As expected, for the fourth time since 2009, at Pakistan’s behest, China has once again single-handedly stalled the listing of Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist” at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1267 Sanctions Committee. The proposal now goes into deep freeze and China may block it again after nine months. All permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council save China had co-sponsored the proposal originally moved by France to ban the mastermind behind the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. The widespread international support that India had received on this issue raised the hope of reversal of China’s earlier stand, which, however, did not happen, but the blocking of the proposal in no way can be reckoned as a failure of Indian diplomacy. In brazen defiance of overwhelming international opinion in India’s favour, China showed once again the utter disdain with which it treats Indian concerns and sensitivities, and the loss of lives of innocent Indians.
Not that the listing of Azhar would have stopped Pakistan from sponsoring his terror group Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) or helped diminish the terrorist violence against India emanating from its soil. JeM is already listed as an international terrorist organisation by the 1267 Committee, along with Lashkar-e- Toiba (LeT) headed by another notorious terrorist Hafiz Saeed, but their listing had no effect on their nefarious activities. The listing of Azhar, if it indeed happened, would merely have been symbolic; other than the psychological satisfaction of diplomatic success, it would have been of very little significance otherwise. The list already has Hafiz Saeed, Dawood Ibrahim, Ayman al Zawahiri, and organisations like Harkat ul Mujahideen, Lashkare- Jhangvi, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan; JeM and LeT have been there for nearly 20 years, the Jamat ud Dawa (JuD) since 2008, but terror inflicted by them has not subsided even marginally.
As pointed out by Nirupama Subramanian in The Indian Express, the listing makes no difference to their activities in Pakistan, to carry out attacks in India, or in their ability to spawn proxies like Falah-i-Insaniyat by JuD. The 1267 listing requires the member states to freeze funds, financial assets and resources of the designated individuals or entities, prevent their entry or transit through their territories and any activity that might aid them in the their terror-agenda. But despite the listing, Hafiz Saeed has been cuddled by the deep state in Pakistan all along, interjected by temporary and short-term house arrests to placate international outrage from time to time. He has been extended generous state patronage, and was even allowed to float a political party to contest the 2018 elections, which was soundly rejected by the people of Pakistan equally disgusted with terrorism.
By the admission of the Pakistan Foreign Minister himself, Masood Azhar is indeed in Pakistan, and so sick that he is unable to move, but nevertheless well enough to plot the Pulwama operation and may be some future attacks on Mumbai and Delhi, by his own admission. Hoping that Balakot would automatically change the old arithmetic of the Pakistani deep state is being overly optimistic; but Balakot has allowed us to demonstrate our resolve. In striking against terrorists within Pakistani territory, we have finally broken ourselves free from the fear of a war with a nuclear armed neighbour that had restrained our response in the face of endless atrocities inflicted by that toxic state all along.
We need to show the same resolve in our relations with China, with whom our approach so far has largely been cautious and restrained, almost obsequious. Our response to China’s intransigence has always been muted, like after the latest blocking. It’s now time for a change. Though India was instrumental in getting China a P-5 seat in the UNSC, China has seen to it that India was never allowed to transcend its neighbourhood and grow into a supra-regional power, and it has always used Pakistan successfully to that end, by keeping India’s troops and military assets focussed on Pakistan, “absorbing diplomatic, political and strategic energies that could otherwise be directed towards China”, as Andrew Small wrote in his book, The China-Pakistan Axis. Over the years, whenever India had attempted to corner or isolate Pakistan diplomatically in the international fora for its terror- support, the Chinese wall always protected it. India must realise that the narrative wouldn’t alter unless we force a change in China’s attitude. China respects strength and determination, as we have seen in Doklam, and the time has come to be assertive with China. Instead of wasting our diplomatic and political energy over a symbolic listing that serves little purpose in curbing terror, we must reckon the biggest supporter of the terror-propagating state and direct our energies towards sensitizing it to our concerns. In short, we must draw a red line with China too, as we have drawn with Pakistan in Balakot, and as China has drawn for us.
We may highlight the atrocities committed by China in Tibet and against minorities in Xinjiang or take our engagement with China to a higher level. We may also leverage the fact that China enjoys a huge trade surplus of $63 billion with India, out of a total bilateral trade volume of $90 billion as of 2017-18, which is 39 per cent of our overall trade deficit. Imports from China have expanded from 3 per cent to 16.4 per cent of our total imports between 2001 and 2018. However, taking unilateral action may be problematic since both countries are members of the WTO which forbids country-specific restrictions. But nothing prevents us from taking selective actions targeted towards companies on valid grounds of security. In fact, the signal for a change in our strategy can start with a big private Chinese telecom company ~ Huawei Technologies, which is the world’s second-biggest seller of smartphones and whose 1500 networks service one-third of the world’s population spread over 170 countries. Huawei is currently under intense international gaze, precisely on security issues and other violations.
Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, Ms. Meng Wanzhou, was arrested last December in Canada and extradition proceedings are on to deport her to the USA which accuses her of dodging American sanctions on Iran by using a subsidiary. Another executive, Wang Weijing, was arrested in Poland in January on charges of espionage. Huawei has been driven out of the 5G market in USA and Australia, and other countries like Germany and New Zealand are questioning its bona fides. Given the closeness between Huawei (any Chinese company for that matter) and the Chinese government, these countries fear that its 5G technologies may expose their systems and networks to spying by Chinese authorities and to debilitating cyberattacks from statesponsored hackers, crippling their sensitive financial and military intelligence systems and data. The risk assumes significance because 5G is the technology for future that will power the “Internet of Things”, allowing multiple smart devices to talk to each other and to the internet, and will be a driver of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” in a hyper-connected world. There is thus an enormous risk potential in allowing a Chinese firm to be in charge of this infrastructure, and the worries of the countries cannot be brusquely dismissed.
Facing heat from the western markets, Huawei has signaled that it might even withdraw from these markets, focussing instead on emerging economies, and the core of this altered strategy would be the huge and expanding Indian market, where it already has a strong presence and where it aspires to be the biggest telecom company by 2021. With five-fold growth in FY18, its growth in India has been phenomenal, though its current market share of 3 per cent is not very large. But the picture may change after August 2019, when 5G spectrum will be ready for auction. The Indian Government has already allowed it to conduct the 5G trials in India, prior to the bidding for 5G spectrum later this year. Telecom spectrum is a strategic asset, and like vital infrastructure of airports and seaports, may be kept out of reach of companies that can be easily controlled by a foreign government. When that foreign government happens to be China, there should be no hesitation on our part in ringing the warning bell.
(The writer is a commentator. Opinions are personal)