Cindy Saine at the State Department contributed to this report.
A United Nations Security Council committee has designated the head of the Pakistan-based militant organization Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) as a global terrorist after China withdrew its long-held objections to the designation.
Beijing, a staunch Islamabad ally, had on several occasions since 2009 prevented the sanctions committee from blacklisting Masood Azhar, the founder of JeM, which is already designated as a global terrorist group.
The United States, France and Britain had jointly moved the designation earlier this week, asking the sanctions committee to subject Azhar to a foreign travel ban, an assets freeze and an arms embargo for promoting international terrorism on behalf of the al-Qaida terrorist organization and the Taliban.
India accuses JeM of plotting terrorist attacks on its soil, including the February 14 suicide car bombing in the disputed Kashmir region’s Pulwama district that killed 40 Indian security personnel. The attack dangerously escalated military tensions, bringing India and Pakistan, both armed with nuclear weapons, to the brink of war.
Senior U.S. State Department officials commended the U.N. Security Council sanctions committee for the designation, and said his group is responsible for the Feb. 14 terrorist attack in Kashmir.
“Designating Azhar demonstrates international commitment to rooting out terrorism in Pakistan and bringing security and stability to South Asia. This designation was critically important, and it was a long time coming.”
The State Department official said the U.S. has been trying to get Azhar designated as a global terrorist for 10 years, and strongly encouraged Pakistan to crack down on terrorism.
“We do appreciate that Pakistan is saying the right things, has taken the initial steps that we are looking for but we reserve judgement, because as I indicated, we have seen backtracking in the past once a few months have passed and the heat is off.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang praised the resolution of the issue and explained why his country decided against blocking Azhar’s blacklisting.
“Recently, relevant countries revised and re-submitted the materials for the listing proposal to the 1267 Committee. After careful study of the revised materials and taking into consideration the opinions of relevant parties concerned, China does not have objection to the listing proposal,” Geng said.
The Chinese spokesman said Pakistan has made “enormous contributions” to fighting terrorism and that the country deserves the full recognition of the international community. “China will continue to firmly support Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorist and extremist forces,” he added. New Delhi and Islamabad both claimed diplomatic victories of their own following Azhar’s designation.
“We have been persistent, diligent and in a subterranean manner making all our efforts towards this goal. Today, that goal stands achieved. Grateful to the many, many countries who supported this effort,” said Syed Akbaruddin, India’s ambassador and permanent representative to the U.N.
Pakistani officials noted that Wednesday’s listing did not tie Azhar to the Pulwama bombing or to the insurgency in Indian Kashmir, calling it a diplomatic success for Islamabad.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told reporters Pakistan is going to immediately enforce the U.N. committee’s decision, rejecting as “absolutely false and baseless” Indian attempts of claiming a diplomatic “victory” for validation of their stance.
“Our position is in line with the statements of Prime Minister [Imran] Khan, who clearly stated that there is no space for any proscribed organization or its affiliates to operate from Pakistani territory,” Faisal said.
Pakistan has in recent weeks announced a series of measures to counter terrorism and violent extremism in the country in its bid to avoid being blacklisted by the Paris-based the Financial Action Task Force, (FATF) which monitors money laundering and terrorism financing.
The measures include an intensified crackdown on Islamist groups and major reform plans to “mainstream” thousands of religious seminaries across Pakistan, some of which critics say are tied to transnational terrorist organizations. (VOA)
The European Union is reportedly contemplating designating the leader of Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) a terrorist.
The EU’s decision comes nearly a week after a push by France and India to declare JeM leader Masood Azhar a terrorist and freeze his assets.
JeM is already a U.S.- and U.N.-designated terror group.
Focus on Kashmir
Azhar is an Islamist extremist who wants to end Indian control of a portion of the disputed Kashmir area and merge it with Pakistan. He was born in 1968 in Pakistan’s Punjab province in a Deobandi (Sunni sect) Muslim family.
He reportedly received his early education in Bahawalpur, Punjab, and later enrolled in Jamia-ul-Uloom, an Islamic seminary in Karachi, where he became a teacher.
Azhar founded Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2000 and maintained his affiliation with several terror groups, including al-Qaida, Hurkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA), all U.S.-designated terror groups.
JeM is believed to be based in the Peshawar region of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
Azhar received his militant training in Afghanistan in the 1980s and fought Soviet troops there.
Spurred by jihad decree
Azhar reportedly traveled to Afghanistan in 1988 with his brother, Ibrahim Azhar, who according to analysts played a key role in shaping Masood’s religious ideology.
“Azhar himself mentioned in one of the articles that his inclination towards jihad started when Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, head of the Karachi Jamia-ul-Uloom at that time, issued an Islamic decree for students to go and participate in Afghan jihad,” Mujahid Hussain, an author and expert on terror outfits, told VOA.
It was during his time in Afghanistan that Azhar developed a relationship with al-Qaida and its leadership, and later worked closely with the terror group.
Azhar traveled to several countries, including Britain, Saudi Arabia, Zambia, India and Bangladesh, to raise funds and recruit youth toward jihad.
He has written over 20 books on Islamic history and the importance of jihad.
Location a mystery
Azhar’s current whereabouts are unknown. Some experts in Pakistan believe he is living in Bahawalpur, a city in southern Punjab.