China lifted its hold on the proposal to add Masood Azhar to the UN sanctions list of individuals and entities on May 1. China had consistently blocked moves at the UNSC to designate Azhar as a global terrorist since 2009. Between 2016 and 2019, Beijing had placed the proposals on hold, on three occasions. In February 2016, the move had followed the Pathankot attacks claimed by Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) it had even converted its ‘hold’ into ‘block’ defying international pressure.
The proposal by USA, France and UK to list Azhar in March 2019, following the bloody attack on Indian security (CRPF) personnel had also met with ‘technical hold’ by China, despite the fact that it had condemned the act and indirectly recognised India’s right to take counter-terrorist measures in the shape of bombing of Jaish terror camps at Balakot.
China’s position was predictable because of its consistent backing of Pakistan in the face of growing international pressure on Islamabad to act against terror elements targeting neighbouring countries from its soil. Indicating that there was no evidence linking Azhar to the Pulwama attack; and it was rather a move to malign Pakistan and politicise the incident, China advocated resolution of the issue in ‘an objective, unbiased and professional manner’.
India’s proactive diplomacy aimed at upping the ante on the issue led to US upscaling its initiative to take the issue out of the sanctions committee to the UNSC on March 27. A rattled China expressed its concerns over the move and claimed that it was communicating with all parties in a constructive and responsible manner. In the subsequent days, China’s diplomatic engagements with India and Pakistan took place and the issue was discussed seriously. It has been reported that Imran Khan, during his recent visit to China to participate in the second BRI conference, commiserated with the Chinese and agreed that the proposal had to be acceded to without naming and shaming Pakistan over the issue.The issue also featured during the visit of Indian Foreign Secretary to China in his discussions with top Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is also a State Councilor.
That China chose to withdraw its objections signals a belated understanding of the reality by Chinese policy makers that their continued hold on the proposal, in the face of overwhelming support for listing of Azhar, only led to international embarrassment and isolation on the important issue of global efforts to counter terrorism. The coming together of India and US over the issue must also have signaled to China that it had to seek an honourable excuse to change its position without appearing to desert Pakistan and subjecting it to international ridicule.
Pakistan has its back to the wall and therefore it has not expressed any consternation at China for lifting its hold on the proposal. Islamabad is claiming that it played a catalytic role in the Chinese decision to lift its hold on listing Azhar as a global terrorist. Nervous about the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) black-listing within months from now, for not abiding by its commitment to frame laws against money laundering, Pakistan has to demonstrate its willingness to act against terror too.
The listing of Azhar is a big diplomatic success for India and the US. However, India must not allow the momentum to fizzle out. The listing of Azhar may not necessarily lead to dismantling of the terror infrastructure that he has been allowed to build in Pakistan to target India.
Hafiz Saeed, too was listed by the same committee a decade ago but is roaming free in Pakistan, collecting funds and spewing venom against India on Kashmir. Even the announcement of US’ bounty of $10 million for gathering evidence leading to his arrest has not yielded any dividends. Therefore, the international consensus on the listing of Azhar has to be leveraged well to put continued pressure on Pakistan to take conclusive action against Azhar and his outfit to address Indian concerns on cross-border terrorism.
Script: Dr. Ashok Behuria, Coordinator, South Asia Centre, Senior Fellow, IDSA