4th reprieve for Masood Azhar
S M Hali


While India continues beating the war drums

Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar has received a reprieve for the fourth time from being branded a global terrorist by the UN Security Council. In a note sent to it, China said it needed more time to examine the sanctions request targeting Azhar. Beijing had reminded the UNSC earlier this week that “a responsible solution” to the listing issue could come only through discussions. It had urged the international community to also focus on the Kashmir dispute while making such demands. “China’s position on the designation of a terrorist by the 1267 Sanctions Committee is consistent and clear,”

Masood Azhar’s name came into prominence in 1999 when Indian Airlines Flight 814 was hijacked en route from Kathmandu to New Delhi. After flying to various locations, including Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai, the hijacked aircraft ultimately landed in Kandahar in Afghanistan, which was under Taliban rule. The hijackers demanded the release of three Pakistani prisoners languishing in Indian jails, Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Masood Azhar. After negotiations, India released the three prisoners in exchange for its aircraft and passengers.

Later, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was involved in the murder of American-Israeli journalist Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal at Karachi. Sheikh, a British national of Pakistani origin, was apprehended and sentenced to death for Pearl’s abduction and murder. Masood Azhar, shortly after his release, made a public address to an estimated 10,000 people in Karachi. He proclaimed, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed India,” vowing to liberate the Kashmir region from Indian rule.

Masood Azhar went on to establish Jaish-e-Mohammad or the “Army of Mohammad”. The group’s primary motive is to liberate Kashmir from India. Since its inception in 2000, the outfit has allegedly carried out several attacks in Indian Occupied Kashmir. It projects Kashmir as a “gateway” to entire India, whose Muslims are also deemed to need liberation. The JeM has been banned in Pakistan since 2002, but has resurfaced under other names.

The group has been considered responsible for several terror attacks: the 2001 attack on the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, the 2001 Indian Parliament attack, the 2016 Pathankot airbase attack, the 2016 attack on the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, the 2016 Uri attack, and the 2019 Pulwama attack, each of which has had strategic consequences for Indo-Pakistan relations. In December 2001, after the attack on Indian Parliament in New Delhi, India amassed its forces along Pakistan’s international borders and was poised for an attack. Pakistan redeployed its forces in a defensive posture to thwart any adventurism on the part of India. Both forces remained eyeball to eyeball for 10 months, and even a spark could have ignited the fuse for a mortal conflict between the two nuclear-armed states. India blinked first and withdrew its forces after the USA convinced India to do so since the NATO forces were locked in a battle over Afghanistan, following 9/11. Pakistan was a strategic ally of the USA and NATO did not seek any disturbance in its Afghan operations which necessitated Pakistan’s wholehearted participation.

JeM has been designated as a terrorist organization by Pakistan, Russia, Australia, Canada, India, UAE, UK, the USA and the United Nations. In February 2019, the group took responsibility for a suicide bombing attack on a security convoy in the Pulwama district of Indian Occupied Kashmir that killed over 40 security personnel, called one of the largest attacks in recent years.

India accused Pakistan of sponsoring the attack and retaliated by a surgical strike in the wee hours of 26 February 2019 when a dozen Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft targeted Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, violating Pakistan’s sovereignty. No damage resulted but India claimed that it decimated a JeM training camp, killing 350 militants. Pakistan Air Force struck back on 27 February in a counter attack. In the melee that followed, two IAF fighters, one MiG-21 and one SU-30 were shot down by the PAF. The MiG-21 pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan, was captured alive but later returned by Pakistan.

If India believes that it can have people branded as terrorists at its whim, then it is sadly mistaken.

India continues to seethe and grumble at its embarrassment. Its media is conjuring lies with fabricated evidence that its Balakot strike was a success and its pilots shot down a PAF F-16.

In reality both countries are locked in a tense battle because India is having its general elections in April-May. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing defeat, so it would rather beat war drums against Pakistan and bring the region to the brink of a nuclear war only to ensure its victory at the polls.

The case of Masood Azhar is curious. India has made four attempts in the past 10 years to have Masood Azhar branded a terrorist and a ban placed on him. In 2009 and 2016, India moved the UN’s Sanctions Committee to ban Azhar, also the alleged mastermind of attack on the air base in Pathankot in January 2016. India was joined by the P3 nations– the USA, the UK and France– in the 2016 proposal. In 2017 also, these P3 countries moved a similar proposal at the UN. However, China, using its veto power, has always blocked the proposal from being adopted by the UN.

Now India has cajoled and urged France to propose a ban to be placed on Masood Azhar. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang, during his Regular Press Conference on 11 March 2019, was asked about his views regarding Masood Azhar’s case coming up in UN Security Council’s 1267 Committee again on March 13. The questioner asked if there was an appeal by India that all the permanent members of the UNSC should declare Masood Azhar a terrorist this time in light of the recent tensions between India and Pakistan. Can a decision of China be expected this time?

The Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson responded that the UN Security Council and its subsidiary bodies have strict stipulations for their relevant operation. The quoted reports talk about how the relevant discussions went inside the UN subsidiary body, which is quite dubious. He regretted that no judgment should be based on the information gathered through an inappropriate channel.

The Spokesperson stressed China’s position on the listing of terrorist organizations and individuals in the UN Security Council 1267 Committee on many occasions, and said that China had all along participated in relevant discussions in a responsible manner and in strict accordance with the rules of procedure and provisions of the 1267 Committee. “China will continue to communicate and work with relevant parties in a responsible manner so as to properly resolve this matter. Only by deciding through responsible and serious discussions can we resolve the issue in a sustainable manner.”

If India believes that it can have people branded as terrorists at its whim, then it is sadly mistaken. If the stipulated conditions for being labeled as a global terrorist are clear then the most deserving case is current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the “Butcher of Gujarat”, and the person responsible for the death of over 350 Kashmiris and blinding of 3600 Kashmiri children. It is high time Pakistan tabled such a motion at the UNSC.