Chinese checkers: short term gains versus long term success
By placing a hold on a resolution moved by India and the US at the UNSC to designate JeM Deputy Chief Abdul Rauf Azhar as a global terrorist, China has shown to the world its short-sighted dubious standards in dealing with the all too important issue of terrorism
There is some expected heartburn in New Delhi that China put a spoke in the wheels when at the United Nations Security Council, it placed a “hold” on a move by India and the United States to list Abdul Rauf Azhar, the Deputy leader of the Pakistan based Jaish-e- Mohammad terror outfit, as a global terrorist, a designation that has been on the books since 2010 by the U.S. Treasury Department. Azhar is the younger brother of Masood Azhar, the founder of the JeM.
It is the second time in about two months that Beijing went for a technical hold, the earlier instance being that of Lakshar-e-Taiba leader Abdul Rehman Makki, the brother-in-law of the terror group’s founder Hafiz Saeed.
The technical holds will continue for about six months unless of course China decides to lift them which is a highly unlikely proposition given its track record at the world body and before the Sanctions Committee. And then there is the option of continuing the holds.
Even if other members of the Security Council have been convinced of the evidences against named terrorists, Beijing continues to wait out for additional evidence—a flawed strategy that gives away the fact that it is merely marking time in the face of incontrovertible evidence.
In the case of Azhar, fourteen other members of the Security Council were convinced of the evidence presented by New Delhi and Washington with China being the sole dissenter. Starting with the hijacking of the Indian Airlines Flight 814 from Kathmandu to Kandahar in 1999, Azhar was involved in the 2001 attack on Indian Parliament and the 2016 attack on the Indian Air Force Base at Pathankot.
This is not the first time that Beijing has looked at short term gains over the longer term in rescuing one of its client states, Pakistan, from certain rebuke in the comity of nations. And in the process, it is China that has shown to the world of its short-sighted dubious standards in dealing with the all too important issue of terrorism.
For about a decade China held out the need for “more information” on Jaish Chief Masood Azhar before it could no longer withstand global pressure and gave up in May 2019. Both China and Pakistan are well aware that designation of a terrorist would mandate the country where he/she is living in to freeze funds, cut access to weapons and enforce a travel ban.
Essentially it is a waiting game that the responsible players in the international system are quite aware of; but Xi Jinping will have to understand that China stands to lose its diplomatic standing and clout by refusing to see the larger picture and prefer to be constrained by nations that are hardly global actors—and responsible ones at that-- by any stretch of imagination.
Holding Pakistan’s feet to fire on the issue of terrorism would have sent unmistakable signals; instead, Beijing preferred to humor its fledgling ally in South Asia which is tottering on the brink in the face of economic chaos and political uncertainty. And bilaterally with India, China has been sore on several issues with territorial standoff being only one of them.
In the recent past China’s role in the international system has been watched with a lot of concern especially in its sense of aggressiveness and in a determination to flout accepted international norms especially pertaining to the laws of the Sea.
Whether it has to do with the South China Seas or the East China Seas, Beijing has shown an attitude of flexing its muscles throwing to winds all elements of multilateralism in global affairs. There is an argument that China could have seized the diplomatic upper hand in the crisis over the Ukraine; instead without formally throwing its lot with Russia charted a path mainly to rub it in to the United States and Europe.
Washington and the capitals of Europe were complicit in deliberately not heeding to the genuine concerns of Russia over Ukraine but that did not give the right to Vladimir Putin to invade in the name of history.
Also, questions have been raised as to whether Beijing could have handled the visit of U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi’s, visit to Taiwan in a different and better way. All the noise put up by China including staging live military drills in and around Taiwan did not amount to much politically as few nations, including India, used the occasion to speak up forcefully or reiterate their “One China” policy.
“Like many other countries, India too is concerned at recent developments. We urge the exercise of restraint, avoidance of unilateral actions to change status quo, de-escalation of tensions and efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region,” New Delhi has maintained.
And in a different perspective it can be argued that the threat of China “invading” Taiwan may have hardened the stance of right wingers not only in that island nation but also in East and South East Asia. Again, a counter-productive exercise that failed to take into account the larger global environment and picture.
It does not require a Nobel Laureate to explain the consequences of even indirectly supporting terrorism. For China to keep saying as it normally does that it requires “additional information” on known and designated terrorists needs to go no further than ask their benefactors to provide what it is that is being sought.
In the past Indian intelligence agencies have provided even exact residential addresses of wanted criminals, thugs and terrorists but of little use. The details China is seeking is not with the 1267 Sanctions Committee but with its close friends in Islamabad.
***The author is a former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and the United Nations. Views expressed are personal.