India holds Azhar responsible for many terrorist acts in India including the 13 December 2001 attack on India’s parliament as well the 2 January 2016 attack on the Pathankot airbase. On the record, Beijing says it stands against all forms of terrorism, but it has refused to end its “technical hold” on the ban on Azhar. According to news reports, China was the only country among the 15-member UN Security Council (UNSC) to oppose the ban on Azhar, with countries such as Saudi Arabia backing India.
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.
- For the first time in 2009, when 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.
- 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.
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 India was trying to score political points over Pak. 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.
Why is China supporting Mazood Azhar and why is he so important to China?
- China and Pakistan are “all-weather friends” so Beijing’s efforts are aimed at keeping its ally in South Asia happy. India is seen as a competitor and sometimes even a threat by China and needling India in this way keeps India “boxed in” by problems in South Asia, leaving it with little leeway to focus on issues away from its immediate neighbourhood. Any breakthrough in South Asia in terms of peace with Pakistan or penalising Pakistan with support from other countries would mean India being relatively free to concentrate further afield.
- Pakistan’s support for China within groupings like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and others like the Non-Aligned Movement where China has no representation. In the past, Pakistan has reportedly shielded China in the OIC against caustic remarks on Beijing’s crackdowns on its Muslim Uyghur community in its restive Xinjiang province. Islamabad has also stood up against any inclusion of sharp language against Beijing at the NAM’s meetings on its conduct in the South China Sea.
- India’s growing proximity to the US which China definitely sees as a major challenge. It is seen as moves by the US to find a counterweight to China in Asia, which have fuelled Chinese suspicions and needling India using Masood Azhar could be one way of keeping India on tenterhooks. In the past, China has also opposed India’s membership into the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group and the UN Security Council. According to analysts, it is also part of power politics – keeping power concentrated within the hands of a few and keeping others out.
- China’s pique with India for sheltering the Dalai Lama who Beijing considers a “subversive” and a “splittist. That New Delhi has given the Tibetan spiritual leader asylum is a sore point vis-a-vis Beijing. “For the Chinese, the Dalai Lama is sort of the equivalent of Hafeez Saeed for India,” remarked an Indian diplomat who was posted in Beijing recently.
- The key role played by Pakistan in China’s One Belt One Road plans. China has pledged $51 billion in projects and investments in an economic corridor that literally runs across the length of Pakistan – connecting China’s Xinjiang region to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar. The port is important for China which sees it as an alternative to sea routes from Africa and West Asia through the South China Sea.
United Nations Security Council, in first week of May, designated Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as global terrorist after China lifted its hold on a proposal to blacklist him under the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee.
Implications of listing
Azhar was listed by the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee for his association with al-Qaeda and his role in financing, planning and facilitating terrorist acts by the JeM. All member countries of the UN will be required to enforce the following steps:
- Asset freeze
- All countries that are members of the United Nations have to mandatorily freeze all funds and other financial assets or economic resources for designated organsitaions and individuals.
- Travel ban
- Entities and organsiations designated as terrorists are banned from travelling to or transiting through the member countries.
- Arms embargo
- All UN member countries have to stop and prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale and transfer from their territories or by their citizens of arms and related material of all types, spare parts, and technical advice, assistance, or training related to military activities, to designated individuals and entities.
What amounts to flouting of the ban?
- Participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of the banned entity, organisation
- Supplying, selling or transferring arms and related material to them
- Recruiting for; or otherwise supporting acts or activities of banned individuals, groups splinter group or derivative thereof.
Why did China change its position?
- A major reason, of course, was the sustained international pressure by India, the US, Britain and France. There was even a threat to put the question of blacklisting Azhar to a public vote – a move that would have been very embarrassing for China.
- Post-Wuhan summit, India China relations have improved and India’s persistence on Azhar has paid off.
- Combined efforts of the US, the UK and France to push China to change its mind, even threatening to shame it with a public vote at the UNSC.
- There is even speculation that Azhar, whom Pakistan’s government claims is very very ill, has outlived his usefulness for the Pakistani establishment, which then conveyed to China that it would not oppose the listing.