A United Nations Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York. Image Courtesy: Asian Lite International/Xinhua/IANS
Article No. 10/2019
While heartfelt condolences are expressed to the bereaved families of India’s martyred jawans and while the various intelligence agencies are piecing together the evidence as to how 350 kg of high-grade explosives were obtained and then detonated close to the convoy, there is a need to understand the forces behind this tragic event.
The task is somewhat simplified because Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has claimed responsibility and it appears that their claim is genuine.
JeM was formed after Maulana Masood Azhar was released from an Indian jail in exchange for the release of passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane IC-814 in c. 1999. Masood Azhar was a close confidant of Osama bin Laden from as early as the latter’s Sudan days after having been expelled from Saudi Arabia. Masood Azhar killed 18 American soldiers in Somalia in c. 1993 carrying out Osama bin Laden’s order. He was against the deployment of Pakistani troops in Somalia, against Al Qaeda under the UN and took part in killing 24 Pakistani troops in Mogadishu. He was part of the (now defunct) “Islamic International Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People” which was formed in circa 2001 in Peshawar just before 9/11 happened. It was created by the extremist Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania madrassah in Peshawar and the meeting was attended, among other terrorist groups such as LeT, JeM, SSP, Sunni Tehrik, LeJ etc, by Gen. Hamid Gul, former DG of ISI and Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, former COAS, wherein a declaration (‘bayat’) was made to defend Osama bin Laden and attack the Western countries as a sacred duty.
Masood Azhar was part of the Sunni, Deobandi group, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), on whose behalf he had been sent to Kashmir to unite ‘warring factions’. But, he was caught and incarcerated in Indian jails before being exchanged. Masood Azhar is a product of Jamia Darul Uloom Islamia Allama Binori Town, the lodestar for jihadi terrorist organizations in Pakistan.
JeM was created on 31 January 2000, exactly one month after Maulana Masood Azhar was released from the Indian prison. The creation of JeM is attributed to Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmed, chief of ISI (between 1999 – 2001). JeM conducted its first operation, a fidayeen attack on the Badami Bagh cantonment, on April 19, 2000. JeM was also involved in the Parliament Attack on December 13, 2001. In India, JeM was also involved with the Indian Mujahideen (IM) in various bomb blasts across the country.
In April 2016, there emerged another faction called Jaish-ul-Haq (JuH) headed by Maulana Abdul Rahman (popularly known as MAR) with Dr. Zubair as his Deputy. It is unknown if there is a split between Masood Azhar and his (one-time) trusted lieutenant Abdul Rahman, or if it is a split caused by the ISI, or whether it is simply a story now that India is pursuing Maulana Masood Azhar to be declared an international terrorist under the UNSC 1267 Committee. MAR was involved in planning the IC-814 hijack in 1999 to get Masood Azhar released from an Indian jail. On January 2, 2016, six JeM terrorists entered the Pathankot Air Force base wearing Indian Army fatigues and driving a stolen car and killed seven airforce personnel. It later turned out that Shahid Latif (No. 3 in JeM hierarchy) and who was in Indian jails for 16 years before being released in a goodwill gesture in c. 2010 by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government was the brain behind the attack. Latif was arrested in 1994 from Jammu for his role in a terror strike at the Hazrat Bal shrine in Srinagar and also for ferrying narcotics to fund his activities. On September 18, 2016, JeM attacked the Indian Army’s Brigade HQ camp in Uri, when security was lax due to the turn over of a new group of Army unit replacing an old one, and killed 20 and injured 200 IA soldiers. The confession report of two Jaish terrorists, Ahmed Khan Durrani (Pakistani national) and Abdul Qadri (an Afghan Pashtun), who were arrested by Kabul police in March, 2017 has opened a can of worms, revealing how Pakistan is providing both the Jaish groups with infrastructure to run their training camps. The duo said they were trained at an ISI-operated training camp in Bare, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These two terrorists sneaked into India in November 2015 under the guise of a medical visa for Durrani as an Afghan patient and Qadri as his attender. Their target was to attack a temple and a big mall in New Delhi with chemical incendiary bombs. But, they panicked and flew back to Kabul after a botched bomb-making attempt and caught in Kabul. They had been sent to India by MAR. This was also the first case where Haqqani shura was involved in a terror attack on the Indian soil.
Apart from various terrorist attacks in India, especially J&K, JeM has also been involved in terrorist attacks within Pakistan. Some important attacks were the assassination attempts on Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2003; US Consulate attack in Karachi on May 26, 2004; attack on Karachi Corps Commander on June 9, 2004 and the massacre of 126 school children from military families in Peshawar in December 2014. The Peshawar Army School children massacre was carried out in collaboration with terrorists who belonged to Tawhid-wa-al-Jihad, a jihadi organization started by the ex-commander of the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda Abu Musaib al Zarqawi. Two JeM terrorists were awarded death sentence by the Army Court which investigated the Army School children massacre case.
And yet, the Pakistani ISI and courts support JeM.
Maulana Masood Azhar was arrested on Dec. 29, 2001 after the attack on the Indian Parliament but was ordered release by a review board of the Lahore High Court on Dec. 14, 2002. He was again placed under house arrest after the suicide attack on Gen. Musharraf in 2003. However, he ‘disappeared’ from house arrest in Bahawalpur in 2003 for several years. He re-surfaced to hold a function to launch his new book Fatah-ul-Jawad: Quranic Verses on Jihad, on April 28, 2008, in Bahawalpur.
Several observers say that China, upon the Pakistan Army’s request, also vetoes at UNSC against JeM’s leader Maulana Masood Azhar being placed under UNSC 1267 sanctions even though JeM itself has been banned under the provisions.
The only plausible reason is that after 26/11, LeT has been finally and irrevocably identified by all countries as a terrorist organization with deep connections into the Pakistani army and the ISI. UNSC 1267 banned LeT / JuD and Hafeez Sayed. Lately, the Financial Action Task force (FATF) has placed Pakistan under grey-list largely due to financial support for LeT and JuD. The Pakistan Army wants desperately a terrorist organization and a leader of sufficient stature in order to perpetrate a terror campaign against India. JeM and Masood Azhar seem to be the only ones left. The Pakistani Army – JeM connections have been largely under the radar because of two reasons; one, the PA had covered its tracks well taking lessons from its expose in the LeT case and two, the JeM had attacked PA also sporadically making everyone believe that no love is lost between the PA and JeM.
China has at least on two earlier (2006 & 2008) occasions blocked the UNSC’s “Taliban-Al Qaeda group” from declaring Jama’at-ud-Dawah (JuD) and its Emir Hafeez Saeed from being included in the list of entities and persons proscribed under Resolution 1267. It put a technical hold on all these occasions demanding to see ‘more evidence’. Eventually, it happened only on December 10, 2008, after it became untenable to support Hafeez Saeed any longer after the horrendous urban guerrilla warfare unleashed on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai.
When the Lahore High Court discharged Masood Azhar in c. 2002 citing no evidence, India called for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the issue, but China vetoed it citing lack of ‘relevant information’. In May 2009, China again blocked Indian move to place Maulana Masood Azhar on the same UN 1267 Committee list. Later, when India engaged China in counter-terrorism talks in July 2011 and presented evidence about JeM and Maulana Masood Azhar, it summarily refused to re-visit that issue. It also rejected Indian requests to place Azzam Cheema and Abdul Rehman Makki of the LeT under the Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions list. In the UNSC, China remained the only country not to accede to this Indian request. The usual Chinese excuse has been “there is no single definition of terrorism” and hence China has avoided taking a clarified stand on it. Because of its close proximity to Pakistan, China has been non-cooperating in counter-terrorism issues even though the bilateral dialogue between India and China has been going on annually since c. 2002. It was during the Indian Foreign Minister Ms. Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Beijing in February 2015 (as part of 2015 RIC Conference) that some change was visible in the Chinese stand. A joint statement issued by the three foreign ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC meeting) “underlined the need to bring to justice perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of terrorist acts. The ministers reiterated that there can be no ideological, religious, political, racial, ethnic, or any other justification for acts of terrorism,”. China and Russia also decided to back India for moving a proposal at the United Nations that essentially goes against Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. The three foreign ministers called for early conclusion of negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, a resolution passed by India in 1986 but which has been languishing.
When Prime Minister Modi met the Chinese President Xi Jinping on July 8, 2015, he spoke very candidly about India’s concern. Later, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing said that “As a permanent member of the UN security council, China always deals with the 1267 committee matters based on facts and in the spirit of objectiveness and fairness”, thus defending its own position. In November 2015, during the Indian Home Minister, Rajnath Singh’s state visit to China, India and China decided to establish a ministerial mechanism that would, for the first time, link the two home ministries as there was a need to “upgrade” the security collaboration between New Delhi and Beijing to the next level. The ministers will be assisted by a “working-level group”, led by a Joint Secretary from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and an officer of the rank of Director General from the Ministry of Public Security. The two sides also discussed counter-terror collaboration at length, in the backdrop of the Paris attacks, and other events, including the killing of a Chinese hostage in Syria by the Islamic State. Briefing the resident Indian media, in the presence of Mr. Singh, India’s Ambassador to China Ashok Kantha said a decision was taken on “an exchange of information on terrorist activities, terrorist groups and linkages” — widely seen as an agreement on “intelligence sharing” by the security authorities of the two countries. The Indian Ambassador also said “We have agreed to work towards a new bilateral agreement which will provide contours of cooperation in counter-terrorism, security, and related trans-border crimes,”
All this optimism came to a nought within five months after the cross-border attack by JeM terrorists on the Pathankot Air Force base (PAFB) between January 2-5, 2016. India accused the JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar and his brother Abdul Rauf Azhar. The latter was also the mastermind of the IC-814 plane hijack in December 1999 to Kandahar from Kathmandu. In late January 2016, armed with its investigation, India approached the UNSC Sanctions Committee 1267 yet again to sanction JeM Emir Maulana Masood Azhar. On April 1, 2016, just two hours before deadline, China placed a ‘technical hold’ on the Indian request citing insufficient information and after consulting Pakistan. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said when asked about this in a press meet, “China opposes all forms of terrorism, supports the UN playing a central and coordinating role in global counter-terrorism cooperation, and plays an active part in this area. China deals with the listing matter of the 1267 Committee on the basis of facts and in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions and relevant rules of procedure. China remains in contact with all relevant parties on this matter.”
There were a series of high-level meetings coincidentally between Indian and Chinese leaders in the third week of April 2016 and the JeM Emir Maulana Masood Azhar’s case in the UN was taken up forcefully by the Indian side. First, it was the April 18 meeting between Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the sidelines of the RIC meeting in Moscow, “I told him (Wang) that if we were to fulfill our intention of fighting terrorism together, then China should review the stand it had taken at the UN 1267 Committee,” Swaraj told a joint press conference with Wang and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Raising the issue with Wang during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the RIC meet, Swaraj emphasized the need for bilateral cooperation to combat the challenge of terrorism. If India and China were to combat terrorism unitedly, then Beijing should change its position of opposing India’s bid against Pathankot terror attack mastermind Azhar at the UN Sanctions Committee, Swaraj told Wang. On the same day, the visiting Indian Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar met his Chinese counterpart Gen. Chang Wanquan in Beijing. On China’s role in blocking U.N. sanctions on Masood Azhar, Mr. Parrikar said that he “expressed his feeling [that] it was not exactly the right direction that they [the Chinese side] have taken.” Reacting to these, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi said, “China is against all forms of terrorism. We have put a technical hold, not a veto. It is not an issue between China and India. We would prefer that you talk to Pakistan.” In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said “We oppose double standard in counter-terrorism campaign. We have been dealing with the listing (of terrorists by the UN) matter in accordance with the facts and relevant resolutions. We are also in sound communication with all relevant parties including the Indian side.” The next day, the Indian NSA Ajit Doval met his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi for the 19th round of border talks and the Masood Azhar issue figured prominently there. On arriving back in India, Parrikar said, “I have expressed very clearly to them that there cannot be differentiation in terrorists. All terrorists are the same and they should be dealt with the same principle, including the issue they had obstructed at the UN. They should also deal with it in the same manner. Maybe for the first time, it was raised clearly and firmly. Of course, they have their own justification. We did not shy away from raising our issues”. Again, a few hours before the ‘technical hold’ was to expire on October 1, 2016, China decided to extend the ‘technical hold’ once again. This also prevented India from placing further facts before the 1267 Committee such as Masood Azhar’s close links to the Taliban and consequently to Al Qaeda and his direct involvement in the September 18, 2016 attack at an Army camp in Uri which killed 19 Indian Armymen. India was also planning to inform the UN committee that elements of JeM have received training in tactics, use of weapons and psychological warfare from Pakistan. Masood Azhar’s younger brother- Abdul Rauf directed the Jaish terrorists on phone when they attacked the Pathankot airbase on January 2, 2016. Slamming the last-minute extension of the ‘technical hold’ by another three months, the Indian Permanent Representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin said, the UNSC “ponders for six months on whether to sanction leaders of organisations it has itself designated as terrorist entities Then, unable to decide, it gives itself three more months to further consider this issue. One has to expectantly wait for nine months before the process is completed to know if Council members have decided on a single issue “.
China defended its last-minute ‘technical hold’ by saying there were “different views” on India’s application and that Beijing’s move will allow more time for the “relevant parties” to have consultations. On the eve of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Goa to participate in the BRICS summit, the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said, “There should be no double standards on counter-terrorism. Nor should one pursue own political gains in the name of counter-terrorism. China is opposed to all forms of terrorism.” He had the gall to continue, “On counter-terrorism, it is an important area for cooperation among BRICS members for political security. Cooperation on this front will enhance BRICS communication and coordination and will contribute to world peace and security. That is quite obvious. We hope and believe that this Goa summit will build on the past consensus and continue to strengthen cooperation in counter-terrorism and other issues of political security and contribute to world peace and security.” However, in the Goa-summit, China prevented India from including in the joint statement any reference to terror organizations like LeT or JeM, though both are sanctioned by the UNSC including China, but allowed only the mention of the IS and Jabhat-al-Nusra. During the Leaders’ Restricted Meeting, the Indian PM, Modi, had referred to Pakistan when he said, “Tragically, the mother-ship of terrorism is a country in India’s neighbourhood.”. The next day, answering a question on the issue, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman strongly defended Pakistan saying, “We oppose linking terrorism with any specific ethnicity or religion. This is our long-standing position. China and Pakistan are all-weather friends. Both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism. Islamabad has made great sacrifice to combat terrorism and this needs to be recognised by the international community”. Finally, on December 30, 2016, the last day when the technical hold on the Masood Azhar issue was about to lapse, China totally blocked it necessitating India to move a totally fresh application. Because five non-permanent members retired by rotation and five new members came in (Sweden, Kazakhastan, Ethiopia and Bolivia), India was forced to brief them as well and it also increased the possibility for China to play some games behind the scene with the new members to cause disunity unlike last time when 14 voted ‘for’ and only China ‘against’ the proposal. The Chinese government’s latest explanation that there were ‘different opinions’ within the UNSC on the Masood Azhar issue pointed to this possibility because it is known for certain that the erstwhile UNSC had no such ‘differences’. Addressing the mid-term press conference of the MEA to mark two-and-a-half years of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar said China’s block at the 1267 committee of the UN Security Council that prevented India from blacklisting the terror boss was “self-defeating”. “China should listen to the voice of the world and we hope that Beijing can be persuaded to see the evil of the menace,” said Mr. Akbar and added, “as a responsible and mature nation, China will understand the double standards of this self-defeating purpose,” said Mr. Akbar. China responded very quickly. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said, “With regard to the listing matter of the security council 1267 committee, the so-called double standards adopted by China on this relevant issue is not true. We take action based on solid evidence that is the standard upheld by us. We have taken a responsible and constructive part in relevant discussion in a professional and objective way.” When pointed out that China was the only member among the 1267 committee members to have objected, the spokesman said: “Relevant attitude and action of China comply with the resolution of the UNSC and rules of procedure of the committee. China takes a very objective and just and professional attitude on that. Up to now, the Committee is yet to come to an agreement on this issue and we would like to stay in communication and coordination with all relevant parties, including India, on this. It is regrettable that an agreement is yet to be made. Relevant actions taken by China in the committee is to safeguard the authority and effectiveness of the committee. It is out of the responsible attitude China will continue to stay in communication with all relevant parties including India in accordance with the security council resolution and rules of the procedures of the committee. I also want to stress that both China and India are victims of terrorism. We have the same purpose and share the same goal on the issue of counter-terrorism and we hope to enhance cooperation and communication with the Indian side to uphold peace and security of the region.”
As soon as it was clear that China is putting a hold repeatedly on Indian-sponsored request regarding Masood Azhar, the US sponsored the same resolution along with the UK and France on January 19, 2017, just on the very last day of the Obama administration. However, China again put a ‘technical hold’ on that resolution too, saying the ‘conditions’ have not yet been met for Beijing to back the move. The Chinese action came just before the expiry of the 10-day deadline for any proposal to be adopted or blocked or to be put on hold. The “hold” remains for six months and can be further extended by three months. During this period, it can be anytime converted into a “block”, thereby, ending the life of the proposal. On August 2, 2017, China extended its ‘technical hold’ on this US-UK-France sponsored request for another three months. In early February 2018, India launched a campaign for more transparency in the decisions taken by the various “sanctions committees” such as the 1267 Committee. India’s permanent representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin launched the drive as he questioned the functioning of sanctions committees, saying these formed the “subterranean universe” of the security council. The Indian Permanent Representative said, “This subterranean universe functions in accordance with decision-making methods that are not the same as the normal functioning of this council. In fact, the principles of anonymity and unanimity reign in this subterranean universe.”
One of the reasons that China is so intent on blocking India’s efforts to declare Maulana Masood Azhar as a terrorist under UNSC 1267, could also be because, under Xi Jinping, China wants to assert its diplomatic clout too and at the same time use it for the benefit of its friends or potential friends to strengthen China’s relationship with them and extend China’s sphere of influence. For example, China also blocked a motion of censure in the UN against Myanmar on the Rohingya refugees issue. It also offered to ‘mediate’ between Myanmar and Bangladesh, an effort China has never attempted diplomatically anywhere else before. As Myanmar was losing friends all over the world, especially the US after what appeared to be a normalization after the 2015 elections in Myanmar, China decided to step in and curry favour with not only the civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi (who has been severely criticized everywhere for her inept handling of the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine province), but also the Myanmarese military. This comes in the wake of widespread disapproval of China within Myanmar for its projects which are considered by the Myanmarese to benefit only China at their own cost. Similarly, in the 2007 war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces, it was China’s intervention that effectively and completely liquidated the LTTE and made Sri Lanka gain peace. China helped Sri Lanka on two fronts. It sold armaments including several JF-7 fighter jets and encouraged its ally Pakistan to do likewise, including training the Sri Lankan Air Force pilots. Secondly, it staved off resolutions in the UN against Sri Lanka against human rights violations. In the process, it achieved multiple gains. It loosened India’s hold on Sri Lanka, allowed greater influence of Pakistan in Colombo (which it used to subvert the southern Indian states), and got trade and economic benefits and concessions from a grateful Colombo (Hambanatota port, Mattala International airport, docking rights for PLAN nuclear submarines etc). Similarly, China stoutly defended the autocratic rule of Maldivian President Abdullah Yameen and blocked a discussion on the worsening situation there in the UNSC in February 2018.
In conclusion, one must say that while at micro-level, a chain of failures at the local level might have been the cause for this dreadful Pulwama terror attack, in the larger scheme of things the direct support for JeM from the Pakistani military and political leaders as well as the indirect but crucial support extended by China consistently and for over one-and-a-half decades at the UN Security Council to a well-known terrorist, are the real causes for the grievous turn of events. This matter would not stop here because India would certainly retaliate and again the players squarely responsible for this consequence would be China and its lackey Pakistan.
[Subramanyam Sridharan is a computer scientist by training and profession and retired from a leading MNC. He is a keen follower of events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and China and is an administrator for a forum dedicated to discussing India’s strategic interests. The views expressed are of the author.]