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.


Indo-Pak Spat Will Sadly Be Milked For Political Gains

In the recent past, particularly the couple of days when tension was at its height between India and Pakistan, if you read only the media publications of those two countries you could have been a victim of schizophrenia, or of extreme bipolar disorder.

The claims and counter-claims about the airborne dogfights, the targets that were allegedly bombed, and the counter-attacks that followed, were so diametrically opposite each other that, if you were an unbiased observer, they would have left you perplexed.

India claimed that its air force had killed hundreds of terrorists believed to be behind mid-February’s suicide bombing in Kashmir in which scores of Indian security personnel died. Pakistan countered by saying its fighter planes had chased away the Indian aircraft and the only damage done was to woods and trees in a deserted area where there were no terrorist camps.

Then when Pakistan shot down an Indian aircraft and captured the pilot and tension began to escalate, the posturing of both sides changed. Pakistan took the high moral ground with its Prime Minister, Mr Imran Khan, offering to have a dialogue with India and releasing the pilot unconditionally. India, on its part, saw this as a huge victory and a cowering down by Pakistan. Meanwhile, a sort of proxy war seemed to be on in both, the social media as well as mainstream media publications, between the two countries. Nationalistic fervour was (and, perhaps, still is) at a peak, and shrill, hawkish screams abounded.

A war between two nuclear-weapon nations is least desirable, and the de-escalation of tensions after the release of the Indian pilot is welcome. Also, it is unlikely that India has, as it claims, decimated a huge terrorist camp in Pakistan. Yet, the problem remains: Kashmir continues, as it has been since Independence in 1947, to be a matter of serious dispute between the two neighbours; and Pakistan clearly is a haven for terror groups, including the dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammed, which repeatedly and regularly attacks and fans violence in the Kashmir Valley where Indian security forces have long maintained a near-military rule. If the recent face-off leads to a saner discussion between the two countries, particularly on the Kashmir issue, it could be a good beginning.

But does India want such a dialogue right now? As Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its allies, head towards national elections, keeping the tension simmering between the two neighbours could actually help them. On 28 February while addressing a gathering of scientists in Delhi, Mr Modi remarked that that a “pilot project”, which was a “practice” just got over, and that the “real project” was yet to happen. It is easy to label Mr Modi’s comments as opportunistic in the context of the coming elections. History across the world shows that incumbent governments often benefit electorally when they demonstrate decisiveness or strength when tensions with an “enemy” state surface.

Yet, it would serve Indians well to remember the genesis of the current face-off: it began when terrorists from across the border launched a suicide attack that killed at least 40 Indian security personnel. That is the crux of the problem. The war against terrorists, who are ostensibly camped in, and perhaps encouraged by, Pakistan has to be a continuous effort that India cannot afford to relent on. But the electoral advantages that Mr Modi and his party might be able to reap from the current skirmish are real. We can expect his election campaign to keep referring to these: the threat of terrorism from Pakistani territory; the pilot (Wing Commander Abhinandan) who is now a hero in India; and a resolve to launch the not-so-cryptic “real project” that Mr Modi mentioned.

There is another disturbing aspect in the current scenario. India’s as well as Pakistan’s media, particularly the mainstream newspapers and TV news channels, have commonly fallen prey to jingoism whenever a conflict with Pakistan arises. You may want to call it healthy nationalism, perhaps. But in today’s scenario where social media plays a huge role in shaping people’s perceptions in both, India and Pakistan, this could have serious consequences. Fake news, doctored videos, and inflammatory comments, are being traded in a free-for-all manner. Many believe that these could heighten the tensions between the two nuclear weapon nations despite the de-escalation that followed the Indian pilot’s release.

The cynical viewpoint is that the ruling regime’s spin doctors could be leveraging all of this to help them in the coming elections. Signs of that, viz. Mr Modi’s and his colleagues’ recent statements, are already visible. Mr Modi came to power with an overwhelming electoral victory in 2014 but on the back of promises that now seem tall. He promised development, progress, and better days for Indians who placed their faith in him, but five years later, at the end of his term, much of those promises remain unfulfilled and the initial euphoria after he came to power turned out to be ephemeral. And, despite their bluster, the BJP and its allies have little to tom-tom about their achievements. In that context, the skirmish with Pakistan could be like a shot in the arm, providing campaigning fodder that could touch the hearts of many Indians.

On the other side too, Prime Minister Khan has been quick to grasp an opportunity to position himself as a mature statesman. His publicly stated willingness for a dialogue with India and the prompt release of the Indian pilot is likely to boost his popularity among his fellow countrymen. Last summer, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) came to power when it won the largest number of seats in the national assembly but it didn’t manage to get a majority on its own. There were also widespread allegations about rigging by the PTI. Besides, in Pakistan, a hawkish military exerts overwhelming pressure and influence over political regimes and is commonly believed to encourage separatists and terror groups that operate in Kashmir. Yet, Mr Khan too has to resolve to fight the terrorism that breeds in his nation’s territory. A statesman-like image, which he has tried to create for himself recently, wouldn’t hurt.

Hyper-ventilating TV news anchors, and internet and social media trolls in both nations notwithstanding, the crucial need of the hour is not to fan tensions between Pakistan and India but to try and fix ways in which the long-standing dispute over Kashmir and the violent terrorism it has bred can be resolved. For that to happen the leaders of the two nations have to set aside their immediate political interests and agree to move towards non-violent and non-aggressive solutions. Will that happen? Or is it merely wishful thinking?


Aftermath Of Suicide Attack On CRPF In Pulwama

The Pulwama incident is a major intelligence and operational failure. The governor Mr Satya Pal Malik, in a first, has taken responsibility for the lapses and has assured that corrective actions would be taken. He added that after a collective review by all security forces, corrective measures would be put in place to eradicate terrorism from the state. Some experts feel that India lacks a strategic culture and we need to carry out a deep review of how we do business at strategic and tactical levels in sub conventional environment.
In a ghastly suicide attack on 14 February by a local twenty plus Kashmiri youth by smashing an explosive laden vehicle into a passenger bus of a long convoy carrying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troops ; 44 soldiers were martyred and a large number of them are battling for their lives in army hospitals across the country. This is by far the largest loss of lives in a single attack in J&K and has been claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed ; the Pakistan based terrorist group that had lost some prominent leaders in encounters with security forces in recent years.
The deadly incident has been condemned by one and all and PM Modi has stated that the sacrifices will not go in vain. The international community has expressed its concern over this gruesome attack. Another attack by Pakistani terrorists on Iranian Revolutionary Guards left 27 Iranian soldiers dead along the border. Two days later, an Army major died in Naushera and two soldiers were injured while trying to diffuse an IED laid by Pakistani border action team. A pattern of a spurt in use of IEDs by Pakistan based terrorists is emerging which if not arrested could destabilise the security paradigm in the region.
National sentiments demand retribution from Pakistan and PM has stated that Indian Army and other security forces have been given a free hand to take necessary action. While it is clearly indicative that it is the handiwork of a Pakistan based group headed by Masood Azhar ; the fact that the attack has been carried out by a suicide Kashmiri youth in the hinterland leaves a lots of retrospection to be done and we need to chalk out a de novo approach to ensure that such deadly attacks are not repeated in the country. The suicide attack is on the lines of Palestinian terrorists and one needs to understand how Israeli Defence Forces tackle this menace.
As a first we need to take some defensive measures to ensure that our convoy movement is safe and prophylactic preventive measures are in place to thwart such designs. Simultaneously, the intelligence agencies have to trace back the chain that has been working behind the suicide bomber and dots have to be connected right upto it’s origin in Pakistan. Thereafter, while the Ministry of External Affairs would expose the Pakistani connection to the international community, the security and intelligence agencies have to surgically remove the umbicle cord between the handlers and the executors. The masterminds have to be identified and neutralised by R&WA and the assets and sleeper cells in Pakistan have to be reactivated.
In Kashmir Valley, population control measure will have to be firmly reinstituted. The security forces have to have census of all individuals residing in the area of responsibility. Search and cordon operations need to be enhanced in all suspicious areas where terrorists are likely to be harboured. The use of rubber bullets and other riot control equipment to engage stone throwers has to be reintroduced to save lynching of soldiers by errant civilians. Curfew under section 144 must be imposed in sensitive areas dynamically on need basis. These steps are really restrictive and retrograde but we do not have the luxury and capacity to absorb more losses of life.
In addition, personal security for all politicians, bureaucrats , senior police and security forces officers need to be stripped off and the resources thus available should be utised for area security. All residential areas of these officials should be grouped in one area like the cantonments and effective area security augmented with technology including BFSRs, HHTIs and unattended sensors should be deployed. On all important roads frequented by security forces, civil traffic should be regulated and picketing in addition to road opening should be resorted to.
The CRPF is a force which has no ‘Mai baap’. As the name suggests, it is a central government armed police force which is deployed to augment resources of the state police in maintaining law and order. Although organised in battalions, it is seldom deployed as such and is allocated in company lots. It is not unusual for a CRPF battalion located in Nagaland to have two to three companies deployed in J&K. There is no cohesiveness in the troops as the companies are more often than not led by inspectors and not by officers. The Commanding Officer (CO) is not in a position to affect the tactical employment of the force.
The CRPF companies come under command the state civil police and local Superintendent of Police (Operations) of a district (SP Ops) employs the CRPF. During the Punjab insurgency in the eighties, the SP(ops) used to allot the CRPF troops in penny packets and they were used to protect the local police stations ! At the higher level, the IPS officers commanding the force are removed from the tactical situation on the ground and assume only administrative duties. The Home Ministry needs to revamp command and control structures of this otherwise potent force.
The Modi Government has to take some tough decisions besides stripping Pakistan of the tag of most favoured nation status.This is perhaps the only time that the government of India would be able to push the abolition of Article 370 as political parties across the board are likely to support the government whole hog. India needs to unilaterally abrogate the Indus River Treaty and tell the world that it refuses to have any dealings with a rogue state. All cultural and sports exchange between the two countries need to be snapped permanently and homegrown talent needs to be promoted.
Division of Jammu and Kashmir into three states of Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Leh as envisaged by PM Modi, may be a good step to ensure better administration and localisation of the terrorist infested areas. This, however, may also end up in working as the chemotherapy for a malignant cancer and not a cure. The root causes of all insurgencies are political and economic in nature and must be addressed squarely to eradicate terrorism and not by barely going after the terrorists.
As Pakistan only understands the language of terror; whatever it takes to stoke separatist fires amongst Baluchi and Sindhi separatists, must be done. If Pakistan faces the threat of further balkanisation, so be it, and India should provide the catalysts.