Despite weeks of a diplomatic campaign by New Delhi after the Pulwama attack, China’s decision to place a “hold” on the UN Security Council listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad Chief Masood Azhar is a setback that will force the government to reconsider its strategy on the issue, and consider its options and priorities in the weeks ahead. Among those options are whether to continue to pursue the Azhar listing issue with China, to abandon the effort, or to lobby other UN Security Council members to try and change the UNSC veto system entirely, say various experts.
To begin with, China’s hold doesn’t automatically kill the current proposal to list Azhar. China can maintain the hold for up to six months according to the guidelines of the 1267 ISIL and Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee (Article 4 (j &k). After that, it can request one extension for up to three months. This means, if India chooses to pursue the issue, it could use the time to convince China of the importance of the move.
Clearly, this is easier said than done: the effort to list Masood Azhar as a “Qaida Designated Individual (QDi)” is nearly two decades old, and China has not budged on its position on Azhar once, even as it has allowed the listing of more than a dozen other terror groups and leaders based in Pakistan. China’s opposition also comes despite the fact that the original listing of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (QDe.019) of 17 October 2001 specifically mentions Masood Azhar as its founder, who raised funds from Osama Bin Laden amongst others. However a diplomat engaged in negotiations with Beijing did tell The Hindu that this is “the closest that China has come to reconsidering the Azhar issue”. If the government wishes to make China change its stand, it must consider a more transactional approach says former Ambassador to China and Pakistan Gautam Bambawale, who advocates identifying issues at the UN where China will want India’s support or that of U.S., U.K. and France in return. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Wuhan Summit meeting with President Xi Jinping has failed to move China to align its position on terrorism to India’s thus far, another opportunity will come for India when President Xi travels here for the next informal summit expected shortly after the elections.
Still others suggest that India should work with UNSC members to ensure that China is unable to stop the listing process as it has been able to do in the past four attempts to list Masood Azhar. “The time has come to focus on the veto power of China in the UNSC being used cynically to oppose global counter terrorism measures,” said Asoke Mukerji, former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, advocating that the UN General Assembly resolution on five areas of UNSC reform, including the question of the veto be tabled now, especially in cases where the vast majority is held up by one or two members. Something similar may have been hinted at by a US diplomat at the Security Council, expressing some frustration at the end of the fortnight’s efforts by the U.S. to convince China on the Azhar question. “If China continues to block this designation, responsible member states may be forced to pursue other actions at the Security Council. It shouldn’t have to come to that,” the diplomat warned.
Another track advocated by some is to shelve the Masood Azhar plan entirely, and direct India’s diplomatic efforts towards effecting real actions by Pakistan against terror groups. After all, Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed remains a free man ten years after he was added to the list after the Mumbai 26/11 attacks. In the next two months, Pakistan will face a review of its actions at the Financial Action Task Force, and many say India’s diplomatic efforts will be better employed in keeping the focus on those actions, which would include changing Pakistan’s anti-terror laws to allow the prosecution of leaders like Azhar and Saeed, ensuring both leaders and their groups are unable to address public rallies, or collect funds as they have been able to do until quite recently, and to see what the MEA calls “credible, verifiable and sustained” actions to shut down the terror camps and other infrastructure inside Pakistan. China’s role in this would be important, as China’s investments have the most to gain from the permanent shutting down of these groups. At the UNSC, India could also continue to pursue the listings of other leaders, and return to the question of Masood Azhar at a later date.