Pakistan has not informed India officially whether it has detained Maulana Masood Azhar – chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terror group that launched a deadly attack earlier this month at the Pathankot Air Force base. However, there is news around that Masood Azhar has been detained in Pakistan. We cannot jump to the conclusion that Pakistan will hand over them to India immediately to face trial here. Pressure from ISI and various anti-India groups operating from Pakistan land would block any such move. Unless, there is tremendous international pressure put on Pakistan they will not deport these dreaded terrorists to India. While it is necessary to keep engaged with Pakistan at least for some more time, to test their commitment to act swiftly and visibly against the terror outfits, we should step up our vigil as further terror strikes cannot be ruled out in the wake of our resolve to continue with the dialogue process.
Masood Azhar is the founder and leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a militant group based mainly in the Pakistan-administered portion of the state of Kashmir i.e. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). India had listed Masood Azhar as one of its most wanted terrorists due to his history of militant activities against us. In early 1994, Azhar travelled to Srinagar to ease tensions between Harkat-ul-Ansar’s feuding factions of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. India arrested him in February 1994 and imprisoned him for his terrorist activities with the groups. In 1995, foreign tourists were kidnapped in Jammu and Kashmir. The kidnappers, referring to them as Al-Faran, included the release of Masood Azhar among their demands. One of the hostages managed to escape but the rest were eventually killed.
In December 1999, he was freed by the Indian government in exchange for passengers on the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC814) that had eventually landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which was under the control of the Taliban. The hijackers of IC814 were led by Masood Azhar’s brother Ibrahim Athar. Once Masood Azhar was handed over to the hijackers, they fled to Pakistani territory. Pakistan had said the hijackers would be arrested if found, a difficult task given the length of the border and multitude of access points from Afghanistan. The Pakistani government also previously indicated that Azhar would be allowed to return home since he did not face any charges there.
Shortly after his release, Azhar made a public address to an estimated 10,000 people in Karachi. He proclaimed, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed India,” vowing to liberate the Kashmir region from Indian rule.
In March 2000 Maulana Masood Azhar formed Jaish-e-Mohammed, a militant group from a split within Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) (another militant group). A majority of members left HUM and followed Azhar into the newly founded group. The Indian Government accused Jaish-e-Mohammed of being involved in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack. In December 2002, four JeM members were caught by Indian authorities and put on trial. All four were found guilty of playing various roles in the incident. One of the accused, Afzal Guru, was sentenced to death for his role.
In January 2002, the then Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf banned the group. In response, JeM changed its name to Khaddam ul-Islam. Members of the group were suspected for carrying out the recent Pathankot attack.
If Masood Azhar has in fact been arrested, even for a day, then the extremists will flare up in Pakistan. And this is victory for Modi government as; Azhar has not been touched for 16 years in Pakistan. This is diplomatic win for Modi and defeat for Congress party. A decision had been expected after an announcement in Pakistan that security forces carried out a crackdown on the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), accused of the Pathankot airbase attack, and that its founder Masood Azhar had been detained for questioning. More investigations are under way and we hope that Pakistan would remain engaged with India on this terrorism issue as the former was seeing them as their ‘heroes’ (as Pervez Musharraf said in one of the interview given to Television channel) now they are the victims of same terrorism (as we heard every now and then blasts in Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi).