by Farooq Ganderbali
For quite some time, Beijing was not willing to change its policy of shielding Pakistan-based terrorists like Masood Azhar at UNSC, despite India’s protests. But finally, New Delhi’s sustained diplomatic offensive has prevailed as the world powers finally realised how terrorism and its supporters were threat to the peace in the world.
Given the backdrop of the fraternal Sino-Pakistan relationship (which is “higher than Himalayas” and “sweeter than honey”), it was unrealistic to expect that China would side with India to corner Pakistan on Masood Azhar issue. Predictably, China was putting a technical hold to the proposal at UNSC to declare Azhar as global terrorist within the 1267 UN sanctions committee in a show of support to Pakistan.
However, this time the US decided to take on China after consultations with India on the matter. The rules of the 1267 committee provide for negotiations among members in case of a disagreement. But if this remains unresolved, any permanent UNSC member can take it to the Security Council for a vote. The US decided to exercise this option, circulated a draft proposal and put April 23 as the deadline for China to change its mind. A vote would have forced China to veto designation of Azhar in case it wanted to help Pakistan. However, that would have meant a loss of face given that all other 14 members of the UNSC were in India’s favour. At this point, China agreed for negotiations, thus opening up the possibility of a deal which it had hoped would happen after the elections in India were concluded.
It was China’s endorsement that was missing and preventing the UN Security Council (UNSC) from going ahead with what the international community must do when an internationally well-identified terrorist group and its leader continue to act with impunity. Azhar was responsible for the suicide attack at Pulwama that left 40 members of CRPF personnel martyred on 14 February, sparking off a series of events that almost brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
Blindly supporting Pakistan on an indefensible issue in the face of mounting evidence that Pakistan wishes away is not the way China wanted to leverage advantage of the Wuhan spirit. It perceives that spirit as central to keeping India in dilemma on how far to go in its strategic partnership with the US and how much to display in optics such as Exercise Malabar. In mid-March 2019 when China decided to withhold support in the UNSC and sought greater clarification, it was essentially playing for time to reassess the military situation in the subcontinent.
Moving away from its traditional support to Pakistan has weakened Pakistan’s position substantially and would perhaps encourage a more aggressive stance from India. Given Pakistan’s precarious economic situation, it is a body blow to its credibility in the pursuit of bailouts it sought. Six weeks later, China has possibly consulted enough and realised that there was no longer any strategic advantage to support a renegade terrorist and his organisation on a world platform.
China has its own problem of unrest and homegrown terror that has all the potential of being exploited. After all, a very large number of frontline fighters of the IS were Uighurs from China’s restive Xinjiang region. At some time, China and India could look towards cooperation in this regard, after all, India manages one of the world’s largest minority Muslim populations with a degree of aplomb. For China to support Azhar for the sake of its strategic loyalty to Pakistan was a misplaced idea.
Important nations condemn international terror and are largely aware of the role of Pakistan in sponsoring terror in Jammu and Kashmir, and elsewhere in India. Declaring Azhar as global terrorists by UNSC will impose greater caution on Pakistan to take meaningful control of the wayward groups that could force a bitter standoff between India and Pakistan, which is completely detrimental to mutual interests.
by Farooq Ganderbali