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Masood Azhar’s blacklisting by UN is huge diplomatic coup for Narendra Modi govt, not merely 'symbolic win'

There has been a lot of commentary on why China’s move to finally pave the way for Masood Azhar to be proscribed as a terrorist in the United Nations Sanctions’ list is “no big deal”. Experts seem to be falling over themselves to suggest that the move is merely “symbolic” and is expected to have no real impact in terms of Jaish-e-Muhammad’s ability in operating inside Pakistan, building terror infrastructure and carrying out attacks on Indian soil.

The argument is that since JeM has been able to sustain itself, plan and execute grievous attacks against India despite being blacklisted by the UN Security Council since 2001, bringing its founder under the sanctions’ umbrella is hardly going to make any difference on the ground.

This argument is specious. It ignores several ground realities that have changed, specifically regarding India’s response to such attacks. It ignores the weight of global pressure on Pakistan, now more than ever before, to act against terror factories on its soil and stop using "non-state" actors to achieve strategic aims even as the bankrupt nation waits for the IMF to bail it out and faces the prospect of a FATF blacklist. The argument also ignores the rising costs for China to keep backing Pakistan on terror and standing isolated on global forums.

 Masood Azhar’s blacklisting by UN is huge diplomatic coup for Narendra Modi govt, not merely symbolic win

File image of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar. AFP

Even if we interpret the move to designate Azhar under the 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council as “symbolic”, its import should not be underestimated. Yes, the Pulwama mastermind, reportedly unwell, might not be jet-setting across the globe and raising funds in Washington, Paris or London to feed his terror group. But to argue that a travel ban, arms embargo and assets freeze that targets the “global terrorist’s” ability to raise finances and access economic resources is an emblematic step and carries no real consequences is missing the woods for trees.

What we are calling “symbolic” here is a step that carries deep diplomatic, geopolitical and political impact. And this must be taken into account to understand why blacklisting of JeM founder is no less than a coup for the Narendra Modi government.

The move is the fructification of intense diplomatic negotiations carried out by India. It has not been easy to bring China on board — the veto-wielding permanent member of UN Security Council — which had blocked four such attempts in the last decade through its "technical hold". However, a careful look at the timeline may reveal why the NDA government deserves praise for its dogged persistence in pursuing this aim.

In 2009, India had moved a proposal at the UN to list Azhar’s name in the UNSC’s “ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee.” India holds Azhar responsible for organising several high-profile terror attacks, including the attack on Parliament, the Pathankot air base, murderous assaults on army bases in Uri, Jammu and the recent attack in Pulwama where 40 CRPF jawans were killed.

However, there were no more attempts till 2016, when New Delhi, along with the P3 or three permanent UNSC members (United States, United Kingdom and France) moved a joint proposal to sanction Pakistan spy agency’s blue-eyed boy in the UN 1267 committee. The joint proposal indicated a greater degree of synergy among world powers and India on the issue of terrorism. The significance of this joint move is not to be missed.

A year later, the P3 nations repeated the maneuver. However, China continued to wield its veto power in putting a technical hold on the sanctions and forced them to lapse before they could be adopted by the UNSC panel.

The final attempt came in February this year, shortly after a suicide bomber targeted a CRPF convoy and 40 jawans were martyred. The resolution was moved by France, a P3 member, and it was backed by the US, UK, Russia and 10 other non-permanent UNSC members.

Even as China put a technical hold on the motion moved by the P3 nations to blacklist Azhar, the US piled on the pressure on China by moving a draft resolution in the UNSC. The attempt was clear. The US resolution noted that China has until 23 April to remove its technical hold to blacklist Azhar, after which Washington will move the proposal in UNSC and force China to come out openly in support of a terror mastermind.

One of the motivations that led to this development is the concerted global pressure that was brought to bear on China, skewing its cost-benefit calculus on Azhar. It would be churlish to deny that India’s effort had no role to play in this global pressure and close synergy between nations on the issue of terrorism. It is, therefore, an unequivocal diplomatic win for India and the Modi government that has worked hard to build the consensus.

The second point that flows from this is clear. India will take no prisoners in pursuing its goals on terror. This includes intense diplomatic maneuvers — such as foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale rushing to China to share evidence on JeM’s terror activities to nudge Beijing towards the desired goal. This diplomatic long game, however, will go hand in hand with deterrent measures against Pakistan for sponsoring terror, including kinetic action on Pakistan soil and launching sub-conventional military ops below nuclear threshold.

The third point relates to the Modi government’s political will in taking such steps that have busted Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail. The prime minister has referred to this new deterrence manouver even during his political campaign.

Fourth, the Modi government has been able to strike a balance between its effort to pressurise China by aligning with other world powers and maintain an equilibrium in the Sino-Indian relationship that enables China to relent on this issue without appearing to be “giving in to pressure”. This may explain the “concession” by India on the absence of the Pulwama attacks in the reasons behind Azhar’s blacklisting. This is walking on a razor’s edge, and the Modi government deserves kudos.

The fifth point worth noting is the way India has been able to persuade China to prioritise its bilateral relation above its “iron-brotherhood” with Pakistan. China’s insecurities over Azhar’s ability to target its citizens working inside Pakistan has been documented. It must have been an important reason behind Beijing’s move to play spoilsport at the United Nations. This seems to have been successfully addressed through modalities that may gradually become clear.

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Updated Date: May 02, 2019 20:09:59 IST