Will China stop defending Masood Azhar after his admission to terror attack at Sunjuwan Army camp?


By Samuel Baid

Any hope of relief to neighbours by putting Pakistan under the closest scrutiny of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will not be very real if the earlier experience is an indication. Terrorism business flourished in Pakistan during 2012-15 when it was already under the FATF watch list.

The problem is that foreign powers, who want to wean away Pakistan from terrorism, address themselves, to the representative government which, alas, happens to be the weakest and most ineffective link in the unrepresentative, unofficial and unaccountable power structure in the country. Benazir Bhutto, after she had been sacked as the Prime Minister in 1990, sarcastically said Pakistan was ruled by three “As (America, Army and Allah, meaning Islamists). What she meant was that an elected government had no role in the governance of Pakistan. America was then the leading factor in the unofficial power structure. Had she been alive today she would have changed alive today she would have changed three “As” to “CAA” (China, Army and Allah).

China, with its heavy stakes in Pakistan is quietly seeping into the unrepresentative and unofficial power structure of the country. In the context of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) China has betrayed its affinity with the Army as against the elected government in Pakistan. Beijing wants the Army and not the civilian government to take charge of the CPEC projects. Democracy is an anathema to the Army, because it militates against its vested interests and to China because it is poison to its communist ideology. Like the Pakistan Army, China keeps the anti-India Islamists in Pakistan on its side. That is why China’s constant defence of Jaish-e-Mohammad’s (JeM) Chief Masood Azhar in the UN Security Council (UNSC) where it has been vetoing a resolution moved by 14 of its 15 permanent members to designate Azhar as a global terrorist. China is the only one supporting the Pak Army and its anti-India protégés. For years, it has also been cultivating the anti-India rabid Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan, which is considered close to the Army.

Thus, China is an invisible factor in the official power structure of Pakistan which wields the real power in Pakistan and its Parliament and the civilian government. See, for example, Parliament very vehemently passed a resolution in April 2015 not to send Pakistani troops to Yemen on behalf of Saudi Arabia. In February 2018, the Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa went to Saudi Arabia and pledged to send 1000 troops there. Parliament knew about it only from the media. Worse, to show how abject is the position of the civilian government in this power structure, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir refused to discuss Pakistani troop’s deployment even in camera. This is the problem UNSC, the US, India and Afghanistan face in talk to the elected government in Pakistan. Their pleas to Pakistan are like the voice in the wilderness.

America’s repeated chorus ‘do more to curb terrorism’ backed by billions of dollars has yielded only frustration. So have India’s and Afghanistan’s pleas against cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. But on China’s behest the Army stormed the Lal Masijid in Islamabad and killed many madrasaha girl students in 2007 to rescue some Chinese women who had been kidnapped by these girls for running a massage parlour in Islamabad. The Pakistani Army, then under Gen Pervez Musharraf, took this action. Seven years later then Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif was used by China to eliminate the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) activists in North Waziristan because they campaigned against China’s occupation of Muslim majority Xinjiang province. Gen Sharif launched the Zarb-e-Azb operation on June 15, 2014 soon after his return from China. The target of this operation was ETIM, the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) of Mullah Fazlullah and whomever Gen Sharif considered unfriendly terrorists. The Haqqani network, which the US considered unfriendly, was protected in safe haven. Above all, Zarb-e-Azb sabotaged Pakistan’s elected government’s efforts to talk peace with the Taliban. It mainly helped China because the ETIM was eliminated but Pakistan till today bears the brunt of the TTP’s retaliation.

Last year there were unconfirmed reports of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) Chief Hafiz Saeed blaming China for growing terrorism in Pakistan. Whether or not he said so, it is a fact that in the name of Kashmir, China is helping Pakistani Punjab’s most dreaded terrorist organisation JeM led by Masood Azhar, China has gone out of its way to protect Azhar in the UNSC from being designated as a global terrorist. That protects Azhar’s terror network in Pakistan. It cannot be said for sure if China funds JeM’s terror attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, but it needs no guess that the type of attacks the JeM launched in Pathankot, in early 2017 and in Jammu’s Sunjuwan military station in February this year, could not happen without heavy financial backing.

The Pathankot terror came on the heels of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore to wish his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birthday on December 25. The Pathankot terror attack nipped the hope raised by this visit to improve India-Pak relations. Initially Pakistan made a show of proceeding against Azhar and JeM and then it denied the JeM’s role in the Pathankot terror. Did the Pak government change under China’s pressure who wanted to defend Azhar in the UNSC to keep itself in the good books of terrorists based in Pakistan? In the UNS Council China has been vetoing a resolution by the rest of the UNSC members to declare Azhar a global terrorist. China keeps harping there is not enough proof against Azhar. But now Azhar has made a confession about his role in the Sunjuwan terror in the February 14 edition of the JeM mouthpiece, Al Qalam. He wrote the attack was launched by JeM’s Afzal Guru Squad. He boasted only three militants attacked the military station in Sunjuwan. Azhar’s confession should make it difficult for China to continue defending him in the UNSC. But will China let down Azhar and risk its quiet connection with Pakistan’s terror groups who look after its interests in Baluchistan, Sindh and Kashmir and keep anti-India frenzy kicking? Also, can China afford the displeasure of Pakistani Islamists who may one day rise against China’s persistent campaign to erase Islam and Muslims in Xinjiang? In that case what will happen to the Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative under which the CPEC is claimed to change the destiny of Pakistan?