India’s case for United Nations sanctions against Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar is water tight. On Wednesday Azhar urged the Pakistan government to allow jihadists groups to escalate their operations against India. He warned that if Islamabad did not act decisive in this regard, it would lose a “historic opportunity” to seize Kashmir. He said the Kashmir issue and the water dispute between India and Pakistan would be resolved immediately if the Nawaz Sharif government “showed some courage”. Azhar wrote, “If nothing else, the government simply has to open the path for the mujahideen. Then, god willing, all the bitter memories of 1971 will be dissolved into the triumphant emotions of 2016.” Azhar tried to build a case for militant groups by pointing out that Pakistan’s policy to back them in the 1990s had reaped strategic dividends for the country.
“What remained of its military prowess was exposed in Pathankot and Uri,” he said. He argued that Pakistan should have been the one pressuring India in the wake of the situation in Kashmir. It also reiterates New Delhi’s long-time assertion of Pakistan’s role in harbouring terrorist groups that go on to threaten India’s security interests. Scholars and analysts state that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) uses JeM to fulfil its strategic objectives in India, particularly Kashmir, and continues to provide it the necessary backing.
Although it has been banned in Pakistan since 2002 and designated a terrorist group by the United Nations, it continues to openly operate several facilities in the country. At the height of militancy in Kashmir, Azhar was nabbed by Indian authorities. But in December 1999, he was freed by the Indian government in exchange for passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC814) that had eventually landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which at the time the Taliban controlled.
Shortly after his release, Azhar made a public address to an estimated 10,000 people in Karachi. “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed India," he proclaimed, vowing to “liberate” the Kashmir region from Indian rule. The JeM, in coordination with Lashkar-e-Taiba, has also been implicated in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack. Fast forward to 2016, Indian believes that the attack on an army installation in Kashmir's Uri was carried out by Azhar's group, which is based out of Pakistan. India also blames the JeM for the Pathankot air base attack in January, though the Hizbul Mujahideen claimed responsibility for it at the time. Pakistani authorities took him into "protective custody" after the Pathankot attack, which was widely reported as an "arrest".
However, the reputed terrorist was set free a few months later. Meanwhile, China has been using its powers in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to keep Azhar off the designated list of terrorists through a “technical hold”, despite clear evidence of his role in the attack on Parliament in 2001, Pathankot airbase earlier this year and the Indian Army camp in Uri two weeks ago. New Delhi has remained firm in its bid to apprise the UNSC’s 1267 committee that Azhar has close links to the Taliban and consequently to Al Qaeda. The “technical hold” placed at Beijing's behest gives the committee more time on deliberate on Azhar. Back in April, China had requested the UN committee to keep the designation on hold. This six-month hold period lapsed on Saturday, but the country decided to extend it. The hold will now remain for six more months, after which the UNSC will need to take a final call. Azhar’s recent comments have made Beijing’s position untenable.
Besides the dossiers of evidence collected by the Indian authorities, Beijing only needs to understand the implications of Azhar’s recent comments. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhary said while “China has reiterated its support for Pakistan, it too has indicated a preference for a change in course by Pakistan”.
Even the civilian administration in Pakistan has understood the nefarious consequences of harbouring terror elements. As per the highly-contested Dawn report, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother and Punjab province Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif complained to ISI chief Rizwan Akhtar that even if civilian law enforcement agencies detain militants, “the security establishment has worked behind the scenes to set the arrested free”.
But the use of “non-state” by the Pakistani military establishment has been institutionalised. “The state is willing to crush jihadi groups that engage in violence against Pakistani citizens and security personnel but has no qualms about the mobilisation of jihadis that target other countries, particularly India, Afghanistan, and even the United States,” says Hussain Haqqani, the former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States and a leading expert on South Asian affairs. “The problem with this policy has been that jihadi groups do not make the distinctions made by the government and often collaborate with each other on the ground.”