Being born in an academic family in Bahawalpur, Punjab in 1968 Azhar had the advantage of proper guidance and advice. His father, Allah Bakhsh
Shabbir, was the headmaster at a government-run school. Allah Bakhsh was also a cleric with Deobandi leanings. A peep into history reveals that towards the time of the Indian Independence movement, the Deobandis advocated a notion of composite
nationalism by which Hindus and Muslims were perceived as brethren, who were united in the freedom struggle. Azhar dropped out of mainstream school after class 8 and joined the Jamia Uloom Islamic School, from where he graduated out in 1989 and was subsequently
appointed as a teacher. The madrasa was heavily involved with Harkat-ul-Ansar, an Islamic militant organization and Azhar
was taken under its wings, after being enrolled for a jihad-training camp at Afghanistan. He participated in Soviet-Afghan War.
After the war, he was chosen as the head of Harkat’s department of motivation with added responsibility of editing the Urdu-language magazine ‘Sad’e Mujahidina’ and the Arabic-language ‘Sawte Kashmir’. Azhar
was subsequently appointed as the general secretary of Harkat-ul-Ansar. He visited many international locations to recruit, to raise funds and to spread the message of Pan-Islamism.
Series of Monstrous Activities:
Azhar admitted in a confession that in 1993 he travelled to Nairobi to meet with leaders of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, an al-Qaeda-aligned Somali group, who had requested money and recruits from Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). He made at least three trips to Somalia and infested Somalia with Yemeni mercenaries. In August 1993 Azhar entered the UK for a speaking, fundraising, and recruitment
tour. His message of jihad was delivered with ferocity at some of Britain’s most prestigious Islamic institutions including the Darul
Uloom Bury seminary, Zakariya Mosque, Madina Masjid in Blackburn and Burnley, and Jamia Masjid. His conviction was that “a substantial proportion of the Koran had been devoted to ‘killing for the sake of Allah’ and that a substantial
volume of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad was on the issue of jihad”. In 1993, the militant organization Harkat-ul-Ansar was established and Masood served was appointed its general secretary. In early 1994, Azhar travelled to Srinagar, India under
a fake identity, to ease tensions between Harkat-ul-Ansar’s feuding factions of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. India arrested him and imprisoned him for his terrorist activities. On being arrested, he said, “Soldiers
of Islam have come from 12 countries to liberate Kashmir”. In July 1995, six foreign tourists were kidnapped in Jammu and Kashmir. The kidnappers, referring to themselves as ‘Al-Faran’, included the release of Masood Azhar
among their demands. One of the hostages managed to escape whilst another was found in a decapitated state in August. The others were never seen or heard from since 1995. In 1998, U.S.’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in its report stated, “HuA, an Islamic extremist organization that Pakistan supports in its proxy war against Indian forces in Kashmir, increasingly is
using terrorist tactics against Westerners and random attacks on civilians that could involve Westerners to promote its pan-Islamic agenda”.
Four years later, in December 1999, an Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC814) en route from Kathmandu in Nepal
to New Delhi was hijacked and eventually landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan after being flown to multiple locations. Kandahar at that time was controlled
by the Taliban, which was working in tandem with Pakistan’s ISI. Masood Azhar was one of the three militants demanded to be released in exchange for freeing the hostages. Subsequently, Azhar was freed by the Indian government. The hijackers of IC814 were led by Masood Azhar’s brother, Ibrahim Azhar. Masood Azhar was handed over to the hijackers. Pakistan had said the hijackers
would be arrested if found, a difficult task given the length of the border and multitude of access points from Afghanistan. Government of Pakistan also previously emphasized that Azhar would be allowed to return home since he did not face any charges there.
Azhar made a public address to a gathering of 10,000 people in Karachi shortly after his release. He proclaimed, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed India“. In 1999, after Masood’s release, the Harkat-ul-Ansar was proscribed by the U.S. and added to the list of banned terrorist organizations. This move forced Harkat-ul-Ansar to change
its name to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM).
Azhar started a new outfit named as, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). He reportedly received assistance
from Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. JeM
is run by Azhar’s family like a family enterprise. Jaish-e-Mohammed carried out a string of deadly attacks against Indian targets, including the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of a full-scale war. The perpetrators belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), both Pakistan-based terrorist
organization. The attack led to increased tensions between India and Pakistan, resulting in the 2001-02 India- Pakistan standoff. After the Indian parliament attack, on 29 December 2001, Masood Azhar was detained for a year by Pakistani authorities,
after diplomatic pressure by India and International community, in connection with the attack but was never formally charged. The Lahore High Court ordered the termination of house arrest on 14th December 2002, much to the dismay of India. Azhar
was never arrested after that. Azhar made contacts in Britain who helped to provide training and logistical support the terror plots including “7th July and 21stJuly 2005 London bomb attacks”. Also, the attempt in 2006 to smuggle liquid bomb-making substances on to transatlantic airlines is attributed to Masood.
An Incessant Dance of Destruction:
The terrorist activities committed
by so-called Maulana Masood Azhar in India are numerous, separated in time and location. Events in chronological order are given below:
Mumbai Attacks of 2008:
On 7th December 2008, it was claimed that he was among several arrested by the Pakistani government after a military
raid on a camp located on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad in connection with the Mumbai attacks. He continued to live in Bahawalpur.
Pakistan’s government denied arresting Masood Azhar and said it was unaware of his whereabouts. On 26th January 2014, Masood Azhar reappeared after a gap of six years. He addressed a rally in Muzaffarabad, calling for the resumption
of jihad in Kashmir.
Pathankot Terror Attack of 2016:
The 2016 Pathankot attack on Indian air base is said to be masterminded by Masood Azhar and his brother. They were in direct touch with terrorists even after the attack had begun. Indian investigative agencies have given dossiers
containing proofs of Azhar’s complicity in the terror attack.
Pulwama Attack of 2019:
On 14th February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-bound suicide bomber in Lethpora near Awantipora,
Pulwama district, Jammu and Kashmir, India. The attack resulted in the death of 44 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and the attacker. Credit for the attack was duly claimed by the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Masood approved the attacks from the Pakistani Army Hospital where he was under protective custody. After the attack, France, United Kingdom,
and the United States moved a proposal at the UN Security Council to ban Masood.