Earlier this month, India finally tasted victory after previous failed attempts over 10 long years when Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar was finally designated a global terrorist by the United Nations. India's ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, tells Sridhar Kumaraswami in this e-mail interview from New York on how this was achieved and what it means.
How do you broadly see the decade-long quest by India under both the UPA and NDA governments to list Pakistan-based JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist amid enormous challenges?
Efforts in multilateral fora are long-winded. They require patience and persistence. The initial effort was made in 2009. However, in the last three years we made three subsequent efforts, signalling clear intent and desire to pursue the objective to its culmination.
Could you tell us about the diplomatic efforts of India especially after the setback in March this year when China placed a technical hold yet again on the proposal at the 1267 Sanctions Committee? There were many in India who had given up all hope then.
We shouldn’t give in to mood swings in pursuit of our interests. By March there was a broad-based coalition, unlike ever before, seeking the listing of Masood Azhar. It was not limited to a few members of the Security Council. Seven members of the Council — Belgium, Germany, Equatorial Guinea, France, Poland, USA and the UK had signed on as co-sponsors. From outside the Security Council there were seven others — Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Italy, Japan and the Maldives — who had also joined. It was obvious that the momentum was building. All it required was a few more diplomatic efforts to be undertaken quietly. It helped that some may have thought we had given up hope as it enabled us to pursue our objective without distraction.
What were the factors that in your view persuaded China to change its mind after so many years? Was it essentially a political decision?
Essentially, the listing of an individual should be viewed for what it is — states gathering together to sanction an individual who is seen as a threat to peace and security. That we were able to persuade all states over this fundamental goal is perhaps what swung the pendulum in our favour. Masood Azhar is not an individual that any state should want to be associated with. His terror activities are antithetical to all that members of the UN are committed to. He is no one’s friend. Perhaps that realisation, though belated, was the key to the decision to designate him a terrorist.
Diplomatic sources in New Delhi have said additional evidence was provided to China since March this year on the terror activities of Azhar. Do you endorse this, and if so, what was the nature of this additional evidence?
Our case was very simple. Jaish-e-Mohammed was a proscribed entity since 2001. Masood Azhar, who was the founder-leader of this entity, should also be proscribed as has been the case in other instances of leaders of entities being proscribed for heading terrorist entities.
Those who had opposed this in the past had argued that either that Masood Azhar was no longer active or he was no longer associated with the JeM. Evidence presented to the 1267 Committee members this time indicated that he was active in 2019. He was spewing venom and promoting violent extremism leading to terrorism against India. Hence, evidence helped rebutting the arguments against listing put forth in the past.
The omission of any reference to the Pulwama terror attack from the 1267 Sanctions Committee resolution despite it being in the initial draft has generated some controversy. Was it quid pro quo to get Chinese consent to avoid the charge of “politicisation” and has Pakistan been let off the hook as a result?
The linkage of the JeM to the Pulwama attack on February 14 was established by the Security Council in its press statement of February 21, 2019. The statement was issued after five days of negotiations. It is now a standalone reference. Also, it was the Pulwama attack and the subsequent statement of the Security Council that was the catalyst for the listing effort initiated on February 27. But for those two developments this effort would not have been launched. In fact, what distinguishes the effort in 2019 from the less successful ones in 2016 and 2017 was the global revulsion against the Pulwama attack.
What further gain is to be achieved by putting a reference to Pulwama elsewhere? As diplomats we pocket victories and bank them. Putting back into the negotiating mix what has already been gained is imprudent, as there is always the possibility that those who agreed previously may want to claw back our gains.
Could you tell us something about the constant help provided by Western powers — the US, UK and France — which had moved the proposal that was passed successfully? After all, Azhar was largely seen to be India’s problem.
Terrorism is a global scourge. It is a threat that transcends borders. Our experience has taught us that terrorists left unchecked in one place can threaten peace in distant lands. Yes, Masood Azhar was largely India’s problem, but we were able to convince the others that if left unchecked he could be a problem for others too. A terrorist is no one’s friend.
There is a school of thought that not much may change despite the listing of Azhar and that Pakistan will not feel the heat. Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed is already a global terrorist but has been allowed to move around freely in Pakistan without any fear. Your comments?
To think that norms have no value in international relations is a rather crude way of approaching global realities. If that was so why has Hafiz Saeed tried twice to get off the UN sanctions list? Obviously, there is something that he finds not to his satisfaction. Also, that no state has supported his case for getting off the list reflects that we have been able to ensure that he cannot be overtly supported. Establishing global norms is a first step in holding states accountable to acceptable behaviour. Or else they would not even have a benchmark to judge them against. This applies in the case of Masood Azhar too. Those who say they are committed to ensure that their territory will not be used for terrorist activities against others will need to take steps beyond the first. Those of course are issues that need to be pursued, going forward.
This is your second major success in the past 18 months as India’s permanent representative at the UN, the first being when India won a fiercely-fought electoral contest against its former colonial ruler Britain for re-election of justice Dalveer Bhandari at the International Court of Justice. What are the lessons learnt personally in the course of your journey at the UN?
Diplomacy is not an individual pursuit. It is quintessentially a team game. I just feel blessed that I was a foot soldier contributing in a small way to two of the most challenging situations from which Indian diplomacy has emerged successful in the last few years. Those successes are entirely on account of the sagacity and wisdom of our leadership and the diligence and efforts of all of Team India.