has 10 working days to consider the fresh proposal, although the prospect of China blocking the move yet again, looms large.

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.

The fresh proposal comes two weeks after the Pakistan-based and UN-proscribed terror outfit took responsibility for the suicide bombing on February 14, which claimed the lives of 40 Indian soldiers and led to cross-border retaliatory air strikes for the first time since 1999.


Fourth time lucky?

The move comes just two days before France assumes the crucial rotating presidency of the UN Security Council. According to PTI, “France is focused on bringing individual listing requests of JeM terrorists to the 1267 Committee soon.”

This the fourth time in ten years that such as bid has been tabled before the 15-member UNSC by three of its permanent veto-wielding members.

China, a close ally of Pakistan and another permament member, has consistently used its veto to block the labelling of Azhar as a global terrorist, which was first proposed by India and later by the US, the UK and France.

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. But the efforts to bring him into the global terrorist fold began long before that.

Three strikes

In 2009, China for the first time opposed India’s efforts to get Azhar Azhar 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 France — in the anti-terror 1267 Committee to ban Azhar, after he was accused as the mastermind of the attack on the Indian airbase in Pathankot that year.

In 2017, the P3 nations along with India moved a similar proposal again.

On all occasions, China, another veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, blocked the proposal from being adopted by the Sanctions Committee.

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’s technical hold on the sanction 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.

Exercising its power to block global consensus 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.

The fresh proposal riding on the back of French presidency of the UNSC, however, comes right after a highly significant statement released by the powerful UN organ currently headed by Equatorial Guinea.

On February 21, China also became a signatory to the UNSC press statement condemning “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.”

China, without whose endorsement the statement couldn’t have released, immediately rushed to downplay the scathing statement, saying that the mention of JeM was only in “general terms” and “does not represent a ” as per a statement released by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. 

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  President General Pervez 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 harbours 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 The Print, with covert Pakistani support. According to the sources, 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 to extradite Azhar – reportedly residing in the eastern Pakistani province of Punjab – but Pakistan has refused “lack of proof against him”.

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 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 2002-2008, the Azhar-led JeM kidnapped and beheaded American journalist Daniel Pearl, made 2 attempts to assassinate Musharraf and even attacked coalition forces in Afghanistan.

More recently, India has blamed JeM for an attack on its Pathankot airbase near the Pakistani border in January 2016, which left three security forces dead.

When Azhar met Osama, allegedly

Pakistan-based Muslim cleric Masood Azhar 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-Toiba (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 to release 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 the former Taliban leader Mullah Omar and with al-Qaeda head Osama Bin Laden when he was in the country.

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 .

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, escalating the already-tense relationship between the . 

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

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