It finally happened on 1 May 2019.
China lifted its technical hold on the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee. India had first moved a proposal to designate Masood Azar as a global terrorist in 2009. Expectedly, China blocked the move.
India avoided pushing of the case, assuming the same result, despite him being directly involved in attacks on Indian soil. In 2016, after intense diplomatic manoeuvring, India again moved the proposal, this time backed by the US, UK and France. China as expected adopted a similar approach and placed a hold. The same proposal was mooted in 2017, with the same result. This year on 27 February a fresh proposal was moved by the same three nations.
China again exercised its right to block the same on technical grounds, seeking wider consultations. International pressure increased after the Pulwama attacks and the Indian riposte. On 28 March, the US, along with France and UK moved a resolution direct in the UN Security Council (UNSC) for listing Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. It was a means of conveying to China that they object to its stance.
It was the first time that an action to bypass UN 1267 Sanctions Committee had been undertaken. China responded on 3 April by stating that this would only ‘complicate the issue and not be conducive to peace and stability to South Asia.’ Clearly China was under pressure. There was also a silent threat that in case China resisted, the case could be discussed in the UN General Assembly, wherein China could be accused of supporting terrorist networks.
China continued to state that ‘some progress’ has been achieved on the issue. Intense diplomatic parleys were also underway. In the interim, the Indian Foreign Secretary visited China and shared Indian concerns on Chinese actions. Simultaneously, Imran Khan also visited Beijing and possibly discussed the issue with Xi Jinping. Finally, on 1 May, China lifted its ‘technical hold’. Issues which need to be considered are a few.
What led to this change? How was Pakistan convinced to accept withdrawal of Chinese support and finally, will anything change in the spate of terrorist activities in India? Internationally, India is now a recognized power. Its actions post Pulwama including the strike at Balakot, convinced the world that India would no longer be subdued by Pakistan’s nuclear threat and is willing to up the ante in response to Pakistani misadventures. The world was aware that India had caused requisite damage at Balakot, despite the denial by Pakistan.
The US and its allies were now convinced that they had to apply pressure on Pakistan if India had to be pacified. Hence, there was intense pressure on China to relent. Another aspect being brushed aside is that apart from China, no other nation even came out in verbal support of Pakistan. Every member of the UNSC, permanent or rotating, stood by India. In the entire discussions, Pakistan was nowhere in the picture and not even consulted. Clearly, it was a case of successful diplomatic isolation.
China understood that the world was one against Pakistan and if it continued to support Pakistan, it would lose its standing and reputation, and be termed as a supporter of terror groups. Thus, it had limited choices. This would have been discussed between Xi Jinping and Imran on the sidelines of the BRI summit recently. Pakistan would have been told that international pressure would lower the standing of both nations, hence it should accept that Masood Azhar be listed.
The only face-saving measure which China adopted to save the reputation of Pakistan was to remove references to Pulwama, Kashmir and Pakistani institutions which support Masood Azar, namely the ISI. The intention was that in the future, India does not push for the listing of the ISI as a supporter of terrorism. This amendment will have no impact on actions which Pakistan is expected to take.
The fact that Masood Azhar is present in Pakistan is enough proof and would compel Islamabad to act. Ultimately, it was international support to India and isolation of Pakistan, which gave India this victory. Placing an individual under the sanctions committee imposes a travel ban, assets freeze and arms embargo. Nations within whom such individuals reside are to issue guidelines to implement directions on the sanctions. This however has never been binding. When the consolidated list of the sanctions committee was updated in 2019, of the 262 individuals and 82 organisations, more than 100 are linked to Pakistan.
They are either based in Pakistan, are Pakistani nationals or are groups located in Pakistan. Pakistan has never acted against them, rather it has protected them. It was only on 12 April this year that the Pak government issued directions to implement UN 1267 Sanctions Committee directions. This was done only because the sword of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ‘black list’ and subsequent bailout from the IMF was hanging on its neck. India was a member of the committee reviewing the progress by Pakistan to implement the observations of the FATF.
Hafiz Saeed entered the UN 1267 sanctions list in 2008, has a USD 10 million bounty, yet roams freely, conducts his sermons and recruits terrorists for his group. It is only now that some restrictions ‘may’ be imposed on him. Thus while for the present and until Pakistan has obtained its funding from the IMF and avoided being placed on the ‘black list’ by the FATF, they would ensure that Azhar Masood remains under control, issues no controversial statements and does not support terrorist strikes on Indian soil.
Once such actions have been completed, it would be business as usual for Azhar Masood. His organization would have a new name, a new role and everything would be normal. Diplomatically it is a major win for India. The world has accepted that Pakistan supports terrorist groups and its leaders reside on Pakistani soil. How long the resolution stays effective remains to be seen.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)