By Durdana Najam
Masood Azahar’s listing as a global terrorist by the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) without opposition from China – at a time when India and Pakistan had been involved in a direct military engagement – is a window of opportunity for both the arch rivals to remodel their relations. It was a matter of joy and triumph for India to see the listing of a person, who, back in 1999, had to be released in exchange of 155 hostages of Indian Airlines that was hijacked and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan. It may also be a matter of relief for the international community to see the man listed as a global terrorist, who had been openly recruiting people to join the Afghan Jihad. From now on, Masood would not be able to make international or domestic bank transactions, his bank accounts would be frozen and his traveling abroad will be banned.
Against Masood’s blacklisting all these years and keeping it pending with the help of China, Pakistan too had its moments of delight, seeing no mention of Masood’s involvement in Kashmir in the resolution. He has been blamed for aiding and abetting the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and for running his own organization Jaish-i- Muhammad (JEM) that brewed “Jihad” and “terrorism”. Separating Masood from Kashmir, especially when he had accepted the responsibility for orchestrating the attack that killed 40 paramilitary officers in Pulwama, Kashmir, is seen as a quid pro quo to accepting the long-standing Indian demand to dock Masood in return for providing space to the Chinese government to accommodate its long-time ally Pakistan.
To introspect that why Pakistan would harbour people like Masood, CRSS contacted Dr. Sarwat Rauf, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the National University of Modern Languages, for her views on the issue. We found her clearly not in favor of calling Masood a terrorist: “When the United Nations clearly grants the permission to fight for one’s rights, then how could Masood, who has been fighting for the rights of self-determination for the Muslims both in Afghanistan and perhaps Kashmir, be called a terrorist”, argued Dr Sarwat. Every state has non-state actors says Dr. Sarwat, however week states like Pakistan, she explains, get into the limelight because of, at times, using wrong modus operendi to manage such elements or the bigger powers’ strategically stronger game plan in support of superior technology and intelligence capabilities.
On the question of why China had now agreed to pull itself out from opposing Masood’s blacklisting, Dr. Sarwat rubbished the narrative of “China taking this step to avoid international isolation”.
“Last year, 26 head of the states attended the Belt and Road Forum (BRF), this year the number has gone up to 37. Do you call this isolation? Not only the head of states of all the nine Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries attended the BRF, but also Italy, a member of G7 countries, was also present. Neither was China under any international pressure nor was the decision based on appeasing India. The only reason that I could think of China giving a go-ahead to Masood’s designation as a global terrorist is to remove any barrier to the economic engagement that BRI seeks from as many countries as possible. It is a purely economic decision.”
The tradition to designate non-state actors as terrorists through the United Nations began after the 9/11 attacks in the US. All those groups and individuals who had been involved, either through physical participation or financial assistance, in activities carried out under the banner of Al-Qaeda or the Taliban were sanctioned or blacklisted as a result. The UN first listed JEM on October 17, 2001, as an organisation associated with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Before forming JEM, Masood was the leader of Harkat-ul-Mujahadin also known as Harkat-ul-Ansar. Most of the members of this group later joined JEM under Masood’s leadership.
CRSS reached out to Mosharaf Zaidi, a former adviser to Pakistan’s foreign ministry and now a senior fellow at the policy think tank Tabadlab, for his analysis about the timing of designating Masood now, when India is going through General Elections, and whether we can call it pre-poll rigging to get Narendra Modi re-elected as the Prime Minister of India.
“I do not agree with the narrative of benefiting Narinder Modi. Let’s be straight, we had no option but to give in, and accept that we have been harbouring people considered terrorist in the international parlance. Pakistan either musters the courage and resources, the likes of India, to defend its terrorists—India got one of its terrorists, Yogi Adityanath, elected Chief Minister of Utter Pradesh—or Pakistan stops making more Azhar Masoods. There is no middle road.”
He further said that though Pakistan had plenty to complain about, which, he argued, had forced it to protect people like Masood, but at the end of the day, said Zaidi, every country was responsible for its own terrorists. “Either we play games according to the rules or we succumb to the rules.”
As for the second argument that Kashmir and Pakistan’s name has been dropped in the UNSC resolution to provide space to the Chinese and give a face-saving to Pakistan seems undeniably factual. According to Rashid Rehman, the former Chief Editor Daily Times Lahore, Pakistan is under immense pressure because of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which if blacklists Pakistan the country may not be able to live through financially and would be disastrously isolated. “Bracketing Masood as a global terrorist is much smaller compared to Pakistan’s ushering into the FATF black hole,” Rashid said.
The world is prepared to move from the remnant of the 9/11. It was part of this very mood that during his visit to China to attend BRF Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan was told by the Chinese leader Xi to improve relations with India and advised both the countries to “meet each other halfway.” Since Pulwama attack Pakistan has taken multiple steps to shun violence and promote peace, letting Masood designated a global terrorist is part of that peace initiative. Now it is time for India to reciprocate and allow for the remodeling of new relations with Pakistan.