China blocking UN ban on Masood Azhar proves it can’t be a trusted ally in global war against terrorism

Delhi, India Mar 15, 2019, 10.30 AM(IST) Written By: Vikas Khanna

File photo of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar. Photograph:( AFP )

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What is China’s compulsion in protecting Azhar, who is, no doubt, a prized asset for Pakistan?

It’s the same old story as China has once again showed its intent on which side of terror it stands.  Once again, it has torpedoed the United Nations efforts to ban Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar. It has been proved beyond doubt that China can’t be a trusted ally in the global war against terrorism. 

China’s action is in direct contrast to the position it has maintained publicly that it is opposed to any form of terrorism. The reason d'être behind China’s avid desire to protect Jaish chief is beyond explanation. Is it only to help its staunchest ally Pakistan or something else?

China has pumped in billions of dollars in Pakistan and continues to do so. Its biggest ever infrastructure development plan – China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – itself is worth close to 60 billion dollars. Moreover, over 30,000 Chinese people, including engineers and construction workers, are posted there. China apprehends that its projects could be in jeopardy if it signalled any change in its policy vis-à-vis Masood Azhar. In the past, several Chinese engineers involved in the project have been attacked and abducted, and later released by militants active in the restive Balochistan following intervention by Pakistan. That seems to be the prominent concern of China. In preventing the Pakistan-based terrorist from being declared as a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council, China is, in fact, protecting its assets and interests, more than anything else.

China’s opposition to proscribing Azhar is baffling given that Jaish-e-Mohammed has already been blacklisted by the 15-nation Security Council of which China is one of the five permanent members. The Jaish was blacklisted by the UN Security Council in 2001, a year after its formation, following a deadly attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001, which had brought India and Pakistan on the verge of a fourth war. Strangely, China considers JeM an outlawed organisation, but not its leader? There seems to be a serious defect in the original charter of the United Nations which gave special powers to the P-5 countries. There is an urgent need for immediate rectification of this rule. Otherwise, any one permanent nation can keep on foiling adoption of any resolution. The best way is to introduce the rule of the majority within the five permanent members, otherwise, the international community would always be found wanting in arriving at any decision due to contradicting stand by one or other countries.

This is the fourth time that China has blocked a combined bid by the United States, France and the United Kingdom to declare Azhar a global terrorist by putting the proposal on a “technical hold” before eventually terminating it on the grounds that “there is no consensus” in the 1267 Committee of the UN Security Council.  How can there be a consensus if one country (read China) continues with its unprincipled stand on Azhar? In 2017 also, it was the odd nation out in the 15-member Security Council when the P3 nations – the US, UK and France – sought to place Azhar on the 1267 sanctions list that would have entailed his travel ban and freezing of assets. While the proposal had the approval of all the other 14 members of the Security Council, it was China which censored it. Needless to say, China is misusing its veto power.

The dichotomy between China’s alleged commitment to fight terrorism and its action is quite evident as it is a signatory to the Xiamen Declaration signed in September 2017 at the 9th BRICS summit in the Chinese city of Xiamen. The Xiamen Declaration had called upon the international community to establish a "genuinely broad" international counter-terrorism coalition. Moreover, it was also a party to a decision of the five-member BRICS nations summit in Xiamen which had called for decisive action against militant groups based in Pakistan terming them as a security concern in the region. Some of the groups mentioned in the declaration included Taliban (Islamic State)..., Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The last two groups have been involved in several deadly attacks against India, including the latest one in Pulwama in which at least 40 paramilitary soldiers were martyred in a suicide attack, and which was claimed by Jaish.

What is China’s compulsion in protecting Azhar, who is, no doubt, a prized asset for Pakistan? Well, if the United Nations declares Azhar a global terrorist, then Pakistan will be compelled to arrest him and seize his assets.  And this is something the Imran Khan government can’t afford to do fearing violence by an army of militants prepared by Azhar. Besides, Azhar has deep influence in the rural pockets of the country through his seminaries. His popularity soared during the devastating earthquake in 2005 when his seminaries provided financial and medical assistance to the affected people while the government agencies were found lacking in evacuation and rehabilitation works. Secondly and most importantly, he enjoys the support of the Pakistani army. Does Imran Khan, who himself has been propped up by the army, have the guts to go after Azhar? Your guess is as good as mine.

China, too, is aware of the predicament of its all-weather ally.  Therefore, it has been repeatedly blocking any attempt to outlaw Azhar even at the expense of its own image. But while doing so, China risks global isolation. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)

Vikas Khanna

Vikas Khanna is a journalist and columnist. Currently, he is a guest faculty at Indian Institute of Mass Communication.