For India, the latest move of approving Masood Azhar as a terrorist in the 1267 committee comes as a diplomatic and moral victory in its persistent campaign against cross border terrorism.
On May 1 the 1267 Committee of the United Nations Security Council decided to enlist Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar to the Al-Qaeda Sanctions List after China finally consented to approve the proposal. Earlier, China had refused to do so four times in the past decade, the latest being March 13, on the pretext that there is no “solid evidence and consensus among all parties”.
The Chinese move raises the question of why now? What motivated Beijing to reverse its ill-conceived move earlier in shielding a notorious terrorist involved earlier in terror incidents in Srinagar, in New Delhi on the Indian Parliament in 2001 and at Patankot, convicted and condemned by other Permanent Five members at the UN?
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stated on May 1 that China has been “communicating with relevant parties in a constructive and responsible manner”. He stated that China decided to enlist Azhar based on “revised” evidence submitted by “relevant parties”. Geng noted that in counter-terror cooperation, it is necessary to “follow the principle of mutual respect, resolve differences and build consensus through dialogue, and prevent politicizing technical issues.” Further, he praised Pakistan’s “enormous” efforts in counter-terrorism and that China “will continue to firmly support Pakistan’s efforts” in this regard.
Firstly, Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale visited Beijing on April 22 and reportedly provided additional information on the Azhar case. However, India’s foreign ministry is in touch with China on this issue for long and in fact also issued joint statements time and again condemning “all forms of terrorism”. Both also have concluded seven rounds of Hand-in-Hand counter-terror joint operations involving their armies and last year China’s security minister visited India to meet with Home Minister Rajnath Singh to pursue such missions. However, these remained ineffective.
Secondly, what “complicated” China’s position, as Geng mentioned on March 28, was that the United States, UK and France moved a draft resolution in the Security Council itself to blacklist Azhar after repeated Chinese attempts to block this move in the 1267 committee. Geng stated then that “This is not in line with resolution of the issue through dialogue and negotiations. This has reduced the authority of the Committee as a main anti-terrorism body of the UNSC and this is not conducive to the solidarity and only complicates the issue.” China clearly saw its earlier position becoming untenable, ineffective and also becoming unpopular. Beijing was being isolated increasingly in this international campaign against terrorism. Increasing isolation at the UNSC among the other P4 members came as an unpalatable surprise for China. A rising China which sports itself as a “big responsible power” cannot be seen as shielding any longer a convicted terrorist. China then has to yield. Attacks in New Zealand and Sri Lanka further strengthened this line.
Thirdly, China has its own axe to grind in protecting itself on how it handled the Uighur insurgency and the growing international criticism of the situation in Xinjiang. In the recent time, the UN human rights bodies have been critical of China incarcerating over a million Uighurs in internment camps. While China denied these, its actions in Xinjiang have come under intense scrutiny. China’s military intelligence agencies close ties to the Taliban and their deal to delink support to the Uighurs in lieu of international support, has come under scanner.
Fourthly, China also appears to have realised that the ground reality in South Asia is slipping fast from under its feet despite the multi-billion-dollar investments in the infrastructure projects. India’s Uri surgical strikes and airstrikes on Balakot by the Indian Air Force in retaliation to the Pulwama attacks on February 14 have all driven a message to Beijing of India’s growing impatience and the resolve to address effectively cross border terrorism. China’s earlier “technical holds” appeared to have no become not only ineffective but also counter-productive in the light of growing international support to the Indian actions.
Fifthly, in the light of President Trump’s decision to impose sanctions on Iran and the withdrawal of waiver on those importing oil, China as one of the largest importers of Iranian oil needed support from others. India, which also imports significant energy resources from Tehran, could be pursued by Beijing in this “united front” against the US moves. Hence New Delhi – which also boycotted the China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative forum meetings in May 2017 and April 2019, needs to be placated
For India, the latest move of approving Masood Azhar as a terrorist in the 1267 committee comes as a diplomatic and moral victory in its persistent campaign against cross border terrorism. However, effectively this may not mean much as Azhar, with the support of the Pakistani establishment is likely to change the name of his terror outfit JeM or lye low under the protection of Rawalpindi. The case of Dawood Ibrahim before, who faced international opprobrium, is an example in this regard.
(The author is Professor in Chinese Studies at JNU. Views expressed are personal.)