MASOOD AZHAR — PRIZE POSSESSION OF PAKISTAN’S ISI

courtesy Kalinga TV

PROFILE / MASOOD AZHAR

MASOOD Azhar, the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group, is no ordinary terrorist. Azhar, whose terror training camp in Balakot, Paksitan, was bombed by Indian Air Force jets on September 26, 2019, has been promoting terrorist activities against India since the 1990s. He’s a prize possession of Pakistan’s military intelligence, the ISI. 

Masood is the son of a school headmaster. He had come to India with a Portuguese passport via Bangladesh in the early 1990s, by concealing his Pakistani identity, with the intent to promote militancy in Kashmir Valley to help the separatists at the behest of Pakistan’s ISI. The aim was to help Pakistan achieve its goal of gaining the part of Kashmir that is in Indian possession. Another part of Kashmir, is in the hands of Pakistan, and is known as the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Massod Azhar was arrested in a casual check of an auto-rickshaw by security forces in Kashmir in 1994. He and another terrorist got out of the autorickshaw and started running. The security personnel chased them and caught both. However, Masood was released by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 1999, in an exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane IC-814. The plane had been hijacked to Kandhahar by a gang of Pakistanis including some close relatives of Masood, to demand the release of Masood as also some others from Indian jails.

In the past 20 years after his release, he and his pro-Kashmiri terror outfit Jaish e Mohammed, staged several terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. A week after the IAF bombing of his Balakot terror camp, Pakistani agencies say Masood Azhar is under treatment for serious renal failure in a military hospital. A minister in the Imran Khan government claimed Azhar is under treatment at his own home. Both the claims might or might not be true. A former police officer who interrogated Azhar after his arrest in 1994 was quoted by PTI news agency as saying Azhar got shaken up on the first “slap” he got from an army jawan after his arrest, prompting him to blurt out details of his movements. He was so scared, he sang like a bird, according to this official.

“Masood Azhar was arrested in Anantnag in South Kashmir in February 1994 after he had entered into India on a Portuguese passport through Bangladesh. It was a chance arrest. He along with another terrorist, Sajjad Afghani, were travelling in an auto-rickshaw when it was stopped by armymen at Khanabal. Both ran from the autorickshaw prompting the armymen to nab them. Armymen were happy to find Sajjad Afghani, who was wanted in terror-related cases, but they had a little knowledge about the other (Azhar),” former Director General of Sikkim Police Avinash Mohananey, who interrogated Azhar many a time during his two-decades tenure in the Intelligence Bureau, was quoted by PTI as saying.

The 50-year-old Azhar is son of a retired school headmaster from Bhawalpur in Pakistan. Significantly, he kept saying while in Indian custody that his jailing would not go and on for long, and that there would be attempts for his release. He stated this during his first meeting with Mohnaney at Kot Balwal jail in Jammu, immediately after his arrest. Clearly, this was clear indication that he was part of an ISI network.

The attempts were made indeed. The first attempt to release him was made within 10 months of his arrest. Some foreigners were kidnapped from Delhi in February 1994 to press the demand for Azhar’s release. 

The plot failed with the arrest of Omar Sheikh. Sheikh would eventually be released in exchange of the passengers of the hijacked flight, and he was later involved in the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. 

Another attempt to release Azhar was made by a shadowy group of Harkat-ul-Ansar, Al-Faran, which sought his release in exchange of five foreigners kidnapped in Kashmir in July 1995. Later, in another attempt, a tunnel was dug in Kot Balwal jail in 1999 to ensure Azhar’s escape but Azhar could not move out because of his fat body structure. In the process, Sajjad Afghani was killed. 

Finally, Azhar was released by the BJP-led NDA government in 1999, along with Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar alias ‘Latram’, in exchange for the passengers of the flight IC-814. The Kathmandu-New Delhi plane was hijacked and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan by Masood Azhar’s men. After the negotiations with hijackers failed, the government succumbed to their demands. The then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh took the three terrorists to Kandahar in Afghanistan in a special plane to ensure the release of passengers of the hijacked plane. 

From then on began a new chapter of terror in Jammu and Kashmir as also the rest of India. It was after his release in 1999 that Azhar –at the behest of ISI– formed the Jaish-e-Mohammed and undertook many audacious terror strikes in India. The ISI stamp was all too evident in all these attacks.

The Azhar-led Jaish-e-Mohammed announced its arrival in the Valley in 2000 by carrying out a suicide car bomb attack at the gate of the Badamibagh cantonment in Srinagar, the headquarters of the Army’s 15 Corps. Two army men were killed in the attack. Later, Jaish was involved in the attack on the Parliament House, the Pathankot air force base, and the army camps in Jammu and Uri. The latest suicide attack on CRPF in Pulwama claimed the lives of 40 personnel. 

While in the custody in India, Azhar faced interrogation and sang like a bird. The intelligence agencies did not have to apply much presure on Azhar to gain insights into the functioning of terror groups operating from Pakistan. “I had never been slapped by my father but for the first time in my life an Army jawan did so even before asking me any question,” the officer remembered Azhar telling him. “He was an easy man to handle and the slap had shaken him completely.” 

Azhar shared information about recruitment process and functioning of terror groups in Pakistan at a time when intelligence agencies were still grappling to understand the proxy-war unleashed by Pakistan’s espionage agency ISI, says Mohananey, a 1985-batch IPS officer who headed the Kashmir desk in the agency at that time. At that time, Azhar gave the Indian agencies vital insights into diversion of Afghan terrorists into the Kashmir Valley and the merger of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HuJI) into Harkat-ul-Ansar, represented by him as its general secretary. 

Masood Azhar, during his stint as a journalist with ‘Sada-e-Mujahid’, a tabloid published from Karachi, had travelled in 1993 with a group of Pakistani journalists to some Islamic countries to seek support for the “Kashmir cause’, at the behest of the ISI, it is said. –Agencies, IHN-NN

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