Will A Terror Tag On Masood Azhar Help India Cause?

For over a decade now India has been focused in getting Maulana Masood Azhar, the head of the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed, declared a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council. What will this achieve? What difference will it make on the ground? Will the JeM’s anti-India operations end? 

The truth is little will change. Designating a person a global terrorist will ensure that his movements are restricted. It will mean a travel ban, freezing of his assets and an embargo on the sale of weapons to him or his organisation. Earlier, Azhar had travelled extensively to Kashmir, Somalia, Britain, Afghanistan, Yemen and Kenya, to promote jihad, recruit fighters and collect money for the cause. In the last few years, however, his travel abroad has stopped. According to none other than Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Azhar is in poor health. There have been rumours that he is dead. But even if he is alive, getting him marked a global terrorist makes little difference.

Hafiz Saeed, the man India accuses as the brains behind the terror strikes in Mumbai that killed nearly 160 people, is a declared terrorist. The co-founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba and chief of Jamaat-u-Dawa has a $10 million reward on his head, yet he continues to operate from Pakistan.

New Delhi’s own logic goes against this move. India has always pointed out the anti-India terror outfits like Jem and LeT are used by the Pakistan Army and its spy agency ISI to bleed India. If that is the case, even after Azhar is declared a global terrorist, he will continue to be used by Pakistan whenever they wish to. Global terrorist does not mean he will be arrested and put away in a prison outside Pakistan. He can be in prison or under house arrest, but can still be used by the ISI whenever necessary. After all he does not go out and bomb targets, he has a network to do all that.

The UN is not monitoring his every move. So if we go by the government of India’s belief then Azhar is funded and used by the ISI and the army, freezing of assets or embargo on arms sale to his organization is meaningless as the ISI can finance operations in Kashmir or wherever else in India it wants JeM to strike.

Maulana Masood Azhar, a radical Islamic cleric, was arrested by the Indian authorities in 1994 and imprisoned. The first attempt to free him was In July 1995, when six foreigners were kidnapped in Kashmir by a group called Al Faran. One of the demands of the group was to free Azhar. He was later freed by the NDA government in 1999 as a tradeoff for freeing the passengers of a hijacked Indian airlines plane from Kathmandu. He went back to Pakistan and founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed in a year later.

Experts believe that the Jaish has close operational links with the Taliban, as the hijacked plane was flown to Kandahar at a time when the Taliban was ruling in Afghanistan. There was close coordination between the hijackers and the Taliban government. All Islamist Jihadi outfits often work with each other, as their ultimate goal is the same. The Jaish also had links with Al Qaeda, the LeT as well as anti-Shia groups in Pakistan, notably the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as well as the Sipah-e-Sahaba. The sectarian violence against Shias is also a common theme promoted by the Sunni terror groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Azhar’s public appearances over the years and his addresses to large gatherings make his position on a radicalized regime clear to one and all. Getting the UNSC to support New Delhi’s move would at best be a symbolic victory. Indians will rejoice, and the government will be praised for getting China fall in line. It will be a political victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team. India’s own logic and accusations against Pakistan make the global terrorist tag for Azhar redundant.

But India is using all its diplomatic clout with the US, Russia, UK, France and China to get Masood Azhar the tag of global terrorist. New Delhi believes that the time is ripe for another attempt, considering the worldwide condemnation of the terror act in Pulwama last month. There is hope that this time around, after three failed attempts, China would change its mind. Considering India’s outrage in the aftermath of Pulwama suicide attack and the international backing New Delhi was able to garner, China may not want to go against world opinion this time.

China had made all the right noises after Pulwama. At the Russia, India and China meeting in Wuzhen, soon after the suicide attack, the three countries  issued a strong  a statement about “eradicating the breeding grounds of terrorism” in an obvious reference to Pakistan, though no country was named. Last week, France, US and UK moved a fresh proposal in the United Nations Security Council to do so. The issue will come up for discussion later this month. If China decides not to shoot down next week’s proposal at the UNSC, Masood Azhar will be declared a global terrorist.

Jaish e Mohammed, Azhar’s organization, was designated by the UN sanctions committee as a global terror outfit in October 2001. Did that affect its ability to strike India? Certainly not. Despite the sanctions, the Jaish was able to carry out the attack at India’s frontline airbase in Pathankot in 2016 and now the Pulwama suicide strike.

There is chatter in the social media from Pakistan that the Imran Khan government may also not object to the move. This could be for two reasons. First to win brownie points in the international stage. Imran Khan’s decision to free the captured Indian pilot has won him credit. The other reason could be that China has indicated that it will not veto the move. The cost to Pakistan is minimal even if he is given the tag of global terrorist. Merely domestic hardliners and jihadi supporters would be angry with the government.  

And what happens if the “very unwell” Masood Azhar dies. Well, in such case, the second line of leadership will be ready to take over. Unless the Pakistan Army changes its attitude and India works at talking to its people in Kashmir, Jaish will continue to recruit and spread terrorism in the Valley and elsewhere.