India may have France, Russia's support in designating Masood Azhar 'terrorist', but China can still block efforts

The terror mastermind, who was arrested by India in 1994 and lodged in a jail in Jammu, was freed in 1999, along with two other terrorists in exchange for the 155 passengers on board an Air India plane to Kandahar that was hijacked. Azhar, who had fought the Russians in Afghanistan, went on to join Harkat-ul-Ansar, a Pakistan-based Islamic militant outfit and later establish the JeM.

FP Staff February 20, 2019 19:06:01 IST
India may have France, Russia's support in designating Masood Azhar 'terrorist', but China can still block efforts
  • Despite JeM's repeated attacks in India, China has consistently blocked India’s bid to get Azhar declared as a designated ‘global terrorist’ at United Nations

  • China has a huge economic interest in Pakistan incliding CPEC which passes through Gilgit and Baltistan in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)

  • Azhar was arrested by India in 1994 but freed in 1999, along with two other terrorists in exchange for the 155 passengers during the Kandahar hijack

In a significant development and boost to India clamour for support in its fight against terrorism, France on Wednesday said that it will be moving a proposal at the UN in a "couple of days" to ban Masood Azhar, the chief of the UN-proscribed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) which had claimed responsibility of the Pulwama terror attack that killed over 40 CRPF personnel.

This will be the second time France will be party to such a proposal at the UN. In 2017, the US, supported by the UK and France, had moved a proposal at the UN's Sanctions Committee 1267 to ban the chief of the Pakistan-based terror outfit.

"At the UN, France will lead a proposal to put Masood Azhar on the terrorist list... It will happen in a couple of days," a senior French source told PTI. The French decision was discussed between Philippe Etienne, Diplomatic Advisor to the French President and India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, PTI reported.

The terror mastermind, who was arrested by India in 1994 and lodged in a jail in Jammu, was freed in 1999, along with two other terrorists in exchange for the 155 passengers on board an Air India plane to Kandahar that was hijacked. Azhar, who had fought the Russians in Afghanistan, went on to join Harkat-ul-Ansar, a Pakistan-based Islamic militant outfit and later establish the JeM.

India may have France Russias support in designating Masood Azhar terrorist but China can still block efforts

File image of JeM chief Masood Azhar. Reuters

Writing in The Economic Times, former IB official Avinash Mohananey, who had interrogated Azhar several times between 1994 and 1999 said that the JeM chief was a treasure trove of information on how deeply Pakistan is involved in the Kashmir insurgency. "Every meeting with him would be an addition to the knowledge about Pak-based 'jihadi' groups, their mentors and the role of the ISI," he wrote.

Azhar turned his attention on India in the 90s and was instrumental in bringing foreign fighters to Kashmir, including war veterans from Afghanistan, the report notes. A year after his release following the Kandahar plane hijacking, Azhar founded JeM, which means the 'Army of the Prophet'.

He has since been walking freely and holding rallies in Pakistan. JeM has been officially banned in Pakistan but it still runs its operations from Islamabad and has built itself a new training centre after Imran Khan took over as Pakistan's prime minister.

But China could still block India's bid

Despite JeM's repeated attacks in India including on the Indian Parliament in 2001, China has consistently blocked India’s bid to get Azhar declared as a designated ‘global terrorist’ at the UN. China has refused to end its “technical hold” on the ban on Azhar, blocking India’s attempts to declare him a “global terrorist”, twice in 2019 alone.

Post the attack on an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot on 2 January, 2016, India put forward a proposal in February 2016 to designate Azhar as a terrorist under the aegis of the UNSC 1267 committee. China intervened at Pakistan’s behest and placed a technical hold on India’s move in March 2016, and again in October 2016. It subsequently used its veto power to block the proposal in December 2016, a day before the technical hold ended.

In fact, just last week, China’s vice foreign minister Li Baodong sought to justify Beijing’s position on Azhar saying, “China is opposed to all forms of terrorism. There should be no double standards on counter-terrorism, nor should one pursue own political gains in the name of counter-terrorism", Mint reported. China and Pakistan share a quid pro quo relationship, representing each other in official groups of nations where the other has a scarce representation. For instance, Pakistan stands up for China in Non-Aligned Movement (where Beijing has a scanty representation) and in return, Pakistan gets China’s veto power in the UNSC, the report suggests.

China has a huge economic interest in Pakistan — Beijing’s ambitious CPEC passes through Gilgit and Baltistan in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)  — with an investment of over $66 billion. Also, that Pakistan is key in China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative is a well-known fact. The OBOR project, when completed, is said to provide China alternate routes to connect to Africa and West Asia. China's also trying to make its presence felt in Afghanistan through Pakistan, more so now with economic prospects in fray vis-à-vis the proposed new 'silk route'.

Another reason could be China holding a grudge against India for giving asylum to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama in 1959 after China occupied Tibet in 1950.

A third reason could be India’s growing proximity to the US that China definitely sees as a major challenge to its global rise as a superpower aiming for international hegemony. India’s friendly relations with the US in the past decade, including the 2008 civil nuclear deal, have been seen by Beijing as a US move to find China's counterweight in Asia.

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