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Will China bend with a bargain on sanction listing

by Priti Prakash | PUBLISHED: Mar 16, 2019, 8:16 am IST

Priti Prakash
Priti Prakash
In solidarity with India and demonstrating tangible action against terrorism, France is the first country that has blocked Masood Azhar's assets and has promised to put him on EU's list of terrorists. This after China refused to budge at UNSC Resolution 1267 sanctions committee again for the fourth time on the listing of Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish e Mohammad, as a global terrorist on March 14, 2019.
 
Post Pulwama attack and Balakot strikes ample proofs given to the world community by India of Pakistan sponsoring terror on India's soil, China choose to keep its response to minimum semantics by issuing a last minute statement that said, 'a solution acceptable to all had to be found', that indicated a veto on banning the JeM founder at United Nation Security Council. While it didn’t come as a surprise to New Delhi it was 'disappointing' as the Indian government said. The critics and the opposition are up and about questioning the Wuhan spirit, general elections being a few days away.
 
The gains and the losses of this exercise will shape the contours of future engagements of not just the sub continent but that of South Asia and the rest of the world. China was again cornered and pitched against the world on the issue of supporting terror. The international outreach by India was of no mean measure even though the losses may be there in future to tell.
 
The endeavour and energy invested in mustering global support in our fight against terror saw all major countries- The US, UK, France who are permanent UNSC members, the other 10 non-permanent UNSC members - Germany, Poland, Belgium, Equatorial Guinea, Japan, Australia, Italy, Bangladesh, Maldives and Bhutan, even the Quad consisting of US, Japan and Australia who were co sponserers, on the same page with India signalling strategic alignment. This helped India's case of pushing the cause of Masood Azhar as a global menace and a key element of the global fight against terrorism. The very fact that US, UK and France moved the proposal to list Masood Azhar at UNSC was a proof of the broad global support India was able to rally on the terror issue.   
 
The shift in China's response as compared to 2009 after Mumbai attacks when India had moved a proposal in the UNSC Resolution 1267 sanctions committee and Beijing blocked it, was palpable and encouraging. Retrospectively in February 2016 after the Pathankot attack, when India put forward a fresh proposal China intervened at Pakistan's behest and placed a technical hold on India's move and did so again in October 2016. It subsequently used its veto in December 2016 a day before the end of the technical hold, then on Jan 19, 2017 and in November 2017.
 
The tilting conciliatory vibes, presuming to be germane to Wuhan spirit is the best guess. This time around what was significant was the calibrated position that China took. In the wake of Balakot strikes the Dragon did not slam India for violation of Pakistan's territorial sovergnity signalling a deviation. China also signed the UNSC condemnation statement which named Jaish and criticised the terrorist attack in Pulwama.
 
Notwithstanding China stands contradicted despite its own oft stated position against terrorism. In the last minute bid to persuade China against blocking the proposal the US put out a statement saying that failure to designate Masood would go against the ''shared goals'' of regional stability and peace.  A message to the dragon.
 
Wuhan overarching, New Delhi too despite the hectic diplomatic outreach, had a mellowed down response to China's veto as compared to 2016 when India had come out with a blistering attack naming China four times in a statement calling out 'Chinese block' as double standards in the fight against terrorism.           

Another point of view emanating from the studied responses from both sides was reflected from inside the power corridors of New Delhi. A source in South Block said that the 'multilayered relationship' with China makes it difficult to ''rock the boat''. ''We want the elections to get over and the new government to take charge before any such measures are taken.''  

For realty check it is important to know that as per New Delhi Azhar is a valuable strategic asset of Pakistan military and intelligence establishment. On the other hand China has invariably used Pakistan as a 'strategic weapon' against India, sources say. Precisely the reason for China blocking Azhar. Its not just on Azhar, China has also been jeopardising India's aspirations of Nuclear Supply Group membership. Add to it India’s opposition to China’s CPEC, a project of its ambitious goals of BRI, which has made China fume and fret. ''China would not have agreed this time because that would have meant losing face due to pressure not only from India but also the other four permanent members of the UNSC. There's a sense that next time China will not block this and find a face saving way out. So before that it will lean in Pakistan to deal with Massod Azhar in a way which does not put China in an awkward position,'' says China expert and former Ambassador Anil Wadhwa.

So what’s ahead now. Does the much invested India China relations stand at stake in the context of the non listing of a global terrorist! As of now the 'Technical hold' gives India nine months to lobby with China on Masood Azhar listing. The need of the hour is to find leverages with China for it to get going as per India's demands. As proposed by eminent foreign affairs experts India will need to find something to bargain with China to bring it around, a transactional point to influence Beijing's behaviour. 'This has got nothing to do with land exchanges,' as former Ambassador of India to China Gautam Bambawale said. For example in 2017 when China wanted to become Vice President of the Financial Action Task Force India agreed to support its candidature against Japan, which is a close strategic partner of India, in return for Beijing’s support for Pakistan's ''Grey listing''. A bargain of a trade-off on a vote or a crucial election can be India's trump card. The FATF gives India an opportunity wherein it can try and persuade the international community to even blacklist Pakistan by May September this year if Islamabad doesn’t take action against terrorist and terror groups including Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed.
 
So how important is this one man in the story of growing global partnerships among countries and continents! At the end of the day it would be unwise to spend too much of strategic and diplomatic capital on listing Azhar because for one the benefits of the listing are hardly clear going by how Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jamat-e Dawa ie Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar are flourishing in Pakistan since last 10 years since the former's listing. Secondly it runs the risk of reducing India's multifaceted relationship with China to one issue, a relationship which has civilizational and business commonalities since ages.
 
As China experts say it would be best in this scenario to keep up diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to give up its 'strategic assets' anyways including FATF and also pressurising China internationally as well as strategically without affecting relations built with great effort and patience over the years.       
Priti Prakash
Priti Prakash

Political Commentator, Interviewer, moderator and Foreign Correspondent. With more than 15 years in journalism and experience of both print and electronic medium, she is Editor FacenFacts, news website and Managing Director, Dream Press Consultants Ltd