Free Press Journal

If Masood Azhar is not a terrorist


Last week at the United Nations Sanctions Committee, China, which describes itself as an ‘all-weather friend’ of Pakistan, successfully blocked India’s effort to get Maulana Masood Azhar blacklisted as a terrorist. In defence of its decision, China said Azhar did not qualify to be a terrorist and added: “Any listing would have to meet the requirements for blacklisting. It is the responsibility of all members to make sure that these requirements are followed.”

  The irony of China’s decision is not lost on anyone. Azhar is the chief motivator, financier and mastermind of all the activities of the Jaish-e-Mohammad. The United Nations has listed the JeM in the same category since 2001. So a refusal to acknowledge Azhar as a terrorist is akin to arguing that Shahid Afridi is the captain of the Pakistan cricket team, but he is not a cricketer. The natural question is if Masood Azhar is not a terrorist, then what is he? There is a long list of terror incidents, including the hijack of the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999 seeking his release from an Indian jail, and subsequent to that the attack on Indian Parliament, that have his imprint. Still, the Chinese have argued that Azhar does not qualify to be a terrorist.

There is an obvious message here from Pakistan. After all, it is at Pakistan’s behest that China has taken this position and used its veto power at the United Nations to frustrate India. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif seems to be telling Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “Well, all this birthday bonhomie is fine, but if you expect me to disown my terrorists, I am not going to do it.”

It is hardly surprising that more or less the same language has been used by the joint investigation team from Pakistan that visited the Pathankot air base with such fanfare. Reports in the Pakistani media are now suggesting that the JIT did not find any evidence during the course of its visit, as it spent only 55 minutes at the air base and this time was too short to collect any evidence.

One does not know as to what kind of evidence would satisfy the JIT, but from a common sense point of view the bare fact that the attackers were Pakistani citizens should be sufficient proof of the involvement of Pakistani hand in the attack. In this respect, the NIA Director General Sharad Kumar has said: “On JIT’s request, the NIA provided certified copies of postmortem reports, MLRs, CDRs, DNA reports and the seizure Memo of articles from the scene of crime. The Pakistan JIT was given access to 16 witnesses including SP Salwinder Singh, his cook, Rajesh Verma and some formal witnesses as per agreed terms of reference and extant legal provisions. The JIT informed us that they were collecting admissible evidence outside Pakistan under the provision of Section 188 of the CrPC of Pakistan that will legally enable them to be used in prosecution.” Now if the JIT says that it has got no evidence during the course of its visit to India about the role of Pakistan based militants in the Pathankot air base attack, it only strains credibility. But then what else do you expect from a country that refuses to accept Masood Azhar as a terrorist, and even convinces China about it?

We are all aware of the domestic dimensions of the problems of terrorism vis-à-vis Pakistan. If anyone was about to forget it, then the terrorists served a bloody reminder on Easter Sunday at Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal, killing 72 persons including 55 children. This was the brutal side of Pakistan’s home grown terrorism hurting its own people. The individual pain and suffering of the victims can hardly be described in words, but then it is this tragedy that speaks most eloquently about the Pakistani folly of protecting and nurturing jihadi elements like Osama-bin-Laden, Maulana Masood Azhar and Zaki-ur Rehman Lakvi. Indeed, China cannot also escape the blame because now all these terrorists know that they would get some form of Pakistani-Chinese protection, when the matters come to the United Nations.

  In this respect, the only inescapable conclusion is that it is only a sick nation that can follow this policy. This is a reflection of two commitments by Pakistani rulers. One is the commitment to jihadi fundamentalism and the other is its unwavering resolve to hurt India. Both of these are so strong that it does not care about the pain it is inflicting on its own people in the course of following this policy. Like all his predecessors, Sharif also seems to be a prisoner of this policy and whatever be his purported India – friendly rhetoric, his actions have to be largely in sync with the post-1972 Bhutto enunciated approach to bleed India by a thousand cuts. Or else, he would have followed a different path and grabbed the opportunity by the Indian side as he decided to ‘co-operate’ on the Pathankot probe. Yet, he has chosen to forego this chance at course correction.

  Under such circumstances, India has very limited options in dealing with Pakistan. We have to work under the assumption that our hostile neighbour is not in any hurry to give up its wicked ways. But at the same time we do not have the option of shutting our doors and cutting off all dialogue. This would be unrealistic and counter-productive. So, the process of engagement must continue without the expectations of any dramatic breakthrough. We must measure the progress in terms of inches moved and not miles travelled.

Obviously, such a course does not yield itself to style of flamboyant diplomacy that has become Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personalised brand all over. Even otherwise, that style has already become vulnerable to the law of diminishing returns on the global stage. His travels abroad do not make the same waves as they used to in the first year of his tenure as the prime minister. India has to fight terror by other means, and not with Pakistan’s co-operation.