US bolsters India’s stand on Pak link in Azhar ban
The US has said the UN designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar reflects “international commitment to rooting out terrorism in Pakistan”, quashing Islamabad’s efforts to portray the absence of a reference to the Pulwama attack in the listing as a “diplomatic win”.
India’s external affairs ministry, too, responded to pointed questions on the lack of references to the Pulwama attack and terrorism in Kashmir in Azhar’s listing by saying the global terrorist tag for the JeM founder will increase pressure on Pakistan to take “credible, verifiable and irreversible action” against terrorists based on its soil. The proposal moved on February 27 by France, the US and the UK to list Azhar contained a reference to the Pulwama attack, which was claimed by JeM and resulted in the death of 40 troopers, and also to Jammu and Kashmir.
The notification issued by the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee on Wednesday dropped these references – a face-saving measure for Pakistan apparently at the behest of China, which lifted its technical hold for the designation to go ahead.
Pakistan was quick to latch on to this, with foreign office spokesman Mohammad Faisal describing it as a “huge diplomatic win”. A Pakistani statement contended Azhar’s listing was approved after “politically motivated” references to the Pulwama attack and the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination were removed.
However, US National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis clearly linked Azhar’s listing with terrorism emanating from Pakistan in a statement. “Designating Azhar demonstrates international commitment to rooting out terrorism in Pakistan and bringing security and stability to South Asia,” he said.
Marquis directly linked Azhar to the Pulwama carnage, saying the US commended the 1267 Sanctions Committee for designating “Azhar, the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a UN-designated terrorist group that was responsible for the February 14 terrorist attack in Kashmir that killed over 40 Indian paramilitary forces.”
The US, the driver of the designation, sought to tie the implementation of the listing — imposing a travel ban, assets freeze and arms embargo on Azhar — to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s stated commitment to eradicating terrorism.
State department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus acknowledged initial steps taken by Islamabad against terror groups operating from its soil and said: “We look forward to further and sustained actions from Pakistan as outlined in its National Action Plan [against terrorism], consistent with its international obligations.”
External affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar ruled out any sort of deal on the listing, saying: “Let me make it very, very clear – we do not negotiate with any country on terrorism and on matters related to the security of the country.”
Kumar said Pakistan was harping on “irrelevant details” to divert attention from a diplomatic setback. “The terror attack in Pulwama did play a role in coming to this decision,” he said, adding Pakistan will have to take “credible, verifiable and irreversible action” against terrorists.
The main objective was the designation of Azhar, a process that began in 2009, “when the Pulwama terror attack had not taken place”, he said. “The designation is not based on a specific incident but on the basis of evidence shared with members of the 1267 Sanctions Committee linking Masood Azhar to terrorism...The [UN] notification is not supposed to be a bio-data of the terrorist and include all acts of terrorism perpetrated by him,” Kumar added.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo welcomed the listing, saying in a tweet: “This long-awaited action is a victory for American diplomacy and the international community against terrorism, and an important step towards peace in South Asia.”
He added, “Congrats to our team @USUN for their work in negotiating JEM’s Masood Azhar’s #UN designation as a terrorist.”
In a conference call with reporters, a senior US administration official had remarkably sharp observations about China for its defence of Azhar. “After 10 years, China has done the right thing by lifting its hold on the designation. I think China has seemed to have understood that it was increasingly important that its actions on the international stage on terrorism matched its rhetoric,” the official said.
Asked about the missing references to Pulwama and Kashmir, the official said, “Irrespective of the verbiage that was agreed upon, it was the designation that came through and the designation is not denuded by the words that were or were not used.”
China had blocked four attempts to blacklist Azhar at the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee in 2009, 2016, 2017 and February this year by using a technical hold. It lifted the hold on Wednesday after France, the US and the UK moved a revised proposal for the listing. JeM was designated by the US as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2001 and it was listed by the UN the same year.
The ban on Azhar took a political colour in India in election season, with Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Nirmala Sitharaman saying opposition parties were reluctant to celebrate it. “When the country wins, every Indian wins but what is unfortunate is that the Opposition thinks if it joins the celebration, then it will have to pay a political price. So, it says what is the big deal,” Jaitley said.
The Congress responded, saying such designations were the result of a continuous process and just one government should not take credit for it. “We humbly request them to not take credit for everything. Stop taking credit and applauding yourself. Also, tell the country that you had freed Azhar from a Jammu jail. We had got Hafiz Saeed designated [as a global terrorist after the Mumbai terror attacks],” party spokesperson Rajiv Shukla said at a press conference.