The World this Week

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The World this Week
Masood Azhar Ban, Venezuela Crisis, Huawei in UK & the Sri Lankan Bombers

  GP Team

This week, China agrees with the UNSC resolution to ban JeM chief Masood Azhar. Venezuela is faced with another crisis: does it mean an end to the opposition? Huawei’s entry in the UK market takes a hit as May fires defence minister. As the Sri Lankan authorities release the names of the suicide bombers, what does it tell about the deeper fault lines in the country?

Sourina Bej, Abigail Fernandez, Harini Madhusudan and Aparupa Bhattacherjee


China changes its stance ban on Masood Azhar

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.


Venezuela: Internal plot or external hand?  

What happened?

On 30 April the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó in a video called the removal of Nicolás Maduro from power leading to the start of a military uprising. He reiterated that this attempt was not a coup but was a "peaceful rebellion" to remove Maduro who had lost the support of the military. He termed this as ‘Operation Freedom.’ Maduro was to fly to Cuba along with other agreement that was signed in a 15-point document.

The protest began on 29 April a day earlier; however, while few civilians took to the streets, many remained far from the scene because of the paramilitary forces of Maduro that might have been present in these areas. Many Venezuelan army defectors were also asked to back down to which they were disappointed with.

The Trump administration, who has been a keen supporter of Guaidó, went on to restate the 15-point document that was signed. However, Maduro’s plan had not taken off as claimed by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo because of Russian orders, a claim that the Russian leadership has denied. By Tuesday evening Maduro displayed his power and strength to the world by his appearance with a group of soldiers along with defence minister Padrino and one of the supposed defectors.

What is the background?

In January 2019, Juan Guaidó went on to declare himself as the acting president of Venezuela, stating that Nicolás Maduro the selected heir of Hugo Chavez came to power through an illegitimate re-election. Since then there has been a rise of tensions in the country. This has also gone on to bring the big players into the crisis, with the United States backing Guaidó and Russia and China backing Maduro.

The US has imposed a number of harsh sanctions and has proposed the use of military action to remove Maduro. Russia, on the other hand, has backed Maduro for its own interest, the Russians have a number of investments in Venezuela and their aim is to protect that irrespective of who is in power. The recent tensions and claims that have been thrown around between the two countries have created some amount of confusion, however, after a long conversation with Vladimir Putin President Donald Trump stated that his Russian counterpart and he had a positive outlook on Venezuela.

What does it mean?

This uprising highlights a number of implications. To a certain extent, the failed coup attempt is seen as a victory for Maduro, who now believes that he has the upper hand. There was no sense of panic or resistance that was seen from him when the uprising had begun and he only went on to address the public later on.

Guaidó has internal support in the form of popular support, through this uprising Guaidó proves himself to be a legitimate leader who would take Venezuela through the transition even though all his actions have not materialized. However, what he lacks is the support of the military, without which it will be difficult for Venezuela to see any change.

A key factor to be understood is that the military in Venezuela is not an organized institution, thus it owes no allegiance to the constitution and it only follows the orders of the President. Thus, there is an uncertainty of which side the army will lean towards.

Military intervention by the US is currently unlikely, even though Trump has gone on to state the use of military intervention, the Pentagon has declined this request. However, it is too early to determine whether there would be a change of opinion based on this.

The US-Russia and China squaring off in Venezuela had caused a rise in tensions. However, with the current engagement with these external players, this issue seems to be put aside, thus proving that factors that are determining the Venezuelan crisis are internal.


The Huawei Controversy in the UK

What happened?

In the last week of April, news leaked that the UK would ignore the warnings of the US and go ahead with deploying Huawei equipment within its 5G network. This could be seen as a choice to favour national economics over security. But supporters of the UK’s move argue that Huawei has been excluded from the core parts of the UK network and has not secured a full ‘green light’ to operate. China responded to US’ claims and warned the UK to not discriminate and resist pressures from ‘other’ countries.

After this, Gavin Williamson, the defence minister was fired by Theresa May on 1 May 2019, for the newspaper report that said Britain would allow Huawei equipment to be used in 5G mobile data network.

What is the background?

Williamson was once in charge of party discipline for May's Conservatives and was an important ally for the prime minister as she struggled to steer Britain through Brexit without a majority in parliament or consensus on how to leave the European Union.

May defended her decision to sack him following a brief investigation by the government's most senior civil servant, Mark Sedwill, who is also the NSC's secretary. "The importance of this was not about the information that was leaked, it was where it was leaked from. This was about the NSC and trust in the NSC," she is said to have told Sky News on 4 May 2019, before the police said there was no criminal case to answer.

What does it mean?

This case can have three implications. Firstly, the UK could become the centre of the technological cold war between China and the US. Second, Britain’s position on its need to retain trade partners, like China.

And the most interesting one, (something that happened with Trump as well,) was the problems that emerge from trusted Defence Ministers- does it imply anything?


Sri Lanka Attacks: Deepening fault lines

What happened?

This week, the Sri Lankan authorities released the names and photos of the nine suicide bombers involved in the attack on Easter Sunday. The names include Mohammed Azam Mohammed Mubarak, attacked the Kingsbury Hotel; Alawudeen Ahmed Muwath, denoted the bomb at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo; and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo was attacked by Achchi Mohamadhu Mohamadhu Hasthun. The other names include Inshaf and Ilham Ibrahim, the brothers who attacked the Cinnamon Grand Hotel and Shangri-La Hotel, respectively. The previously mentioned, Shangri-La Hotel, was attacked by another suicide bomber also, Zahran Hashim, who is said to be the mastermind of these attacks.  Fatima, Ilham Ibrahim's wife is the seventh attacker who denoted a bomb in their family home when police were conducting a raid, killing three police officers and her children. The eighth bomber is Mohamed Nazar Mohamed Azad and the ninth was Abdul Latheef Jameel Mohammed, who intended to attack Taj Hotel, according to the Sri Lankan authorities, but his bomb detonated outside a small hotel in Colombo, killing two more people.

What is the background?

Some of these names were recognised and published immediately after the attack on 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday attack, but some of them were unknown previously.  In fact, on the basis of the above information, Ibrahim family home was raided in the 21 April afternoon, that led Fatima, Ilham Ibrahim’s wife to detonate a bomb. As mentioned above, Mohammed Zaharan Hasim, who was also immediately recognized through the CCTV camera at Shangri La Hotel, was a radical religious preacher and also headed the organisation called National Thowheeth Jama’ath. He is also the one who was present in the video released by the ISIS, as evidence of their involvement in the attack. But Sri Lanka authorities are yet to establish the extent of ISIS involvement and also the duration of alliance with Zaharan Hasim.  The 26 April blast, which happened due to a raid at Hasim's hideout at Sainthamaruthu, killed his father, brothers and other relatives. A video discovered during the raid is the evidence that most of the family was involved in the planning of the attacks. 

Initial recognition of the bombers had made it evident that many of them are foreign educated and belong to rich families. But the second set of names by authorities also pointed out that most of the bombers were from Kattankudy. Hashim’s family also belong to this town in the east of Sri Lanka, a majority population of which are Tamil Muslims and this town is surrounded by towns with majority Tamil Hindu population. This indicates that the segregation of Tamil Muslims in the 1990s by the LTTE could be a trigger for the rise of extremist in this small town.

What does it mean?

These attacks have a larger consequence than visible as of now. Domestically, apart from taking innocent lives and hampering the tourism, it has steered fear of similar attacks and also deepened the existing fault lines in between the ethnic and religious communities. The recent ban of veil covering faces have restricted the movement of many Muslim girls, some have left going to school and Madrassa. This has also impacted the present Sri Lankan government, due to the intel failure.

The recently reported fact that Zaharan Hasim has travelled to several Southern Indian cities and Kashmir have led to the question of assistance of any Indian terrorist groups also. Sri Lankan attack has compelled one to rethink about ISIS reach into other South Asian countries especially India and Myanmar. 


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