There are no credible reports to suggest that Masood Azhar owns any assets or travels to Europe. But experts say the ban could be part of diplomatic optics

New Delhi: The proposed ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar by the European Union (EU) may not have any real impact on the activities of the terrorist group that carried out the Pulwama attack, but it could help strengthen the ailing bilateral business ties between India and the EU.

After China put a ‘technical hold’ on enlisting Azhar at the UNSC 1267 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee on 13 March, the EU said it was working towards a ban on the JeM supremo within the region, mainly by way of freezing his assets and disallowing his travel within Europe.

However, according to several diplomatic sources, there are no credible reports to suggest that Azhar owns any assets in Europe or that he travels to Europe. There is also no credible proof that the JeM, which is proscribed by the United Nations, has carried out any terrorist activity in the continent.

“It is true that Azhar may not have any tangible assets as such in Europe, but the EU is taking this step to ban Azhar proactively in an effort to send a signal to India that it supports New Delhi on its counter-terrorism efforts,” said a senior diplomat who refused to be identified.

According to another diplomatic source, the EU’s move is designed to uplift its dwindling economic ties with India.

The Narendra Modi-led BJP government has not only stalled negotiations for an EU-India free trade agreement, the talks for which had been on since 2007, but it has also cancelled all bilateral investment treaties with the 28-nation grouping.

JeM Not Behind Any Attacks In Europe

In 2005, the London tube bombings that shook Europe and the world were carried out by four bombers linked to Al-Qaeda.

The 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting and theatre attack in Paris were both carried out by terrorists who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda, although the police reports vary on this.

The 2016 Brussels bombing was also carried out by ISIL, as were the 2017 attacks in Barcelona.

According to the European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report of 2018, Al-Qaeda continues to remain a “powerful player” which “actively encourages terrorist attacks in the EU”. The report, which is brought out annually, makes no mention of JeM.

However, according to another diplomatic official, while it is true that JeM have never been “directly” involved in any of the terror attacks in Europe, the group has “indirectly” had links to training the perpetrators and providing logistical support to them.

In the book The Meadow, authored by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, it is mentioned that Azhar had trained British Pakistanis in his camps in north-west Pakistan and helped them plan the 2005 London bombings.

EU-Wide Ban On Azhar May Not Happen Soon

The proposal to blacklist Azhar at the EU level was taken up at the behest of France, the UK and Germany. France has already blacklisted Azhar.

The EU’s regime for sanctioning terrorists is different to that followed by the UNSC 1267 Committee.

While the investigations can be initiated by a member country, the Sanctions Committee within the European Council has to take it up for discussion with all 28 member countries, and analyse the proposal with proper evidence. The entire process is time-consuming and can take months.

“We need to make sure that all legal processes are being followed and all members have to agree to it. For us, it is a technical and legal decision and not political. It takes a while as the council has to adopt the resolution and then a legislation is passed,” said a European diplomat.

The diplomat added that the main purpose is to “name and shame” the terrorists and ensure that they do not carry out “any further attacks anywhere in the world”. The EU initiated the proceedings after the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February killed 40 CRPF personnel.

However, with the elections to the European Parliament coming up in May, any decision on banning Azhar looks difficult any time soon.

This is also not the first time that the EU is planning to ban an individual or terrorist organisation. In August 2017, the European Council banned terrorist organisations like Babbar Khalsa, Hizbul Mujahideen and Khalistan Zindabad Force among others, as part of its counter-terrorism cooperation with India.

‘Won’t Have Much Impact’

Counter-terrorism expert Ajai Sahni believes that a ban on Azhar, be it at the UN or within the EU, will not have any effective impact on him or the JeM’s activities.

“All this hullaballoo around Azhar is because the government of the day is looking at any kind of victory to chalk up,” said Sahni, executive director at the Institute for Conflict Management.

“The main reason why the EU is being so proactive is because these are cost-free interventions. Also, this may be a consequence directly of the repeated block being placed by China at the UN.

“This is part of diplomatic optics. Neither the UN nor the EU ban would have any material impact on the group’s activities, unless they are backed by sanctions against Pakistan,” Sahni added.