Banning Masood Azhar – a major test for Pakistan

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By Zahid Hussain

The designation of the head of the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Masood Azhar, as a global terrorist by a UN Security Council committee is being projected by the Indian government as a major and long sought-after diplomatic victory. The 15-member committee, which operates by consensus, agreed on Wednesday to subject Azhar to an arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze.
The decision has certainly come as a boon for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in the middle of a critical and ongoing general election. Yet, the final resolution passed by the global body is not exactly what India has long strived for. The resolution went through only after Pakistan’s staunch ally China lifted its technical hold that has been blocking the move for a while. In the past, China has repeatedly opposed efforts by Western powers to directly sanction Azhar, even though the group itself had already been blacklisted by the UN Security Council in 2001.

No doubt the UN sanction has come as a huge diplomatic embarrassment for Pakistan that has long resisted the international pressure to tighten the reins on one of the most notorious militant leaders in the world and crack down on his Jaish-e-Muhammad group. But a saving grace for Islamabad is that the resolution has delinked the listing of Masood Azhar from the ‘separatist struggle’ in Indian-administered Kashmir. Also, there is no mention in the UN statement of the many attacks that India has accused the Pakistan-based militant leader of masterminding. There is not even a reference to the February 14 attack on an Indian army convoy that killed at least 40 Indian soldiers and nearly led Pakistan and India to war. To win China’s support for the sanctioning of Azhar, the United States, Britain and France removed a reference to the attack in the Indian city of Pulwama from their request to the UN Security Council’s Islamic State and Al-Qaeda sanctions committee.
In retaliation to that attack, the Modi government launched an airstrike on what it described as a JeM training camp inside Pakistan and although it provided no evidence to substantiate that such a facility existed or had been hit, Pakistan responded with its own airstrikes and the two countries even fought a brief dogfight over Kashmir skies. The possibility of war seemed, for a moment, all too real.
The airstrike has been used by Modi to whip up anti-Pakistan sentiments and heighten jingoism in order to mobilize his ultra-nationalist support base. The UN action, though it comes a bit late and when Indian elections are already halfway through, is also likely to boost the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral position.

opposed efforts by Western powers to directly sanction Azhar, even though the group itself had already been blacklisted by the UN Security Council in 2001.
No doubt the UN sanction has come as a huge diplomatic embarrassment for Pakistan that has long resisted the international pressure to tighten the reins on one of the most notorious militant leaders in the world and crack down on his Jaish-e-Muhammad group. But a saving grace for Islamabad is that the resolution has delinked the listing of Masood Azhar from the ‘separatist struggle’ in Indian-administered Kashmir. Also, there is no mention in the UN statement of the many attacks that India has accused the Pakistan-based militant leader of masterminding. There is not even a reference to the February 14 attack on an Indian army convoy that killed at least 40 Indian soldiers and nearly led Pakistan and India to war. To win China’s support for the sanctioning of Azhar, the United States, Britain and France removed a reference to the attack in the Indian city of Pulwama from their request to the UN Security Council’s Islamic State and Al-Qaeda sanctions committee.
In retaliation to that attack, the Modi government launched an airstrike on what it described as a JeM training camp inside Pakistan and although it provided no evidence to substantiate that such a facility existed or had been hit, Pakistan responded with its own airstrikes and the two countries even fought a brief dogfight over Kashmir skies. The possibility of war seemed, for a moment, all too real.
The airstrike has been used by Modi to whip up anti-Pakistan sentiments and heighten jingoism in order to mobilize his ultra-nationalist support base. The UN action, though it comes a bit late and when Indian elections are already halfway through, is also likely to boost the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral position.

Since 2008, India, with the support of the United States, has attempted four times to list Azhar Masood under the UNSC resolution 1267. But each time, the move was blocked by China. The latest resolution was initially moved by France after the standoff between India and Pakistan in February but was not carried through because China put it on hold on technical grounds.
China had reservations on the French resolution that pointed the finger at Pakistan in a number of militant attacks allegedly carried out by JeM. Beijing also sought to remove the Pulwama attack from the charge sheet. The issue was finally resolved after hectic negotiations and India and the US agreed to a watered-down resolution — much to Pakistan’s relief.
Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman says the deadlock over the sanction was overcome after removal of all “political references, including attempts to link it with Pulwama and maligning the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people.” Azhar has now been sanctioned because of his links with Al Qaida and other international terrorist groups and not in connection to Pakistan.
No doubt despite being a proscribed organization since 2002, the JeM has continued its activities under different banners. Azhar formed the JeM after his release by Indian authorities in exchange for the passengers of a hijacked Indian Airline plane in December 1999. The group soon emerged as one of the fiercest militant groups in the region, and in addition to ‘guerrilla activities’ in India-administered Kashmir, the militant outfit also maintained close ties with the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Several of Masood Azhar’s family members have held government jobs in Kabul and hundreds of JeM activists have received training in camps in Afghanistan, bringing them into close contact with the deadly Al-Qaeda. In fact, the group’s newspaper, Zarb-i-Momin, became a mouthpiece of the Taliban regime.
Outlawed by General Pervez Musharraf’s military government, the JeM was also placed on the international terrorist groups’ list after it was alleged to have masterminded an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, which had pushed the two countries to the brink of war. 
As things stand now, how it fulfills its international obligation on Azhar and his JeM going forward will thus be a major test for Pakistan.
(Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholar, USA, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with militant Islam (Columbia university press) and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan (Simon and Schuster, NY). Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ. Twitter: @hidhussain . Article courtesy Arab News)