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Blacklisting Masood Azhar – Some Reflections

Introduction

In response to the repeated blocks by China with respect to listing of Masood Azhar under the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) concerning Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities (hereafter referred to as the 1267 Committee), the United States (US) on March 28, 2019 moved a draft resolution directly in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to blacklist Masood Azhar – the chief of the United Nations (UN)-proscribed terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). This draft resolution has been co-sponsored by the United Kingdom (UK) and France. This is an unprecedented move and unlike a ‘listing proposal’ which requires a ten-day no-objection period, the draft resolution contains no such proviso. The motion has to be accepted or rejected in its entirety and there is no provision for any ‘technical hold’. It is, however, not clear as to when the voting will take place.

The 1267 Sanctions Committee

It is a Security Council committee established pursuant to the following resolutions1

  1. 1267 in the year 1999 imposing a limited air embargo and assets freeze on the Taliban. This evolved further to become targeted assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo against designated individuals and entities with provisions for exemptions.
  2. 1988 and 1989 in the year 2011 splitting the list of targets into two – one for individuals and entities associated with al-Qaeda, and the other for those associated with the Taliban.
  3. 2253 in the year 2015 to include individuals and entities supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The sanction measures include assets freeze, travel ban, and arms embargo.

 

Chinese Chequers

On March 13, 2019, the proposal to list Masood Azhar as a global terrorist (initiated by France and backed by the US and UK) was put on a technical hold by China. It is indeed ironic that China blocked the listing of an individual who heads an organisation which was designated a terrorist organisation by unanimous voting at the UNSC – a peculiar situation where China has no doubts about the organisation being terrorist, but has reservations over whether the person heading it is a terrorist!

This is, however, not the first time China has obstructed such an action against Azhar. The listing of Masood Azhar under the 1267 Committee has been blocked by China on four occasions –

  1. In 2008-09 when India pushed for the listing of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.2
  2. In 2016, post the attack on the air-force base in Pathankot, India’s efforts were sabotaged by China in March, and yet again in October.4 Subsequently, a day prior to the ending of the technical hold, China vetoed India’s proposal in December 2016.5
  3. In 2017, when the US, UK, and France tried to designate Azhar a terrorist.3

 

In fact, the Masood Azhar case is not an isolated event, but just a continuation of a strategy where one gets a feeling that anti-India terrorists are housed by Pakistan and protected by China in the international forums. Prior to the international outrage over the 26/11 attacks, China had blocked the moves to designate Hafiz Saeed as a terrorist thrice.6 Why does China have diametrically opposite positions on Uyghur terrorists and Pak-backed jihadis? It pertinent to understand that China does draw a lucid distinction between Uyghur terrorists and other jihadi terrorists. The Chinese military in fact, trained the mujahideens against the Soviets and has a tacit understanding with them since the 1970s.7 China will not harm them as long as they don’t’ support the Uyghurs. It is imperative to note that Azhar had fought as a mujahideen against the Soviets.8 JeM is known to have maintained close ties with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda.9

Pakistan, no doubt remains China’s most efficient tool to check any Indian challenge to Chinese hegemony in the region. While the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which actually is China Pakistan-occupied-Jammu & Kashmir Economic Corridor) issue is often cited as the reason for China’s continued support to Pakistan, which may not necessarily be the case as given Pakistan’s financial crises and its relations with other major powers, it cannot afford to rub China the wrong way. However, in light of the massive projects China has in Pakistan, the former would not want the popular support it has in Pakistan to go down. The Chinese game-plan is not as much supporting its ‘iron friend’ as it is about preventing any exacerbation of the situation in Xinjiang by external support.

China perhaps also wants to signal to the US, India, and other countries that if they try to corner China in areas like the Indo-Pacific, China will niggle them in other areas.

Dragon’s Dilemma

While the voting for the previous resolution to list Azhar under the 1267 Committee was closed doors, the draft resolution being directly introduced in the UNSC is open to public scrutiny. There is no option of any ‘technical hold’. China will have to either support the motion or veto it. Either way, it is a lose-lose situation for China. Given China’s global ambitions, will it display rogue behaviour by brazenly vetoing in full public glare, the proposal to blacklist the leader of a proscribed, terrorist organisation or will it do a volt-face and go with the motion? The stakes are higher than before.

Onus of De-Escalation on Pakistan

There has been a huge doctrinal shift in how India responds to security threats, evident in the Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s statement calling the strikes across the LoC (Line of Control) “non-military, preemptive action”. India showed that if the preparation for attacks directed against India takes place even inside sovereign Pakistani territory, not just Pakistan-occupied-Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK), India reserves the right to take kinetic action.  Any such future action will match or outdo the Balakot action in its size as anything short of that will discredit the government in power. Hence, the onus of de-escalation lies solely on Pakistan. The international community realised this and stood by India. Fourteen out of the fifteen members of the UNSC supported the resolution to blacklist Azhar.10

The Way Ahead

If listing Azhar is the aim, the key lies in giving China a face-saver and not boxing it into a corner. Under Xi, China has shown that it does not fear isolation and can stand alone as it did on the issues of India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), as also brazenly putting the 1267 resolution on technical hold very soon after the Pulwama attack.

An understanding can be reached on lowering the decibels around the Uyghur issue as long as China does not veto/block attempts to blacklist other jihadis/terrorists.

Focused diplomatic engagement/pressure should be exercised so that the entire world, including China, unites on the issue of terrorism, especially jihadist terrorism.

Conclusion

The bigger question is not whether China would continue to shield its friend, but whether China is willing to take more international flak on the issue of terrorism in itself.

There is a high probability of China vetoing this move. Since it put a technical hold on the previous proposal to list Masood Azhar under the 1267 Sanctions Committee, China would risk losing face if it goes along with the proposal now. It could also use this platform to signal to the world that it can stand alone against all the major powers and challenge their combined might.

A lesser possibility is China going along with the motion. This would be aided by the fact that Pakistan would be willing to accommodate on this issue as blacklisting may not change anything drastically on ground. Practically, a travel embargo means nothing as Azhar would not risk travelling anyway given the number of intelligence agencies on the look-out for him. In fact, certain  reports suggested that he was unwell and being treated in a military hospital in Rawalpindi (from where he was subsequently shifted to Kotghani post the Pulwama terrorist attack) .11  Given the ready availability of arms and hard cash (the drugs-arms-terrorism nexus), an assets freeze and an arms embargo may not translate into anything substantial either. Besides, there are means, very well known to the Pak Army/ISI, to work around and undercut the sanctions measures.

Blacklisting would serve more as a psychological and signaling tool, but China’s stand would give important cues with regard to how it would manoeuvre its US strategy in the times to come.

References

1 "Security Council Committee Pursuant To Resolutions 1267 (1999) 1989 (2011) And 2253 (2015) Concerning ISIL (Da'esh) Al-Qaida And Associated Individuals Groups Undertakings And Entities | United Nations Security Council". 2019. Un.Org. Accessed March 30. https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267.

2 Roy, Shubhajit. 2019. "France To Move UN To Blacklist Jaish Chief Masood Azhar, All Eyes On China". The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/france-to-move-un-to-blacklist-jaish-chief-masood-azhar-all-eyes-on-china-5591937/.

3 ibid

4 ibid

5 ibid

6 "Explained: Why China Is Shielding The Jaish-E-Mohammad And Masood Azhar". 2019. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/why-is-china-shielding-jaish-pulwama-attack-5591844/.

7 ibid

8 Chaudhury, Dipanjan. 2019. "Russia To Back ‘Ban Azhar’ Proposal: Working On China For Support". The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/russia-to-back-ban-azhar-proposal-russia-working-on-china-for-support/articleshow/68384457.cms.

9 "Afghan Defence Minister Says Jaish, Taliban Behind Attack On Afghanistan Military Base". 2019. Https://Www.Hindustantimes.Com/. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/afghan-defence-minister-says-jaish-taliban-behind-attack/story-JLpvOU46NWzQyRZzh3oMDK.html.

10 "Confident Of Resolving Masood Azhar Issue: Chinese Envoy". 2019. Ptinews.Com. http://www.ptinews.com/news/10451664_Confident-of-resolving-Masood-Azhar-issue--Chinese-envoy.html.

11 ANI. 2019. "Jaish Chief Masood Azhar Shifted To Facility Near Bahawalpur From Rawalpindi Military Hospital: Intel Sources". Aninews.In. https://www.aninews.in/news/national/general-news/jaish-chief-masood-azhar-shifted-to-facility-near-bahawalpur-from-rawalpindi-military-hospital-intel-sources20190225235407/.

 

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CLAWS or of the Government of India

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Kanchana Ramanujam
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