GP Insights

GP Insights # 31, 5 May 2019

China changes its stance ban on Masood Azhar
Sourina Bej

What happened?

China on 1 May reversed its earlier stance on Masood Azhar and listed the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) as a global terrorist. China has previously withheld the ban on the JeM chief on technical grounds but “once the relevant countries revised the application form of Masood’s listing and submitted it to the 1267 Committee, the Chinese side carefully studied and the revised its stand,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang. 

How did China change its stance on Azhar? China had initially wanted to delay the terror designation of Maulana Masood Azhar after May 23 citing the national elections in India but was forced to revise the date upon pressure from the United States. France Russia and UK had separately brokered an understanding with China in which Beijing got the date extended from 23 April but couldn’t go beyond 1 May.

What is the background?

The starting point of this effort in getting the international community to list the JeM chief as a global terrorist started with the UN statement condemning the Pulwama attack on 14 February. This statement was the first time that the UN had condemned a terror attack in Kashmir and that too on security personnel. Following the statement, countries like the US, UK and France had stepped up the process of getting the leader indicted as a terrorist by adopting the resolution of the 1267 Committee of the UNSC. However, the process was stalled once China vetoed in March against the UNSC resolution on technical grounds.

The current change in stance by China followed a long process of diplomatic meetings between India and China, China and Pakistan besides UNSC members themselves. During the recent visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale to Beijing on April 22, the secretary was believed to have held talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and shared the technical evidence of JeM’s involvement in the Pulwama terror attack. But it was only after the meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the sidelines of the 2nd Belt and Road Forum (BRF) held from April 25-27 that China took its stance on the issue. This was evident from Geng’s speech that, “Pakistan has made tremendous contributions to the fight against terrorism, which should be fully recognised by the international community.”

What does it mean?

Following China’s decision to lift the ban several questions could be raised: Why did the UN statement (while banning Azhar) not mention the Pulwama attack and what does China’s stance mean for India?

This could be answered while understanding Beijing’s policy of ‘dual engagement’ with India and Pakistan in South Asia. Apart from the US pressure, the reasons why China found it fit to change its stance now are two-fold. Firstly, the resolution in the 1267 Committee was moved by France, US and UK and not by India or Pakistan (who are not members of the UNSC). This raised the stakes for risking a cost for China especially when Beijing has invested a lot in realigning its image as a negotiator. Lastly, India is not the only one complaining against terrorist acts on its soil by Pakistan based terrorist groups. Afghanistan and Iran have simultaneously complained. In addition, the international trend in the rise of terrorism and the need to condemn and act against it has increased in the light of the events of NZ and Sri Lanka attacks. It has made it difficult for China to resist the move anymore.

However, China didn’t take the decision without taking its interest in Pakistan and India in mind. At this stage, China reached a bargain with Pakistan with a slight change in language (i,e keep Pulwama out of it) and two things were achieved by it. First, the pressure on China could be averted. The US had threatened to bypass the sanctions committee and take the measure to the full Security Council which would compel China to place its objections on the record. This fear of isolation may have worked on China. Second, the listing of Masood has actually helped Islamabad avoid being “blacklisted” by the Financial Action Task Force later this month. This could have led to not only economic isolation but also freeze most of the foreign assets which would increase the currency crunch inside the country.

For India, the decision was deemed as a diplomatic success. This could be seen in two lights. First, the UNSC statement was a culmination of its long demand to get the terrorist listed. Leaving Pulwama attack while recognising JeM’s acts of terror in the short term might come across a diplomatic facade, but then again India needs to know that while Pulwama was symbolic means, getting Azhar designated was the long end. This India got. Secondly, India should see China’s decision as a gesture to balance two rival countries in South Asia. India should remember that this gesture is not only meant to keep its interest in Pakistan grounded but was also to open a channel of negotiation between them with an eye for the leader’s summit pending after the election. China has already shown a similar gesture at the BRI summit when for the first time Beijing got the map of entire Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh

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