By Dr.Swaran Singh, Professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
New Delhi, March 17 (BBC/newsin.asia): China has once again put a ‘technical hold’ the listing of Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Azhar Masood as a ‘global terrorist’ under the UN Security Council (UNSC) Sanctions Committee set up under the UNSC Resolution 1267 of 1999.
Listing would impose a freeze on his financial assets, travel ban and censure Pakistan for hosting him.
However, repeating its standard excuse, China has asked for ‘more time to examine’ this proposal saying all nations must be fully satisfied to make such a decision effective.
It was in 2009 that, in the backdrop of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks, that India first moved this proposal at the UNSC. In 2016, terrorist attacks on India’s airbase in Pathankot made India move this proposal again; this time with the open support of three of the five Permanent Members (P3) i.e. the United Kingdom, the United States and France.
In 2017, in the backdrop of the biggest terrorist attack on an Indian Army’s Brigade headquarters at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, it was the P3 mentioned above who took the lead to bring the same proposal before the UNSC Sanctions Committee.
But every time, the Chinese would put a ‘technical hold’ asking ‘more time to examine’ it.
Meanwhile, continued terrorist attacks around the world have strengthened India’s efforts at building a global consensus for addressing terrorism both through its proposed UN Convention for Countering International Terrorism and also putting Azhar Masood on the UN Sanctions List.
In October 2001, the 9/11 Twin Tower terrorist attacks in New York, had already made the UNSC ban several terrorist organizations, including the JeM, as a ‘global terrorist organizations’. The noose tightened around Azhar Masood’s neck.
The unfettered protection of the Pakistani state given to JeM, however, has allowed it to continue planning and executing terrorist attacks and claim responsibility for them.
So, when last Wednesday, on eve of its taking over Presidency of the UNSC, France, along with the United Kingdom and the United States, brought the same proposal to the UN Sanctions Committee, the backdrop of 14th February fidyaein (suicide attack) at Pulwama saw even the Chinese making an incremental shift in policy.
China was part of the February 21 UNSC statement unanimously condemning the Pulwama attack as a “heinous and cowardly suicide bombing… for which JeM has claimed responsibility.”
February 26 saw India’s air action inside Pakistan receiving support from all major powers. And at the next day’s pre-scheduled Russia-India-China (RIC) Foreign Ministers Trilateral meeting in China, the countries mentioned moved forward from their standard line of eliminating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The final communique of the Trilateral meeting at Wuzhen underlined the need for international cooperation for eliminating the “breeding grounds” of terrorism. It said that terrorism “must not be used for political and geopolitical goals.”
The leaders of Russia, India,China had earlier signed a final declaration of their September 2017 BRICS summit in Xiamen devoting five paragraphs to terrorism and naming half a dozen terrorist outfits. However, this was not repeated in their Johannesburg summit in 2018.
The momentum thus created anticipation that Beijing will finally relent and will cease the practice of putting the listing on ‘technical hold’ since 2011. Moreover, last week’s proposal made by France had put to gather some fresh evidence and was co-sponsored by the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany.
Following the 14 February Pulwama terrorist attacks, even Russian President Vladimir Putin was in close communication with the Indian Prime Minister expressing support to India’s actions and assuring support for declaring Masood Azhar as a ‘global terrorist’.
Moscow had lately warmed up to China and Pakistan. Yet, historically it has been India’s strongest pillar of support at the UNSC debates on Kashmir. Even Pakistan appeared preparing for this eventuality as its Foreign Minister confirmed to BBC that Masood Azhar lives in Pakistan though he was so sick that it would require some real hard evidence for Pakistani judiciary to initiate any trial against him.
In the face of all this, putting the issue on ‘technical hold’ is costing China a lot, specially when its ‘all weather ally’ has become notorious for using terrorism as a strategic asset in its foreign policy.
Conversely, the emerging situation calls upon New Delhi to recalibrate its strategy to isolate Beijing. Track record shows that China will switch sides once the costs of protecting Pakistan based terrorists far overweight the benefits.
China’s Linkages with Pak Terrorists
For this, it is important to avoid over-reaction and focus on China’s linkages with Pakistan-based terrorists and what makes Beijing protect them from international mechanisms like the UN Sanctions Committee.
In the 1980s, Azhar had begun life by fighting the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. He later founded the notorious JeM. This had coincided with Pakistan’s Islamization and its mullahs raising an army of Talibs (Islamic students) as Mujahedeen for fighting the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
China’s linkages with the anti-Soviet Mujahideen go back to the 1980s. To the discomfiture of Beijing, this also saw China’s Uyghurs joining the Afghan-Pakistani Mujahideens in hundreds in turn endangering security in the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province. In 1980, 1981, 1985, 1987 and April 1990, protests in Buren had revived the demand for East Turkmenistan.
The Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in 1989 released Uyghurs Mujahideen from Afghanistan. Protests in Xinjiang spread to many towns starting from major towns like Urumchi, Kashgar and Khotan, to smaller towns like Kucha, Aksu and Artush.
This pushed China into adopting a rather myopic strategy towards Pakistan-based terrorists. This shift is often traced to the November 2000 meeting of China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Lu Shulin’s with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Omar is believed to have assured that he will not allow Uyghurs to launch attacks in Xinjiang.
This was the peak period of Taliban’s repressive rule in Afghanistan that was destroyed by the US war on global terrorism starting from 2001.
But China was amongst very few countries that established and sustained informal official contacts with the Taliban. China’s appeasement had apparently yielded results. Except for the riots of 5-6 July 2009 ,which resulted in 156 deaths in the city of Urumchi, there has been no major problem for China in Xinjiang.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has reinforced the thesis that China is appeasing terrorists for the security of its territory and assets.
There seems to be tacit arrangement by which, as long as the Pakistan-based terrorist outfits do not support separatists in China’s Muslim-majority and restive Xinjiang, and do not disrupt its projects under CPEC, Beijing would continue to protect them from being censured by the international community.
Internally, China has sought to manage Xinjiang using surveillance technologies and power display. Millions of Uyghurs are reported to be in internment or ‘re-education’ camps.
How India should counter this phenomenon remains a puzzle that needs serious rethinking.
(The featured image at the top shows Uyghur women protest against Chinese repression in Xinjiang)