New Delhi: France on Friday imposed sanctions on Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, including a freeze on his assets.
The announcement came just over a day after China blocked a UN Security Council (UNSC) move to get the Pakistan-based Azhar Masood designated as a global terrorist, and could herald a Europe-wide ban.
The French interior, finance, and foreign ministries said in a joint statement that based on the French decision, President Emmanuel Macron’s government will discuss with its European partners the matter of putting Azhar Masood on a European Union list of terrorists and terror organizations. France’s ban on Azhar Masood sends out a strong political signal that Pakistan is harbouring a terrorist and helps in further isolating Pakistan on the world stage.
Experts said the French move sends out several important messages, from expressing solidarity with India to warning China about its "blocking tactics".
“In taking this decision, France is conveying several messages: of political solidarity with India, its intention to take a lead in counter-terrorism, a signal to Pakistan that it must deal firmly with jihadi organizations on its soil, and putting Pakistan and China on the mat on their combined effort to protect Masood Azhar in the UNSC," said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.
China, a veto-wielding permanent member of UNSC, put a “technical hold" on the UNSC proposal late on Wednesday night and asked for “more time to examine" it. The proposal was co-sponsored by France, the UK and the US.
“Getting him listed as an international terrorist by the EU would show that the international community is not helpless against Chinese blocking tactics. This is a political signal to China too. India’s strategic partnership with France is getting depth," said Sibal.
France and India are strategic partners and have been trying to increase their bilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
India has also been working the diplomatic channels to collar Masood Azhar, as JeM has claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack that killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel on 14 February. Pakistan has come under pressure from global powers to act against groups carrying out attacks in India, including JeM.
“In 2019, the proposal was moved by US, France and UK and supported by 14 of the 15 UN Security Council members and also co-sponsored by Australia, Bangladesh, Italy and Japan—non members of the Security Council," external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said in a tweet. “Thus, we have secured an unprecedented support from the international community for listing of Masood Azhar under the UN Sanctions Committee," Swaraj said in another tweet.
France noted that JeM is a UN proscribed terrorist group. “France has always been and always will be by India’s side in the fight against terrorism," the French government said. “France has decided to sanction Masood Azhar at the national level by freezing his assets in application of the Monetary and Financial Code," it said.
The French support comes against the backdrop of India signing a deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation SA.
India welcomed the French move.
“We welcome the decision taken by France to sanction Masood Azhar, chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based and UN proscribed terrorist organization; responsible for the Pulwama terrorist attack," MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a tweet.
Gireesh Chandra Prasad contributed to the story.