India has secured a big diplomatic victory with the listing of Masood Azhar, Pakistan –based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) Chief as global terrorist by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) after China decided to lift its earlier imposed technical hold. It has been a long struggle for the Indian diplomatic corps since the issue had been hanging fire for almost a decade. Incidentally, JeM, the terrorist organisation which Masood Azhar heads had already been listed as a global terror organisation by the UN since 2002. However, Masood Azhar continued to avoid the listing due to the Chinese patronage. The decision from UN Security Council’s 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee came after China lifted its technical hold, imposed on March 13, on a proposal made by US, UK and France to this end. Even before that, China, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, had been blocking India’s attempts to secure designation against Azhar almost for a decade. India’s consistency has paid. It was not easy to make China change its mind especially when it had clarified after the BRICS summit declaration that it was for banning terrorist organisations but not individuals. China still had three months to lift the technical hold but the timing of lifting is definitely a victory for the leadership of Prime Minister Modi. China’s decision to announce its lifting in the midst of the Indian electoral battle indicates the respect the Chinese leadership has for the current Indian political leadership with Modi at the helms. It is a spin-off of the Wuan spirit and definitely a win-win for India.
In diplomacy, there are no clear cut winners or losers until a decisive victory in a war has already declared the winners. In the instant case, both India and China had been pursuing their national interests. China was also treading the path very carefully. Chinese national interests were under attack from America as a result of the ongoing trade war between the two countries that had begun much before Pulwama. China’s GDP was on a decline. Many companies are contemplating shifting their manufacturing units to India. China which considers itself as an emerging global power can ill afford a declining economy. Also, China’s image as a responsible member of the global community was being dented due to its continuous support to Masood Azhar, thus labelling it as pro-terror. The recently held second summit of Belt Road Initiatives (BRI) also forced China for a re-think. India’s persistence to remain away from the initiative and not very encouraging response from those who attended including the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan made the Chinese think-tank a bit nervous.
China was feeling the heat of international isolation with majority nations not aligning with China in the matter of terrorism. USA’s threat to take the matter to UNSC further weakened China’s insistence because it was hardly left with any allies. The fear of losing huge market like India, one of the major trading partners of China, also weighed heavily in the minds of the Chinese leadership. It was therefore, perceived by China that in its national interest, it can no longer afford to be seen as a pro-terrorist nation. However, it also did not want to offend its only ally Pakistan, with whom it pronounces their friendship as stronger than the Himalayas. China ensured that no reference was made to Kashmir and Pulwama, a face saving gimmick for Pakistan, in the sanction committee’s declaration listing Masood Azhar as global terrorist.
“On this listing issue, China has been communicating with relevant parties in a constructive and responsible fashion. Recently, relevant countries revised and re-submitted the materials for the listing proposal to the 1267 Committee. After careful study of the revised materials and taking into consideration the opinions of relevant parties concerned, China does not have objection to the listing proposal,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a press statement.
“The proper settlement of the above-mentioned issue again shows that in international counter-terrorism cooperation, we have to uphold the rules and procedures of relevant UN body, follow the principle of mutual respect, resolve differences and build consensus through dialogue, and prevent politicising technical issues,” he added.
In his statement, Geng pointed out that Pakistan has made “enormous contributions to fighting terrorism”, which should be recognised by the international fraternity.” Thus, it is a win-win situation as far as China is concerned. It is a win-win situation for France, US, Britain and other members of 1267 Committee as well.
Pakistan is also claiming a win-win situation on the pretext that no mention has been made of Kashmir and Pulwama since India has been blaming Masood Azhar as the mastermind and JeM as the executor of dastardly Pulwama terror attack. Let Pakistan rejoice but the bare fact remains that Pakistan has been recognised and designated globally as fountainhead of terror. The Damocles’ Sword in form of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) continues to hang on Pakistan’s head and its fragile and failing economy are serious issues which cannot allow this rejoicing to be a long lasting pleasant experience. India should also not particularly worry about the fine print because the intent was to have Masood Azhar declared as a global terrorist and that has been achieved. With JeM already on the ban list and now their Chief also meeting the same fate, it would be a herculean task for Pakistan to defy the sanctions. It will have to act and act swiftly.
A word of caution. The deep state in Pakistan has mastered the art of circumventing international sanctions as is evident from its past behaviour. The banned organisations appear in a new avtar or with a different name and their leader again assumes charge though ostensibly of a different outfit, generally portrayed as a philanthropic organisation. But the watchful eye of FATF, may make the task difficult even for the deep state this time.
Undoubtedly, India has secured a huge diplomatic victory but it is not the end. It only is a means to the end. India has to tread the path carefully to ensure that this victory is not turned into defeat through a Sino-Pak collusion. India also has to be prepared for the immediate consequences of this decision. The JeM sympathisers in Kashmir may carry out a sensational attack to show their solidarity with Masood Azhar and as a protest to his listing. Pakistan is already singing a different tune. It says that by not naming Kashmir and Pulwama in the declaration, the global community has accepted their contention that what is happening inside Kashmir is an internal resistance movement. Indirectly, both China and Pakistan have continued to support their consistent policy of “Good” and “Bad” terrorists. Pakistan has also made its intentions clear that there would be no laxity as far as Kashmir is concerned and Pakistan will continue to follow its policy of “thousand cuts”.
India will have to ensure that Pakistan and China are compelled to give up their policy of classifying terrorists to suit their convenience. As far as China is concerned India has to keep its counter-narrative active and play the “Tibet Card” tactfully. In view of the ensuing summer when passes in the Himalayas are open India will have to be vigilant to guard against any Sino-Pak collusion militarily. After Balakot strikes both India and Pakistan continue to maintain the stand-off. It is the conventional edge that Indian Armed Forces enjoy over their counterparts in Pakistan and the international pressure that has kept Pakistan reined in so far. A misadventure from Pakistan to avenge Balakot with the collusion of PLA is a possibility that cannot be ruled out straight way. A lot would also depend on the electoral results on 23 May that would determine the new government in New Delhi. Before resorting to any misadventure, Pakistan will like to determine the thresholds of the new government. In nutshell coming few months are going to be very critical for India not only diplomatically but militarily as well.
Pakistan’s mind-set against India will change only if the Pakistan Army changes its attitude towards India and stops projecting India as a quintessential threat. That can only happen when the Pakistan’s economy cannot be saved from a collapse. Fear of FATF sanctions may also to some extent force the Army to concede a bit. When IMF’s bailout package becomes almost a certainty, Pakistan Army will have no option but to relent. Pakistan will be forced to denounce terrorism as the instrument of state policy. India has a long haul ahead. India has to ensure that it further tightens its grip against Pakistan through diplomatic, economic and military means. It also has to ensure that the global watch over Pakistan does not slacken. With All indications that Modi may return to power and India continuing with its tough policy against Pakistan, there is a hope that coming years may see decline in cross-border terror. However, the universal fight against global jihadi terror will have to continue relentlessly.
(The author is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. The views expressed in the article are entirely personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])