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Masood Azhar just a proxy, India should have gone after real perpetrator – Pak military

Instead of expending political capital on Masood Azhar, India should have focussed on getting China to recognise our rightful place in NSG.

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India has finally succeeded, thanks to the help rendered by France, the UK and the US, in getting the UN Security Council to declare Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar a “global terrorist”. The designation, by itself, is no great win for India.

I have always believed that India’s obsession with declaring Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UN and its strident criticism of China for blocking this move is misdirected. It has been clear for two decades that Azhar is not an independent actor; he is a creation of Pakistan military and acts on its behest. If anyone deserves to be indicted as a global terrorist, it is the Pakistani army chief because the buck stops with him.

Expending political capital on indicting an insignificant proxy is a distraction not worth the cost.

Also read: How India managed to finally get Masood Azhar listed a global terrorist

Pakistan’s win

There was no mention of Jaish-e-Mohammed’s role in the Pulwama terrorist attack in the UN indictment. India’s last request to declare Azhar as a global terrorist had explicitly referred to the JeM taking responsibility for the carnage at Pulwama. This had to be removed to placate Beijing.

Pakistan, taking full advantage of the fact that Pulwama was not mentioned in the final resolution, declared that its stance was vindicated because all attempts at “maligning the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiris” had been foiled. Furthermore, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson made it clear that despite withdrawing its objection to list Azhar as a global terrorist, China “would like to emphasise that Pakistan has made tremendous contributions to the fight against terrorism, which should be fully recognised by the international community”.

He added, “China will continue to firmly support Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism and extremist forces” and that Beijing will continue to maintain its special ties with Pakistan. This was a classic whitewash exonerating Pakistan of all responsibility for the terrorist attacks in Kashmir and the rest of India.

Therefore, despite India’s claims that the UN has unequivocally supported its stance by designating Azhar a global terrorist, the outcome is mixed at best. With the reference to Pulwama removed and in light of the Chinese statement, Pakistan can deny any liability for terrorist attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, and it has done so with great alacrity.


Given the fact that the Pakistani brass continues to see the JeM and other such organisations as strategic assets that can be used against India, the Pakistan government is not going to move against Azhar except in cosmetic fashion as it has done before. Azhar, the JeM and other military-sponsored terrorist outfits will continue with their nefarious activities protected, as they are, by the real powers behind the Pakistani throne.

The diplomatic energy and political capital wasted on Azhar’s indictment could have been better spent in organising a joint front with Afghanistan and Iran, both victims of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, in the UN and outside to mobilise international opinion against the Pakistani military’s continued sponsorship of terrorist activities in its neighbourhood. The solution to Pakistani terrorist attacks on Indian soil cannot be found without putting Pakistan’s military establishment squarely in the dock and fixing direct responsibility on it for the mayhem created in India as well as in Afghanistan and Iran. Everything else is just eyewash and New Delhi’s jubilation at the UN decision amounts to nothing more than self-delusion.

Similarly, expending large amounts of political capital to persuade China to change its stance on Azhar has been a waste of this precious and limited commodity.

Also read: Modi govt deserves credit for Beijing’s U-turn on Azhar but it won’t affect China-Pak bond

Membership of the NSG

India should have concentrated on exposing China’s opposition to New Delhi’s admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as unprincipled and motivated by Beijing’s attempt to deny India its rightful stature. China has been using two principal arguments to prevent India’s entry into NSG, despite the support of other major powers.

Its major argument is that India’s entry into the NSG will violate the basic condition of such admission, namely, the membership of the NPT. It will, Beijing argues, open the floodgates for other countries to join the group. This argument ignores the fact that no other non-member of the NSG meets the other equally important criteria for membership: the capacity to produce and export nuclear material and technology, and a demonstrated sense of commitment to upholding the principles of the international nuclear regime and not engaging in irresponsible and clandestine nuclear proliferation activities. It also ignores the fact that since 2008, the NSG has given a waiver to India to import and export nuclear material and technology.

This makes India a de facto member of the group but with two important caveats. One, it cannot participate in the NSG in a rule-making capacity and consequently remains only a rule-consumer thus hobbling its ability to protect and advance its interests within the group. Two, India’s de facto participation in NSG is based on a waiver that can be withdrawn at any time by members of the NSG.

China’s second major argument opposing Indian admission to NSG is that it will be unfair to Pakistan and that applications by both countries to join the group should be considered simultaneously. This argument, unacceptable to most members of the NSG, is an exercise in sophistry given the history of Pakistan’s clandestine transfer of nuclear technology and material to several countries in the past couple of decades.

Also read: Modi should know India’s status as a nuclear weapon state demands responsible leadership

China’s argument that scientist A.Q. Khan, famous for illegally proliferating nuclear weapons, acted as a lone wolf and not on behalf of the Pakistani state is highly disingenuous given Khan’s connections to the ruling military and civilian elites, and the fact that such transfers could not have taken place without the military’s connivance if not active sponsorship.

New Delhi should have used the limited political capital at its disposal far more effectively in exposing the fallacy of Beijing’s arguments opposing India’s membership of the NSG instead of wasting it by vociferously and repeatedly criticising Chinese opposition to Masood Azhar’s indictment as an international terrorist. This is the case because Azhar’s indictment as a global terrorist is unlikely to change even an iota of Pakistan’s policy regarding its support for terrorist groups targeting India.

A proxy

Unfortunately, getting the UN to declare Azhar a global terrorist will not prevent a repetition of Pulwama because, as stated earlier, Azhar is but a proxy, and that also an insignificant one, of the Pakistani military that orchestrates such attacks.

The author is the University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University, and Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Center for Global Policy, Washington DC. Views are personal.

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  1. The author is either confused or changing his goal posts. All the issues listed here are important and India needs to settle them. After Masood Azhar issue is sorted, the next issue, NSG membeship issue, can be resolved when China is completely isolated in NSG club and remains the only country which is opposing India’s entry. We need to work first on smaller countries like Ireland etc and get them on board. As regards exposing Pak military in its terror activities, it is an on going task and Modi has raised the bar for any terror attack supported by Pak. We need to eliminate internal terror support and infrastructure effectively by giving free hand to Army, stop fund flowing to terrorists and isolate a few districts of Kashmir from the overall J&K and manage the situation effectively. It is a long haul and no deadline can be set for it.

  2. We can understand your restlessness at terror tag for Masood Azhar.
    Glad to see that in your hatred for BJP, you did not end up justifying masood’s action or defending the “legitimate” struggle of peace loving kashmiris and innocent Pakistan army.

    • Please have faith but not blind Faith in modi govt. One question Masood Azhar was declare global terrorist then what is charge when India withdraw pulwama and Kashmir terrorism from draft. Please explain this sir.

      • Clarification by MEA spokesperson :-

        The Pulwama terror attack played a role in designation of JeM chief Masood Azhar as global terrorist by the UN, the Ministry of External Affairs said Thursday, asserting that Pakistan was making claims over the listing to divert attention from the “huge diplomatic” setback it has suffered.

        I hope this settles your doubt.
        Blind Faith in modi govt is just as harmful as self doubting/belittling your own country’s achievements on the global stage. Hence both should be avoided.
        Removal of Pulwama mention is a face saver given to pak and they are claiming it as a huge victory. You should be able to see through that. The broader objective seems achieved for now, however the end goal of putting a complete stop to cross border terror remains to be done.

  3. Typical liberal goalpost shifting article. Before China removed their objections: “this is Modi’s foreign policy failure.” After: “This is a misdirected move.”

    This opinion-switching only helps Modi during elections. Liberals think they are being intelligently critical but a fence-sitting voter sees through the desperation to put Modi down using any means possible and develops empathy towards BJP.

  4. Vaise dekha jaaye toh NSG membership too is no big deal. India has a clean waiver for civilian nuclear commerce. If we make a prestige issue out of it, China will seek to exact a price. The important thing to recognise is that we have serious differences with Pakistan that need to be addressed through a sustained dialogue.

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