How often has China blocked UN action against Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist Masood Azhar?
In the last 10 years, China has repeatedly blocked India’s listing proposals at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1267 sanctions committee to designate Azhar as a global terrorist. Beijing blocked it for the first time in 2009, after India had moved the proposal in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attack. In February 2016, after the Pathankot attack, India put forward a fresh proposal. China intervened at Pakistan’s behest and placed a technical hold on India’s move, and did so again in October 2016. It subsequently used its veto power to block the proposal in December 2016, a day before the end of the technical hold. Following a proposal by the US, the UK and France on January 19, 2017 to designate Azhar as a terrorist China once again employed a technical hold and blocked the proposal in November 2017.
So, India was prepared to see China doing so again?
There were indications, in the form of continuous and consistent statements from Beijing about “rules and procedures”. On Wednesday, PTI quoted US State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino as saying that China’s blocking the proposal would run counter to the US and China’s mutual goal of regional stability and peace. The strong language appeared to suggest that the US had not been able to strike a deal with China. So, when Beijing finally placed a technical hold just about an hour before the deadline for no objections, New Delhi would have been prepared for such an outcome.
Is this latest move different from the previous occasions when China acted similarly?
This latest move is significant. In 2009 and 2016, it was India that had moved the proposal. This had prompted China and Pakistan to build a narrative that New Delhi was trying to score political points over Islamabad. So in 2017, when India asked its influential strategic partners US, UK and France to move the proposal, it negated the narrative that it was a India-Pakistan tussle and was rather placed as the international community’s fight against terrorism.
This time, India not only got the same three countries to move the proposal but also involved 10 more countries as co-sponsors. Besides the US, the UK and France, which are permanent UNSC members, the other 10 countries included four non-permanent UNSC members – Germany, Poland, Belgium and Equatorial Guinea – as well as Japan, Australia, Italy, Bangladesh, Maldives and Bhutan.
What is significant is that the Quad members – US, Japan and Australia – have co-sponsored the proposal, in a sign of a strategic alignment. This helps India’s case that the listing of Masood Azhar is a global cause, and a key element of the global fight against terrorism.
Are there also continuities in the way China has gone about blocking India’s proposals on listing Azhar?
China has always used Pakistan, as senior Indian officials say, a “strategic weapon” against India. This is reflected in Beijing’s blocking of the Azhar proposal. As per New Delhi’s assessment, Azhar is a valuable strategic asset by Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment. Beijing is mindful of the cosy relationship between Rawalpindi and Jaish, and does not want to upset it.
Beyond the listing of Azhar, China has also been blocking India’s aspirations to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. New Delhi took up this matter vigorously in June 2016, when then Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar travelled to Seoul to lobby with key NSG members.
What does China gain by repeatedly frustrating India and the global consensus on fighting terrorism emanating from Pakistan?
For China, Pakistan is an “all-weather ally” and an “iron brother”. It has strategic investments in Pakistan, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. For its all-weather friend, it is ready to take a hit on its reputation, even if it means that it is perceived to be standing on the wrong side of the global fight against terrorism.
Is there anything at all for India to feel satisfied about after the latest disappointment?
The support from the global community, which was reflected in the 13 co-sponsors of the listing proposal, is a reflection of broad global support India has been able to rally. In the current bout of Indo-Pak tension, China had taken a very calibrated position – which India sees as a positive – until its blocking of the proposal on Azhar. China did not slam India in the first couple of days after the Balakot airstrike for violation of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty and integrity. That was perceived to be a good signal from Beijing. Then, China also signed the UNSC condemnation statement, which named Jaish, and criticised the terrorist attack in Pulwama. For the record, more than 110 countries issued statements between Pulwama and Balakot, the majority of them favouring India.
What is the way forward for Indian diplomacy on this issue?
The technical hold gives India nine months to lobby with China, so that it lifts the hold and allows the listing of Azhar. That may seem a tall order, and it will be incumbent on India to find leverages with China so that it acts as per India’s desire. In 2017, when China wanted to become vice-president of the Financial Action Task Force, India agreed to support its candidature against Japan (a close strategic partner of India), in return for Beijing’s support for Pakistan’s ‘grey listing’. That was a major moment of transactionalism with Beijing. India will need to find such transactional points in the next nine months – a trade-off on a vote or a crucial election – so that it can influence Beijing’s behaviour.
India will also need to work all its diplomatic levers so that Pakistan takes concrete and verifiable actions against terrorism. The FATF gives India an opportunity; it can try and persuade the international community to even blacklist Pakistan by May-September this year, if Islamabad doesn’t take action against terrorists and terror groups, including Azhar and Jaish.