China blocks 'terror' tag for Masood Azhar: Jaish-e-Mohammed saga is only an exercise in realpolitik

Thanks to incessant media coverage, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has become a prestige issue for both India and China. We are at a juncture where neither side wants to blink. For, whoever blinks first, risks undermining its place and prestige in an increasingly polarised international order.

Beijing refuses to give in to the request of New Delhi as that would imply budging to an “underling”. Acceding to New Delhi’s demand implies a loss of face for Beijing, especially at a time when the latter is positioning itself as the sole superpower in the world. There are also other associated benefits if it maintains a resolute stand. Vetoing any move to ban JeM at the Security Council gives China an opportunity to show off its strength vis-a-vis the United States.

In the dog-eat-dog world of competing international relations, it is all down to the old adage “the enemy’s friend is my enemy.” The true reason behind such posturing by China has not gone unnoticed by the United States. Thus we have US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Nimrata Haley suggesting that lack of unanimity on JeM or other such terrorist fronts at the international fora does not imply Washington would not take action against them.

File image of Masood Azhar. Reuters

File image of Masood Azhar. Reuters

Turning to New Delhi, we are confronted by many complex and intertwined factors guiding its posture on JeM. True, India is the aggrieved party and as such has the natural right to demand that the terrorist front and its leader responsible for the mayhem be put in the dock. Put simply, such concern is based on the principle of “just” demand over “unjust” actions. Given the enormity of the crimes committed by the JeM, New Delhi cannot move beyond its stance as that would rob it of the moral high ground it maintains in its fight against indigenous and global terrorism.

For the record, it is not for the first time that India has identified terrorists and their outfits working against its interests from beyond its borders. From the 1980s onwards, India has had a steady stream of these networks operating from beyond its borders (from the Khalistanis to the likes of Dawood Ibrahim). On many occasions, it has failed to get the brains behind these outfits extradited or put them in prison in a third country. So, why such a fuss over Masood Azhar? Geography is the culprit here.

Masood Azhar inhabits a frontier that is traditionally considered enemy territory by New Delhi. Massood Azhar’s refuge in such a state makes his crimes a thousand times graver. Moreover, Islamabad’s open acceptance of Azhar’s presence amounts to an act of proxy war. The legal existence of JeM is a twin assault on India–one by an individual as the head of a terrorist front, and the other by the neighbouring country.

How does New Delhi seek a victory in such a complex state of affairs? It is aware of the fact that perhaps it would never be able to see through a physical extradition of Masood Azhar. Lest we forget, New Delhi had little or no luck in getting Khalistani leaders from Canada and other Western countries. But India can achieve a victory of sorts if it manages to get Azhar and the organisation he heads declared a terrorist front.

New Delhi may well have a genuine grievance. But let us not forget that other actors involved in this diplomatic drama may be nursing similar grievances. China has a long memory. Ever since Tenzin Gyatso (the 14th Dalai Lama) fled to India in 1959, New Delhi unwittingly became a party to such a cat and mouse game. Beijing has made no secret of the fact that for over half a century New Delhi has undermined its territorial integrity by hosting what it considers a 'separatist' leader. Let us not forget that Beijing has claimed that the 14th Dalai Lama is a “traitor”.

Thanks to Masood Azhar and his JeM outfit, Beijing has found a reason to respond to that (58 year old and running) itch. Moreover, for China, changing its stance on Masood Azhar also implies abandoning its all-weather ally Pakistan. It risks jeopardising the relations with this key strategic ally and with that, the aim of regional dominance.

At the end of the day, the JeM saga is an exercise in realpolitik. There can be no “real” victors or losers. Merely declaring a person or an outfit as 'terrorist' by the international community leads to no real dividend. New Delhi has succeeded in creating an adverse global opinion against JeM and has exposed Beijing's true motives. It should leave the matter at that. Pessimists should note that in spite of its stand on JeM, Beijing strongly appreciates its 'relations with India.'

Updated Date: Nov 04, 2017 11:26 AM

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