India wins global support in naming Masood Azhar’s terror tag

Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar was on Wednesday designated a global terrorist by the UN after China withdrew its long-standing block to the move, marking a major diplomatic and political victory in the Indian government’s efforts to counter cross-border terrorism.

Azhar was listed by the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee for his association with al-Qaeda and his role in financing, planning and facilitating terrorist acts by the JeM, shortly after officials announced in Islamabad that Pakistan would no longer object to his designation – a sign to iron brother China to lift the “technical hold” it had placed on four attempts to sanction Azhar.

Hindustan Times first reported on Tuesday that China was expected to lift its hold on listing Azhar at the UN on May 1.

Following the designation, Pakistan will be required to take three steps – freeze the funds and financial assets of Azhar, enforce a travel ban on him, and cut off his access to arms and related materials.

India’s permanent representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, informed Sanjeev Singla, private secretary to PM, about the listing and asked him to “brief the boss”. Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been inquiring about the matter since morning, he could not be directly informed by Singla as the premier was in the midst of an election rally.

Singla is believed to have informed National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who rushed to the PMO from Sardar Patel Bhawan and informed Modi of the development on a secure line.

Shortly after the February 14 suicide attack in Pulwama that killed 40 Indian troopers and was claimed by JeM, France, with the backing of the US and the UK, moved a proposal at the 1267 Sanctions Committee to sanction 50-year-old Azhar. After a 10-day period to consider the matter, China blocked the proposal on March 13 by saying more time was needed to discuss the issue.

This angered the US, which threatened to take the matter to the UN Security Council, where discussions are held in public, unlike consultations held behind closed doors by the sanctions committee. The heavy lifting was done by the US as it wanted the terrorist tag for Azhar during consultations on April 23, but China and Pakistan wanted it to happen after the Indian elections as they didn’t want the listing to benefit Modi, people familiar with developments said.

The date was then moved by the US to April 30, though China was insisting on May 15. A compromise of May 1 was reached after the US hinted it would take the matter to the Security Council, the people said.

India and its Western allies also continued to work with China throughout this period. During a visit to Beijing last week, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale shared evidence on the role of Azhar and JeM in terrorist attacks with Chinese officials, including foreign minister Wang Yi.

A fifth proposal to sanction Azhar was moved by France, the US and UK last month. In an apparent face-saving measure for Pakistan at the behest of China, this proposal didn’t contain references to the Pulwama attack and terrorism in Kashmir, the people said.

The statement issued by the UN on Azhar’s listing referred extensively to his links with al-Qaeda, its slain chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban, and his role in supporting and facilitating these terrorist entities and providing them arms but made no mention of Kashmir, where JeM has carried out several devastating attacks, or Pakistan, where Azhar is based.

The statement referred to Azhar’s role as former leader of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen but made no mention of this group’s activities in Kashmir. The statement also referred to Azhar’s activities only till 2008, with no mention of attacks such as the 2016 assault on Pathankot airbase blamed on JeM.

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