External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj may have been applauded by many Indians for her impassioned speech on Monday, warning against China’s obstruction of efforts to have Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar designated a terrorist by the United Nations Security Council’s 1267 committee. “If we continue to adopt double standards in dealing with terrorism,” Swaraj warned, “it will have serious consequences.” The minister may well be right — but no one in India should have any doubt her efforts are fated to fail. Faced with a growing tide of fighters from the troubled Xinjiang to jihadist groups, China sees itself as a frontline state in the fight against Islamist violence. Newly captured records bear out that perception: Until the end of 2014, Chinese-origin volunteers were the second-largest group of non-West Asians in the Islamic State, after Russians. In addition, China faces substantial threats from Xinjiang-origin jihadists operating from Afghanistan and Pakistan’s northwest. Ensuring Pakistan’s intelligence services remain on its side is essential, as Beijing sees it, to containing the threat from across the Karakorum — and blocking Indian efforts to nail Azhar is a very small favour to an important partner. There can be no doubt that China’s position is entirely unprincipled, lacking even the smallest fig leaf of rational justification. There can be no doubt, either, that China isn’t about to change its mind.
New Delhi, though, needs to be clear-eyed about just how little the international sanctions regime is actually worth before deciding how to respond. UN sanctions against the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s parent organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, after 26/11 haven’t forced Pakistan to shut down either its military infrastructure or charitable operations. The utter bankruptcy of the global sanctions regime put in place after 9/11 is no more graphically illustrated by the fact that its principal target, al-Qaeda, today controls far greater territory than it did then.
There are more than a few important lessons India ought to be drawing from this unhappy saga. But one stands out: UN resolutions aren’t going to make India more secure. Delhi needs to focus on growing the country’s counter-terrorism capacity and building smart alliances with countries facing the same enemies, like Afghanistan. The post-9/11 world is a lot like the world before it, unprincipled and unscrupulous. But India has to work in the world as it is, not the world it would like to be in.