Context: In a development that pleased India and perplexed Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China finally lifted ‘hold’ on the request made by the US, the UK and France on a revised resolution to include Masood Azhar in the Terror List before the United Nations Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee (hereafter referred to as UNSC Resolution 1267) on May 1, 2019. Technical aspects aside, Masood Azhar, a much sought-after religious preacher located in Pakistan and responsible for masterminding many acts of terror in India and South Asia (the latest being carried out in Pulwama, which killed 40 Indian para-military soldiers recently), is now a UN designated terrorist. This designation would invite sanctions as per the resolution, which would include travel ban, assets freeze and arms embargo on him and his groups/entities.
The whole episode of demands for designation, held up process and final decision on Azhar entails several implications for terror menace in general and India as a victim in particular.
Two important questions, among many others, draw our attention here: a) Is Azhar’s new title by the UNSC a diplomatic victory for India?; and b) Will sanctions on Azhar have material or related impacts and in the process help states deal with terrorism from a better position?
It is beyond doubt that Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist is the culmination of a long arduous diplomatic process initiated and undertaken by India and supported by India’s powerful friends at the UN high table (Security Council, where resolutions of such kinds can be marred by any ‘veto’ wielding member). As past precedents indicate, China has been blocking such resolutions since 2009, effectively meaning that Indian efforts have been long-drawn and complicated.
As bulk of the strategies within India are supposed to be coordinated between the offices of the prime minister, National Security Council Secretariat and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, credit for Indian efforts go to these offices, more specifically to Prime Minister Modi, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and NSA Ajit Doval, apart from countless officials working ceaselessly for the past few years. Even if Pakistani arguments that references to Pulwama or Kashmir have been de-linked from the UNSC resolution, it is still a diplomatic victory for India. The counter argument to Pakistani position is that India is less bothered about individual instances or links to a particular cause than the core issue at hand – the preacher and dangerous effects of his teachings, the mastermind and his tactics, the central figure and his core team of managers and their loyal foot soldiers.
Apart from powerful countries like the US, India has also been cultivating its relations with important countries in the Middle East, East Asia, Africa and regions that have largely been affected by terrorism. Visible support has come from the US, UK and France, while invisible backing has come from many countries, including Indonesia, which now presides the Sanctions Committee. In sum, it is indeed a diplomatic victory for India.
While India celebrates this victory, rightfully so, its core objective of fighting and winning the war against terror is still a long drawn and herculean one. This, among others, revolves round its assumptions about effectiveness of the sanctions imposed by UNSC 1267 on Azhar. The 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN has designated 262 individuals and 83 entities in its terror list till date. Sanctions invariably include asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo (all three approved by the Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee on 24 February 2015) on the designated individual, affiliations, groups, entities and undertakings. Most counter-terror experts agree that sanctions do work for a limited period on such individuals or groups, but hard-nosed terror leaders or their groups adopt different methods to bounce back in the medium to long run. IS, many of whose members are under sanctions, appears to be in trouble in Syria, but has carried out massive impactful terror strikes in a soft target like Sri Lanka, which indicates that effectiveness of sanctions can at best be limited. Much depends on how the particular state, where such individuals or entities live and operate, delivers on the UNSC-led sanctions. While India needs to take comprehensive actions on acts of terror or their perpetrators, it is Pakistan’s responsibilities to see to it that sanctions are effective.
Leading counter-terror expert Animesh Roul, Executive Director at the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict (a New Delhi-based think tank), remarks: “India must celebrate the latest diplomatic victory, but must be watchful of the so-called Maulana, his gang members and most importantly, agencies of his state Pakistan. Azhar is not in his best of health, hence he need not travel afar to preach; he uses his close relatives and trusted lieutenants (none of who are under sanctions) for perpetration of violence; and his entities can change colours to wear different religious, business and other names, which in the process can dodge enforcement and investigative agencies. India must watch every move of Azhar from now and contemplate suitable options”.
Deba Mohanty is a New Delhi-based strategic affairs analyst.