NEW DELHI :
On 24 December 1999, as Indian Airlines flight IC-814 entered Indian airspace at 5:30pm from Kathmandu, its fate had been re-written by Ustad Ghauri. With the flight ultimately being made to land at Kandahar in Afghanistan, not only did it become one of the most infamous hijackings in the history of Indian aviation, but it also gave a new lease of life to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
Ustad Ghauri orchestrated the hijacking, which ultimately saw India release Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmad Zargar, and Omar Saeed Sheikh, in exchange for the safety of the 176 passengers on board.
As Masood Azhar walked away a free man, Ustad Ghauri picked up the pieces. Thus a low-key man, Maulana Yousuf Azhar, who went by the alias of Ustad Ghauri and is Masood Azhar’s brother-in-law, changed the face of the JeM, even carrying out the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001.
A year before the Parliament attack, in 2000, following a request by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Interpol issued a red corner notice (RCN) against Yousuf Azhar, who is said to hail from Karachi in Pakistan.
Yousuf Azhar has been wanted for the last 19 years by the Interpol for “hijacking, kidnapping and murder". However, like his brother-in-law, he was sheltered by the neighbouring country, establishing and running the Balakot training camp in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region in Pakistan, which trained thousands of Jaish recruits in armed warfare, akin to the style of training given to Taliban recruits in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, however, the Indian Air Force not only razed the entire Balakot centre of the JeM to the ground, but also eliminated Azhar.
Officials familiar with the developments said that if reports of Yousuf Azhar’s death were to be believed, it would take up the tally of Masood Azhar’s kin killed by India, to three, including his nephews Talha Rashid and Usman Ibrahim, who had been killed last year in Kashmir. This would only further prompt the JeM to design more lethal strikes.