Maulana Masood Azhar and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed have the dubious distinction of being terrorists, who are household names in India. Both were protégés of the ISI-CIA jihad against the Soviet Union, in Afghanistan. Both participated actively in the ISI-sponsored jihadist terrorism in J&K and elsewhere in India.
They have also actively participated in strengthening and reinforcing the Afghan Taliban on Pakistan and Afghan soil. Both the terrorist outfits—Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)/Jamaat-ud Dawa—they lead, face UN sanctions apart from sanctions by countries such as the US, UK, members of European Union, Australia and Russia. The US has placed a bounty of $10 million for those who facilitate the arrest and prosecution of Saeed for his role in the 26/11 terrorist attack, where American nationals were targeted and killed.
Saeed’s detention has led to many “innocents” in India asking whether this would lead to his conviction and end ISI-sponsored terrorist activities against India. The reality is that placing Saeed under “detention” and then releasing him is a ritual Pakistan undertakes whenever external pressures, especially from the US, grow. Saeed has been placed under detention and released on six earlier occasions—twice after attacks on the Red Fort and Parliament in Delhi, twice after the Mumbai train bombings in 2006, and twice after the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. Even Saeed’s lieutenants, such as Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi who fathered a baby while in jail, have received similar “consideration” from the ISI.
Azhar was arrested in Srinagar in 1994, only to be set free along with two other terrorists during the hijacking of IC 814. He returned to mastermind the December 2001 terrorist attack on our Parliament in Delhi. At a speech in Karachi in January 2000, after his release by India, Azhar had proclaimed, “Muslims should not rest in peace till we have destroyed India”. Like Saeed, Azhar was briefly detained, but kept out of public view till 2009.
The ISI kept Azhar under wraps in his hometown Bahawalpur in southern Punjab, because of JeM’s involvement in a plot to assassinate President Musharraf in 2003, after he pledged his support to America’s “War on Terror”.
But, in 2014, the ISI decided that Azhar and JeM could add strength to their support for jihad in Kashmir. It needs to be borne in mind that while in sectarian terms Saeed and LeT belong to the Ahl-e-hadith sect, Azhar describes himself as Deobandi and enjoys widespread support in southern Punjab and in the Pashtun homelands in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The JeM remains a UN-designated terrorist organisation, though—thanks to the support and veto of Pakistan’s “all-weather friend” President Xi Jinping of China—Azhar has personally not yet been designated as an international terrorist. Moreover, while Saeed was able to escape American sanctions for years because of his readiness to cooperate against American targeted groups such as Al Qaeda; Azhar has been a strong supporter, ideologically, of both the Afghan Taliban (because of shared Deobandi beliefs) and the Al Qaeda. Both Saeed and Azhar, who were responsible for the attack on the Pathankot airbase, are however united in their passion to “destroy” India.
In these circumstances, it would be naive and indeed a blunder to presume that Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is preparing to renounce the use of terrorism as an instrument of State policy against India. We should be prepared to use all means necessary—strategic, covert and overt—to raise the costs for Pakistan for continued sponsorship of terrorism against us.