Why Pakistan Shelters JeM Chief Masood Azhar & China Backs It

Why is JeM so important to Pakistan? Here’s what you need to know about the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror outfit.  

5 min read

After an attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama left 40 CRPF personnel dead in February 2019, India moved the United Nations Security Council to designate Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.

Why? Because Azhar is the founder of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the militant outfit that took responsibility for the Pulwama attack.

India tried three times in the past to get Azhar designated as a terrorist, but with no success.

In this episode of the Big story podcast, we dive into the murky past of the JeM. Defence expert Ajai Sahni will be joining us on the podcast to help answer some questions: How did the Jaish start? Why do Pakistan and China stand by them? And how have they expanded in Jammu and Kashmir?

Here’s all you need to know about the Jaish-e-Mohammad.


Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Murky Past & Violent Origins

The JeM was established in the year 2000, by Maulana Masood Azhar, after he was released from an Indian prison.

Azhar had been arrested in 1994, but was released after terrorists from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen hijacked an Indian airlines flight on 31 December 1999. The group demanded Azhar’s release along with 2 other terrorists, in exchange for 155 hostages on board the flight.

Azhar who was a radical islamic and jihadist leader, gained popularity after being released. So, with help from Pakistan’s ISI, Azhar soon set up the Jaish-e-Mohammed AKA the JeM, in 2000.

The JeM which primarily operated in Kashmir, would soon rise to become the largest terrorist outfit Jammu and Kashmir.

So where does Jaish-e-Mohammed recruit its footsoldiers from? Defence and counter-terrorism analysis expert Ajai Sahni said:

“Most of them are recruited from Pakistan’s Punjab province. They have open recruitment, some times through religious means as well. In India, the JeM uses its cadre to reach out to those it considers potential recruits, and harvests a much smaller number of them from there.”
Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi

Jaish-e-Mohammed’s History of Attacks on India

So what were some of the things that Jaish was responsible for?

  • The 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, was carried out by JeM. Pakistani authorities detained Masood Azhar over the attack, but never charged him, and soon, at the end of 2002, he was also released from house arrest to walk freely again.
  • The attacks of 26/11. Masood Azhar was one of many people that the Pakistani government arrested for ties to the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. The attack which left 165 people dead and over 300 injured, was revealed to be the work of the Lashkar-e-Taiba along with other terror groups including the Jaish-e-Mohammed.
  • The 2016 Pathankot attack. Jaish terrorists carrying grenade launchers, AK rifles, mortars and a GPS device attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station on 2 January 2016. The standoff that ensued led to six security personnel being killed.
  • Most recently, Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, on 14 February 2019, which left 40 personnel dead, and led to tensions between India and Pakistan reaching boiling point.
“Pakistan’s use of terror as a state policy is well documented. The Jaish could not have existed without support from Pakistan’s ISI. The ISI has funded, armed, and supported the Jaish, and they don’t have any plausible deniability about this any longer. Masood Azhar and other terrorists have continued to operate with impunity for some time now.”
Ajai Sahni

So, till recently, in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, JeM more or less had a free hand in Pakistan. So, why exactly did the Pak state choose to look the other way for so long, especially for an outfit like JeM which is a banned organisation under Pakistan’s own Counter-Terrorism Authority?

Well it may have something to do with Masood Azhar. The Pak ISI was instrumental in creating the Jaish, with close ties to the Deobandi Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and other Sunni militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Al-Qaeda.

‘Pakistan’s State Looks at Terrorism in Two Ways – Good Terror & Bad Terror’

In 2001, when the Jaish split up into two factions, one that wanted to be loyal to Pakistan and another that wanted to attack Pakistan, Azhar remained close to the Taliban and other terror outfits.

This proximity ensured that he was safe and free to operate from his home base in Pakistan’s Bahawalpur, often only receiving a rap on the knuckles from the Pak state, in the form of house arrests.

But what happened to the other faction of Jaish that opposed the Pakistani state? Well…they opposed the state, so Pakistan dealt with them like they’ve dealt with many domestic terrorists…And here Mr Sahni explains….how Pakistan approaches terror as two types – good terror or bad terror.

“Absolutely, Pakistan approaches terror as ‘good terror’ and ‘bad terror’. Instances of domestic terror in Pakistan are completely and brutally suppressed by the Pakistani state. The number of victims of terror attacks has fallen sharply from nearly 11,500 in 2010 to fairly manageable proportions now. As far as outward directed groups, against Afghanistan, Iran and India, these groups continue to secure complete support from the state and various entities.”
Ajai Sahni

China’s Love For Exercising Veto Power.....When It Comes to Masood Azhar

So, the first three attempts by India to have the UN Security Council designate Azhar as a global terrorist, were vetoed by China, based on Pakistan’s request. Why is China so supportive of Azhar?

“China tends to give unconditional support to Pakistan for most of its actions, except where those actions compromise Chinese interests. China has been using Pakistan as a cat’s paw to provoke instability in India and keep India weak. To the extent that Pakistan’s terror campaigns are directed against India, China doesn’t find it necessary to impede these movements by Pakistan.”
Ajai Sahni

In fact, from 2004 to 2014, India thought that JeM had been eliminated from Kashmir.

But in 2014, Azhar resurfaced, releasing a video in which he said he had 300 suicide bombers at his fingertips and threatened to kill Narendra Modi if he became the prime minister.

On top of this, in the past three years, nearly every major terror attack in J&K can be traced back to the JeM.

The Jaish-e-Mohammed has also resorted to using smartphones and social media to mobilise support and radicalise the youth in the valley. The 22-year-old who executed the Pulwama attack, was one such person.

The only thing standing in the UN’s way of designating Azhar as a global terrorist, is China’s veto power.

But with Indian anger mounting against Masood Azhar and the international community chiding the Jaish-e-Mohammad, how much longer will China continue to exercise their right to veto?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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