The listing of Masood Azhar, head of the terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohamed, as a global terrorist by the UN Security Council is a significant diplomatic win for India, which has been seeking action for 10 years, since 2009, against the man responsible for spearheading major terrorist attacks in India, beginning with the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the killing of 40 Indian paramilitary personnel in Pulwama in February 2019. It is a major achievement for India because, more than Pakistan, China has had to come on board with a New Delhi-led move to isolate Islamabad internationally.
China, the only country among the veto-wielding permanent five members of the UN Security Council which had blocked Azhar’s listing as a global terrorist four times, finally withdrew its objections. The significance is not only in the optics, with Pakistan squarely in the dock and unable to stay in denial under intense international pressure for harbouring people like Azhar, but because even China could not protect its “all weather friend” and “iron brother” Islamabad and had to come around to accepting global pressure to act against terrorism.
The decision will, however, remain only in the realm of optics unless Pakistan actually acts to blacklist Azhar. It is now incumbent on Islamabad, which has openly acknowledged that Azhar operates inside Pakistan, even meeting with the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, to take action against him and other members of the JeM, who appear to enjoy unrestricted freedom of movement within that country.
Hafiz Saeed, head of the other terror organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) which was responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 26 November 2008, has been designated a global terrorist by the 1267 Committee of the UN years ago, but still has unrestricted freedom of movement within that country.
Sources said Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed the matter with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan during the Belt and Road Forum meet last week and explained that Beijing could not, any more, be seen as providing specious “technical” objections to sheltering a man against whom there was so much credible evidence.
China’s representative at the United Nations on May 1 said Beijing had “no objection after studying revised materials” to having Azhar designated a global terrorist in the 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN.
Possibly the last straw for China was the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, immediately after which India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale visited Beijing and made a strong pitch for China to remove its objections to listing the Pakistan-based Azhar as a UN-sanctioned terrorist.
Gokhale’s visit, right after the suicide bombings ripped Sri Lanka apart, imparted a sense of urgency to his appeal that Beijing should send a message that the global community was fighting terrorism together. Both China and India lost citizens in the Sri Lankan attacks.
The other reason Beijing had to agree to drop its “technical hold,” sources said, was because the US, Britain and France had again moved the 1267 Sanctions Committee to ensure that the UN listed Azhar as a global terrorist and, if China objected, had said they would adopt a resolution in the 15-member UNSC, so designating him, despite Chinese objections and totally isolating China on the issue of terrorism.
Pakistan, which is reeling under a financial crisis, was told by the US that it would have to not only stop sheltering and funding terrorists, but also be seen to do so. The country, which is already on the ‘grey list’ of the UN’s Financial Action Task Force, faces the threat of being blacklisted by the FATF, which is meeting later this month. Blacklisting will effectively render Islamabad ineligible for loans from global organisations like the International Monetary Fund.
Meanwhile, Azhar, whose JeM is already designated as a global terrorist organisation (since 2002), will now feel the financial pinch as his assets will be frozen, both in Pakistan and worldwide. The JeM supposedly has significant assets in Europe. Also, Azhar will not be able to travel out of Pakistan.
“Big, small, all join together. Masood Azhar designated as a terrorist in @UN Sanctions list Grateful to all for their support,” tweeted Syed Akbaruddin, India’s permanent envoy to the UN, after the listing of one of India’s bugbears.
While it was a good day for Indian diplomacy, the actual impact of the move will only be felt if Pakistan takes visible action to curb and possibly bring the man and others of his ilk to justice. The going just became much more difficult for Islamabad because its international mentor Beijing has, perforce, accepted that there is credible evidence to blacklist the JeM chief.