NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's re-election bid has received a big fillip after a UN Security Council committee blacklisted Masood Azhar, the head of a Pakistan-based militant group, a decade after New Delhi first demanded such an action.
Azhar's Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack in Indian-administered Kashmir in February that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police. JeM was also blamed for a high-profile attack on India's Parliament in 2001, and local media often calls Azhar the country's "enemy No. 1".
In response to the Kashmir attack, which is also claimed by Pakistan, Mr Modi sent warplanes into India's neighbour to bomb what New Delhi called a militant camp.
Mr Modi has since made national security the main plank in the country's 39-day general election that began on April 11. Results will be out on May 23, and political analysts said the news about Azhar on Wednesday will further energise the massive cadre of Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"The world can't anymore ignore the voice of 1.3 billion Indians," Mr Modi said at an election rally, calling the UN decision a great diplomatic victory for the country. "This is only a beginning."
Ratcheting up the pressure on Pakistan, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said yesterday that India will ask the global money laundering and terror finance watchdog to put Pakistan on a blacklist of countries that fail to meet international standards in stopping financial crime.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) already has Pakistan on its "grey list" of countries with inadequate controls on curbing money laundering and terrorism financing.
But India wants Pakistan blacklisted, which would likely result in sanctions, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said last month.
"We want Pakistan downgraded on the FATF list," Mr Jaitley told reporters, adding that the Paris-based FATF was due to meet in the middle of this month, and India would make its request then.
In February, the FATF had said that Pakistan "does not demonstrate a proper understanding" of terrorism financing risks posed by militant groups, including the JeM.
The organisation can make recommendations to any of the countries that have signed a membership charter, as well as other nations, but it has no power to impose sanctions.
China, regarded by Pakistan as its most reliable friend, had repeatedly thwarted efforts to implement UN sanctions against Azhar, who founded the JeM in 2000 after being released from an Indian prison in exchange for 155 hostages from a hijacked Indian Airlines plane.
Beijing said on Wednesday that it had no objections to Azhar's listing after studying revised proposals at the United Nations.
To win China's support for the sanctioning of Azhar, the United States, Britain and France removed a reference to the February attack in the Indian city of Pulwama from their request to the UN Security Council's Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Al-Qaeda sanctions committee.
The BJP, political analysts and even the main opposition Congress party acknowledged that getting Azhar on the list, which places a travel ban and an asset freeze on him, was a big victory for India and its diplomacy.
Political strategists said the Azhar issue could further help the BJP to deflect opposition criticism focused on a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices.
"The move will offer an electoral boost for Modi," said Dr Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Centre in Washington DC.
"He can argue that his government's many years of efforts have finally paid off and delivered a major victory against terror and a major defeat for Pakistan."