Homeland Security

What pales the counter-terrorism regime
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Issue Courtesy: IDSA | Date : 08 May , 2019

Mohammad Masood Azhar Alvi was listed as an international terrorist to be subject to sanctions on May 1, 2019 by the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). He has been noted as the founder of the Harakat-ul Mujahideen (HUM/ Harakat-ul-Ansar) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), both of which had been listed as entities related to the Al Qaeda in October 2001. The listing was done in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2368 (2017), which was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to improve the effectiveness of international efforts to prevent the disruptive activities of the waning Islamic State and its breakaway groups.1 India’s earlier attempt to list Masood Azhar was made in 2009 in connection with the serial explosions in Mumbai trains in July 2006, but was unsuccessful as both China and the United Kingdom opposed the listing.2 A renewed effort to list him began in February 2016 in the wake of the terrorist attack on an Air Force base at Pathankot in Punjab earlier that year.3 But this was move opposed by China, which first placed a technical hold on the decision and eventually blocked it in December 2016.4 Subsequently, in January 2017, the United States, United Kingdom and France approached the Committee a second time,5 which effort was also blocked by China. The latest attempt was made in the aftermath of the dastardly suicide terror attack in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir in February 2019, and succeeded as much due to India’s diplomatic efforts as due to China’s geostrategic calculations.6

Masood Azhar’s is the latest in the long list of designations, numbering 262 individuals and 83 entities at present, made by the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee since 2001.7 This Committee is among the 14 sanctions committees currently working under the aegis of the UN Security Council.  Mohammed Salahaldin Abd El Halim Zidan was among the earliest individuals listed on January 25, 2001 for his association with the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The Abu Sayyaf Group was among the earliest entities listed on October 6, 2001 for its association with and support to Al Qaeda.

In the present case, the gap of 18 years between the listing of the entity of Jaish-e-Mohammad and the listing of its leader is often cited by the Indian leadership as lamentable considering that the automatic designation of the leaders of a listed entity is stipulated in the guidelines for the procedure to be followed by the Committee.8 A lag between the two is, however, seen in many cases and is attributable to a combination of factors, including the requirement for consensus among all members of the Security Council, permanent and non-permanent, and the need for incontrovertible evidence. In some cases, such as that of Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri of Al Qaeda, he was listed on January 25, 2001, months before the listing of Al Qaeda as an entity on October 6, 2001 in the immediate aftermath of 9/11; many others were listed simultaneously with the entity.

Among those who had been responsible for terrorist attacks in India, Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, wanted for his role in the bombing of the Mumbai stock exchange in 1993, was the earliest to be listed for his connection with the Al Qaeda and the Lashkar -e-Tayyiba (LeT) in November 2003. The LeT itself was listed on May 2, 2005, along with its front organisation the Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD). Its leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and senior members Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Haji Muhammad Ashraf and Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq were listed on December 10, 2008 within a month of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Arif Qasmani, who was linked to the July 2006 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and to the February 2007 attack on the Samjhauta Express was listed in June 2009, without much lag. Mohammad Yahya Mujahid, who headed the media unit of LeT since 2001 and had made several statements including on the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, was also listed on the same day. Another prominent leader Hafiz Abdul Salam Bhuttavi, who set up the LeT’s madrassa network and inspired the youth to undertake martyrdom in Mumbai in 2008, was listed in March 2012.

If India’s experience is anything to go by, diplomatic successes in this multilateral realm come after suffering very high domestic and personal costs inflicted by well entrenched terrorist networks. Since its inception in 1999, the counter-terrorism regime has evolved substantially, though under the shadow of geopolitics.9 From its origins as the 1267 Committee to its current incarnation, the Committee has developed a “governance and accountability system” that prevents arbitrary listing, improves the scope for delisting and creates a more robust review mechanism,10 all aimed at protecting fundamental human rights. It has been able to adopt resolutions that make it mandatory for states to adopt stringent measures to curb the activities of terrorist groups and their access to finances.11 It has been able to name and shame the perpetrators of heinous acts of terrorism, but this takes too much effort. Once the naming (read listing) is done, the entities and individuals face asset freezes, travel bans and arms embargoes, as may be applicable.  However, there are no consequences for states that are lackadaisical in implementing these measures; and should the states fall short, the individuals or entities listed remain at large. Though not without its share of controversies, individuals who are indicted for crimes against humanity are also punishable by the International Criminal Court.12

What pales the counter-terrorism regime despite much progress is not that its procedures requiring consensus are cumbersome or that its working is not transparent, but that, in the fight against terrorism, it only selectively raises the cost for those who inflict terror.  As a result, a regime that has otherwise done well to take morality away from terrorism, is failing to prevent the loss of innocent lives. In the evolution of the UN counter-terrorism regime, it is time that the shapers of the regime address this ethical aspect. 


1.“Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2368 (2017), Security Council Reaffirms Its Resolve to Combat Terrorism”,https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/sc12917.doc.htm, accessed on May 2, 2019.

2.The Indian government had simultaneously attempted a listing of Abdur Rahman Makki and Azam Cheema associated with the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Media Centre, Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No.24, https://www.mea.gov.in/rajya-sabha.htm?dtl/11212/Q24_Indian_efforts_to_stop_terrorism, accessed on May 4, 2019.

3.The JeM has been alleged to have carried out terrorist attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly (October 2001), the Indian Parliament (December 2001), a Police Station in Gurdaspur, Punjab (July 2015), the army base in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir (September 2016), and the Indian embassy in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan (July 2018).

4.Media Centre, LOK SABHA

UNSTARRED QUESTION NO.1703, July 26, 2017, https://www.mea.gov.in/lok-sabha.htm?dtl/28712/question+no1703+foreign+based+terrorists, accessed on May 4, 2019.

5.Media Centre, Rajya Sabha Unstarred Question No. 3211, March 30, 2017, https://mea.gov.in/rajya-sabha.htm?dtl/28274/QUESTION+NO3211+REJECTION+OF+PROPOSAL+TO+BLACKLIST+TERROR+GROUP+CHIEF , Ministry of External Affairs, accessed on May 2, 2019.

6.Shubhajit Roy, “Simply Put: Understanding Masood Azhar’s Listing”, The Indian Express, May 3, 2019,https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/simply-put-understanding-masood-azhar-listing-5707705/, accessed on May 5, 2019.

7.This assessment is based on the count of the Committee’s “Narrative Summaries of Reasons for Listing”,https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/narrative-summaries, accessed on May 2, 2019. The numbers do not include delisted individuals/entities. Also, after 2011, a separate Taliban sanctions committee was formed.

8.Media Centre, Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 1703, Ministry of External Affairs, https://www.mea.gov.in/lok-sabha.htm?dtl/28712/question+no1703+foreign+based+terrorists, accessed on May 2, 2019.

9.Samuel Makinda, “Global Governance and Terrorism”, Global Change, Peace and Security, Vol.15, No.1, pp.43-58, DOI:10.1080/0951274032000044513.

10.Thomas Gehring and Thomas Dörfler, “Division of Labor and Rule-based Decisionmaking

Within the UN Security Council: The Al-Qaeda/Taliban Sanctions Regime”, Global Governance, Vol. 19, 2013, pp. 567–587.

11.Ramesh Thakur and Thomas Weiss, “United Nations Policy: An Argument with Three Illustrations”, International Studies Perspectives, Vol. 10, 2009, pp.18-35.

12.Kennedy Graham, “The Security Council and Counter Terrorism: Global and regional Approaches to an Elusive Public Good”, Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 17, Nos 1-2, pp. 37-65, DOI:

Courtesy: https://idsa.in/idsacomments/what-pales-counter-terrorism-regime-060519

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About the Author

Arpita Anant

is Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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