Sankar Sen China has again blocked the listing of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by the United Nations Security Council. Earlier, such attempts were stalled by China in 2009, 2016 and 2017 at Pakistan’s behest. China placed a technical hold, which means that the proposal will remain in deep freeze for the next six months. Thereafter, China can lift its hold or block it again. India’s present initiative for listing the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief came after the Pulwama terror attack. This time, there was widespread international support for India’s criticism of Pakistan for providing a haven to top terrorists. Four permanent members of the Security Council – the UK, the US, France and Russia – and seven non-permanent ones (Australia, Belgium, Italy, Bangladesh, Japan, Maldives and Bhutan) joined hands in the move to designate Azhar as a global terrorist. But China did not budge and took the stand that it needed more time to study the proposal. There has been disappointment and frustration at China’s negative and obstructionist approach. Some UN officials have stated that the stalled proposal can be brought before the Security Council for an open discussion. And in that case, Beijing will have to willy-nilly defend a terrorist in full public view. As a permanent member, China may veto the resolution of the Security Council, but this will go a long way to name and shame China. France has announced that it would freeze Azhar’s assets in that country, and stand by India in its fight against terrorism. Germany has also come forward in support of listing Azhar as an international terrorist. The European Union is also thinking on the same lines. It will be a big diplomatic breakthrough for India if the EU lists Azhar. It will isolate Pakistan diplomatically. In a last-minute bid to persuade China against blocking the proposal, the US put out a statement saying that failure to designate Azhar would go against the goal of regional stability and peace. Owing to international pressure, Pakistan has been compelled to take some action against the terrorist groups, but this is of a cosmetic nature. Certain persons have been kept in private detention and some terrorist groups have been allowed to function, with a change of signboards and leadership structure. In 2016, India had named China for blocking Azhar’s listing. But this time, it has not criticised the Asian giant for halting the process. Delhi’s stand is that it would not lose patience with China over Azhar, and give it breathing space to resolve issues with Pakistan. Pakistan is undoubtedly China’s all-weather friend. As China challenges the post-Cold War global order, Pakistan is likely to be its most important ally. In his well-researched book, China-Pakistan Axis – Asia’s New Geo-politics, Andrew Small says China wants Pakistan to have the capabilities to play a specific role. China is also unhappy with India moving closer to the US. This has fuelled suspicion that China wants to use Pakistan to keep India on tenterhooks. China has maintained links with terrorist groups such as JeM, and helped them with money and arms to ensure that they do not target China or support the Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang. China follows a policy of repression in Xinjiang. About one million Uyghurs are imprisoned in so-called re-education (concentration) camps. Pakistan remains quiet about it. Today, in view of the growing alliance between the US, Japan, Australia and India, China may try to improve its relationship with India, but it will not do it at Pakistan’s expense. Pakistan’s relationship with JeM is quite complex. The ISI has spent vast resources to nurture it. It is an important sword arm of Pakistan in its proxy war in Kashmir. Hence, it is doubtful if the army and the ISI will change its policy of utilising them as strategic assets against India. Even former President Pervez Musharraf has denounced JeM, and said that Pakistan should not encourage it any longer. However, it is to be borne in mind that Azhar’s listing, even if it takes place, will be symbolic. JeM is already a proscribed organisation, but this has not prevented it from carrying out terrorist strikes. Things will not change unless Pakistan changes its policy of viewing terrorist groups as strategic assets and using them against India. Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was listed by the 1267 Committee. Both LeT and JeM are proscribed organisations for the past 20 years. The 1267 regime requests States to freeze, without delay, financial assets of the designated individuals or organisations. But Pakistan has seen to it that its strategic assets do not suffer. Only sustained pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which has already put Pakistan on the grey list, may work. But it is doubtful whether the US will go the whole hog in view of its dependence on Pakistan in brokering peace with the Taliban so that it can withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
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