Masood Azhar’s terror tag more a diplomatic victory than a strategic win

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In what is considered a major diplomatic victory for India and an extra push for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the middle of the general elections, the United Nations (UN) on Wednesday declared Masood Azhar, chief of Pakistan based terror group Jaish-e –Mohammad, a designated terrorist.

The way was cleared for declaring the terror mastermind as a designated terrorist after China, which had earlier blocked such moves, dropped its objections this time.

On February 27 France, Britain and the USA had moved a resolution under the 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council, but the move was blocked by China. On Wednesday, China did not raise the objections.

The tag of designated terrorist would mean assets freeze, travel ban and an arms embargo on Masood. India has been trying to list the terror mastermind as a designated terrorist since the Mumbai terror attack of 2008. Azhar was released by the Indian government as ransom after the 1999 hijack of an Air India flight.

He established the Jaish-e- Mohammad in Pakistan soon after his release, and has accused of involvement in many terrorist activities in India since then, including those in Jammu and Kashmir.

The recent attack on security forces in Pulwama which took the lives of 49 paramilitary personnel was also claimed by Jaish.

CHINA’S CHANGE OF HEART

Even though much has been written about the “China-Pakistan friendship”, the rivalry between New Delhi and Beijing has played an equally important part in molding China’s foreign policy.

China’s decision to withdraw its objections comes just a week after the worst terror attacks in Sri Lanka which claimed more than 350 lives.

China would have found it difficult to continue to shield Azhar when the feeling of pain and outrage over the killings are still fresh in everybody’s mind.

Moreover, China has been trying to build up Sri Lanka as a strong maritime ally in the Indian Ocean as part of its ‘String of Pearls’ strategy to dominate the region.

By joining hands with the world community to declare Azhar as a global terrorist, Beijing may also be trying to send a signal to the island nation.

China’s altered stance on terror mastermind also comes just days after the sixth anniversary conference of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Beijing to discuss Beijing’s big push to establish its geoeconomic footprint the world over.

One cannot also discount the significance of the visit of the Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale to Beijing, days before the discussion at the UN. New Delhi, which looks at the BRI with suspicion, may have signaled a softer stance on the initiative in exchange for Beijing taking a relook at its traditional, accommodative stand on Pakistan-based terror groups.

MATERIAL BENEFITS

Despite all this, the key question remains: What will be the real impact of Jaish chief being designated as a terrorist by the UN?

It can certainly be counted as a diplomatic victory, and can yield the ruling party some domestic benefits, coming as it does when general elections in India has entered a crucial stage. BJP is fighting hard to defend its tally to maintain a simple majority in India’s lower house of Parliament.

The designation, therefore, gives a big boost to Modi’s electoral pitch where the main agenda of his campaign is based on nationalism and security. The Indian leader can boast that it’s because of New Delhi’s tough resolve that such a feat could be achieved.

However, the question remains: Will the designation of its chief as a global terrorist force Jaish-e-Mohammad to change its behaviour? Will the flow of terror from across the border stop?

The case of Hafiz Sayeed – the co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and chief of Jamat–ud Dawa – can throw some light. Sayeed, the alleged mastermind of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, has been in the designated terror list for long. Yet, neither his rhetoric nor his operations inside Pakistan have been impacted much.

As such, projecting yesterday’s move as a big win may be going slightly overboard. The fact remains that India has to fight its own battle and cannot expect the world community to fight its battles.

Moreover, seeking greater international assistance to wind up Pakistan’s terror networks could give Pakistan an opening to internationalize the Kashmir conflict by claiming that its support to terror groups is related to the 70-year-old conflict.

Both India and Pakistan claimed the Kashmir kingdom when they were carved out of the erstwhile British territories of the sub-continent, and today occupies about one half each. Pakistan claims that Kashmir should have merged with it at the time of partition as it is a Muslim-majority area, while India’s claim is based on a legal agreement of accession signed by the then Maharaja of the princely state.

It should also be kept in mind that while terror designation for Azhar may be a diplomatic victory for India, it does not promise to alter the ground situation in Kashmir much. The security challenge in the valley will remain as grim as before.

The move could also signal a shift in Pakistan’s own assessment about the utility of creating and maintaining a ‘religious fighting force’ — a strategy that it co-evolved with the US in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Faced with punishing sanctions, such as those from Financial Action Task Force, Pakistan may be realizing that Azhar is now increasingly a burden than a strategic asset.

It was Jaish-e-Mohammad’s misadventure in Pulwama that pushed the neighbors to a limited war which had the potential of escalating to a different level had the world powers not intervened. Jaish’s terror attacks also have the potential to destabilize the country’s economic recovery.

In the end, Azhar can be neutralized only when both India and Pakistan engage each other and discuss the core issues. Lack of talks give boost to many non-state actors and they occupy the center stage.



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