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With uncorroborated news about the death of Masood Azhar in Pakistan, the pertinent question is: Has this Islamist terrorist met with the same fate as Al-Qaeda Chief, Osama Bin Laden had? If the airstrikes on terror camps of Jaish-e -Mohammed across the LoC and subsequent scurry for protection by Pakistan are any yardstick to gauge the replication of post- 9/11 strategies of the US to settle scores with Bin Laden, the answer is in the affirmative.

Amidst veiled indications by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley about launching US-like operations against Pakistan in the garb of attacks on terrorist outfits, the way actions have been initiated against Pakistan-sponsored terrorist outfits across the Line of Control, India appears to have strategised its move in the light of US' initiatives against Osama in the past. Both the leaders on two separate TV shows recently hinted that if the US could carry out operations for a decade to kill Osama, why couldn't India afford to launch such operations? US had to carry out army operations for about a decade to nab Osama and he was eventually killed by US Naval Special Warfare Development Group in 2011. Incidentally, US never aimed to declare war against Pakistan and preferred to target Osama instead.

India is believed to have had enough clues from US' strategic operations named Operation Neptune Spear that was carried out against Osama. There are enough similarities between the end-result of US operation and that of India. Like the US that had also begun its operations with airstrikes at training camps and different terror bases in Pakistan to force Osama to come out of his den, India also made surgical airstrikes at terror camps. India is believed to be hardly interested in waging open war against Pakistan and aims to capture Masood Azhar instead. Likewise, Osama was hiding at a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan enjoying patronage of Pakistan Government.

If well-placed sources in Intelligence agencies are to be believed, US has obliged India by sharing operational details that the US forces used to kill Osama. As per the available details, in August 2010, the US embassy station chief in Islamabad is said to have negotiated with a former Pakistani intelligence officer who offered to reveal bin Laden's location in lieu of the $25 million reward.

The Pakistani official is said to have informed US intelligence that bin Laden had been located by Pakistani ISI in 2006, and held under house arrest near Pakistani intelligence and military centres ever since. The official passed polygraph tests, after which the US began local and satellite surveillance of bin Laden's Abbottabad residence.

The Associated Press reported at the time quoting two US officials as the operation was “a kill-or-capture mission, since the US doesn't kill unarmed people trying to surrender", but that “it was clear from the beginning that whoever was behind those walls had no intention of surrendering".White House counter-terrorism advisor John O. Brennan was quoted as saying after the raid: "If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that." CIA Director Leon Panetta said: “The authority here was to kill Bin Laden. ... Obviously under the rules of engagement, if he in fact had thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn't appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But, they had full authority to kill him."

A U.S. national security official, who was not named, told Reuters that “this was a ‘kill operation', making clear there was no desire to try to capture bin Laden alive in Pakistan". 'They were told, “We think we found Osama bin Laden, and your job is to kill him," an official recalled.

Details available at websites reveal that in addition to a helicopter raid, planners considered attacking the compound with B-2 Spirit stealth bombers. They also considered a joint operation with Pakistani forces. The US, however, decided that the Pakistani government and military could not be trusted to maintain operations security for the operation against Bin Laden. “There was a real lack of confidence that the Pakistanis could keep this secret for more than a nanosecond," a senior adviser to the President told The New Yorker.

Like Osama who was reportedly ill at that time and receiving financial support from his contacts in Saudi Arabia, the health of Azhar was also stated to be critical. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently admitted ‘the JeM Chief is in Pakistan and he is very unwell.' More, Osama also stopped using his phone after the US had launched missile strikes at his bases in Afghanistan by tracking an associate's satellite phone and kept on using personal couriers to maintain communications with his contacts while concealing his whereabouts from al-Qaeda foot soldiers and top commanders.

In the light of strategic operations carried out by US against Osama Bin Laden, India has, as such, enough reasons to vindicate its decision to launch combing operations against Pakistan-based hideouts of terrorists such as Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed. Even as China has been the spoilsport in the UN Security Council to declare Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, India is all set to claim immunity from the possible charges of abetting ceasefire violation by unleashing airstrikes across the Indo-Pak border. The contention is prompted by the fact that India neither waged open war against Pakistan nor did it do collateral damages to normal life in Pakistan during the airstrikes at training camps of Jaish-e-Mohammad across the border.

Pakistan is, in fact, in a fix while dealing with India's anti-militant move in the backdrop of its decision to provide leeway to the US for carrying out operations against Osama. Like Osama who had claimed responsibility of 9/11 incident, Masood Azhar has also taken responsibility for terror attacks in Pulwama on February 14 that had claimed lives of 40 CRPF men. Pakistan has, as such, no reason to oppose India to initiate actions against anti-India terrorist outfits being harboured within its territory if once it allowed the US to conduct raids at Osama's compound in Abbottabad.

To top it all, what Osama Bin Laden was meant for the US, Masood Azhar is a name that is anathema for India. In early 1994, Azhar travelled to Srinagar under a fake identity and India arrested him in February from Khanabal near Anantnag and imprisoned him for his terrorist activities with the groups.

In July, 1995, six foreign tourists were kidnapped in Jammu and Kashmir. The ransom sought by kidnappers included the release of Masood Azhar too. One of the hostages managed to escape while one was found in a decapitated state in August. The others have remained traceless since 1995.

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 before being flown to multiple locations. Kandahar was under control of Taliban that was suggested to be 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 then BJP-led NDA Government at the Centre in India and the decision was dubbed as a "diplomatic failure" even by present National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister, Ajit Doval. The hijackers of IC814 were led by Masood Azhar's brother, Ibrahim Athar. Once Masood Azhar was handed over to the hijackers, they fled to Pakistani territory.

Soon after his release, Azhar proclaimed in Karachi in a public meeting: “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we destroy India."

Subsequently, Masood Azhar's outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad carried out series of terror attacks in India that included the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, Mumbai attacks in 2008, attack on the Indian air base in Pathankot in 2016 and attack in Pulwama in 2019.

Notwithstanding, Pakistan has been protecting the interests of Masood Azhar for obvious reasons and thanks to China that vetoed against the proposals in the UNSC to designate Azhar a global terrorist on several occasions since 2010 for reasons best known to it only. However, France has moved a fresh proposal in this regard on Wednesday and the move has been backed by US and UK. Indeed, the proposal would be rendered infructuous, if the news about the death of Masood Azhar turns out to be a truth.

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