For China, Pakistan ties more vital than designating Masood as terrorist

Yet another Indian attempt to get the United Nations to act against terrorist leaders and organizations has run aground. An application to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee to designate Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, as terrorist was rejected recently when China blocked the move.

Masood Azhar.

Masood Azhar.

China was the only country in the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC) to oppose Azhar’s inclusion in a UN blacklist of terrorist individuals, entities, organizations and groups.

Azhar does not qualify to be designated as a “terrorist” as his case “did not meet the requirements” of the UNSC, said China’s permanent representative to the UN Liu Jieyi to media, explaining his government’s decision to put Azhar’s blacklisting on “technical hold.”

China needs “more clarification, more evidence,” said Ruan Zongze, executive vice president of China Institute of International Studies and minister counselor at the Chinese Embassy in the United States.

Had Azhar been included in the UN blacklist, his funds, financial assets and economic resources worldwide would have been frozen.

A participant in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, Azhar turned his attention to India in the 1990s when he was involved in the anti-India insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. Indian authorities arrested him in 1994 but freed him in exchange for 155 passengers held hostage in an Indian Airlines aircraft IC814 that was hijacked to Kandahar in Afghanistan in December 1999.

Azhar founded the Jaish soon after and has since then plotted several major attacks in India including a suicide bombing of the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly in Srinagar in October 2001 and an attack on India’s parliament building in New Delhi in December that year. More recently, he is said to have masterminded the attack on the Indian Air Force forward base in Pathankot on January 3 and the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan a day later.

Designated a terrorist organization in several countries including India, the US, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, the Jaish was included in the UN’s al-Qaeda sanctions list in October 2002. However, thanks to China’s blocking of India’s move in the UN, the Jaish leader will stay out of the blacklist.

China’s decision is widely believed to be the outcome of its friendship with Pakistan.

Although Pakistan designated the Jaish as a terrorist organization in 2002, its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, has provided it with robust support. It encouraged Azhar’s founding of Jaish and has allowed him to operate freely on Pakistani soil. The Jaish is allowed to solicit funds through advertisements and public rallies. It operates not from remote forests but out of its 16-acre headquarters in Bahawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

This support has enabled the Jaish to grow quietly into one of Pakistan’s largest jihadist organizations. China’s recent decision at the UN will facilitate this growth further.

This is not the first time China has blocked UN action against a Pakistan-backed and anti-India terrorist organizations and their leaders. It has placed “technical holds” on India’s earlier attempts to have Azhar, the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s Abdur Rehman Makki and Azam Cheema and the Hizbul Mujahideen’s Syed Salahuddin included in the UN’s terrorist list.

China placed “technical holds” repeatedly to block the listing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a front of the LeT, as a terrorist group. And it was only after the 2008 Mumbai attacks that China, anxious to avoid global isolation over the killing of 167 people in the attacks, voted in the UNSC to declare the JuD a terrorist organization and impose sanctions on its leaders.

Again, last year when India sought UN censure of Pakistan for releasing LeT commander and Mumbai attacks mastermind, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, China swiftly came to the defense of its all-weather friend. It imposed a “technical hold” on the Indian move to embarrass and isolate Pakistan.

Understandably, China’s moves in the UN to firewall Pakistan’s support to anti-India terrorist groups has ruffled feathers in Delhi. Not only is this undermining India’s effort to draw UN support for its campaign to weaken these terrorist groups but also it underscores China’s duplicitous approach to terrorism.

Beijing seeks global support for weakening militant Uighur Islamists but refrains from backing India’s efforts to weaken groups like the Jaish and the LeT.

Since 2007, India and China have engaged in joint counter-terrorism exercises. In November 2015, India and China issued a joint statement envisaging counter-terrorism co-operation, including “exchanging information on terrorist activities, terrorist groups and their linkages, exchanging experiences on anti-hijacking, hostage situations and other terrorism-related crimes and coordinating positions on anti-terrorism endeavors at regional and multilateral levels and supporting each other.”

China’s blocking of India’s bid to have the UN designate Azhar a terrorist reaffirms the fact that Sino-Indian counter-terrorism co-operation remains only on paper. Clearly, its friendship with Pakistan is standing in the way of China “supporting,” “coordinating positions” or cooperating meaningfully with India in tackling terrorism.

Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore, India who writes on South Asian political and security issues. She can be reached at sudha.ramachandran@live.in

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