Azhar in Islamabad on Jan. 27, 2000. Tanveer Mughal—AFP
Masood Azhar, asset or liability?
China has vetoed India’s request at the U.N. Security Council to add Masood Azhar, head of the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, to a blacklist of Al Qaeda-linked groups.
India accuses Azhar of masterminding several attacks, including one on the Indian Air Force’s Pathankot station on Jan. 2, 2016. Pakistan has banned Azhar’s Jaish, but not arrested him because of “lack of evidence.” To be sure, Azhar, who had been funded by Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, is the bridegroom of jihad. It’s been a family tradition. His father, brother and sister were all Taliban warriors and allies in Afghanistan.
Azhar was in Somalia in 1993, the same year that the forces of self-proclaimed president Mohamed Farrah Aidid attacked and killed U.N. peacekeeping forces, including at least one Pakistani. Aidid had, it is believed, support from Al Qaeda. Later, in 1999, he and the eventual kidnapper of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl were sprung from an Indian jail as part of a deal with the hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight 814. Azhar’s Jaish first claimed the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, then went back on it after Indian and Pakistani troops amassed at the international border girding for war.
Azhar is a graduate of Karachi’s Jamia Binoria—which has 2,000 pupils plus another 3,000 across 12 branches in the city. He has also been affiliated with the Shia-killing Sipah-e-Sahaba of South Punjab and ran a training camp for terrorists at Mansehra close to Abbottabad, where bin Laden was finally killed. Azhar made efforts this year to go public, but both his scheduled appearances at university campuses in Lahore were warned off for fear of international reaction. Officially, Pakistan remains vague about Azhar’s whereabouts, but his headquarters are said to be in the famous Madrassah Usman-o-Ali seminary in Bahawalpur.