Efforts to blacklist Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Sanctions Committee were scuttled after China put a last minute ‘technical hold’ on the proposal, which was moved by the US, UK and France.
This is India’s third attempt at moving the UNSC to list Azhar as a global terrorist as per the rules of the Sanctions Committee.
The US, UK, and France had also asked the Committee to institute a travel ban, asset freeze, and arms embargo on Azhar.
At one point, it seemed likely that Azhar would be blacklisted, as the Sanctions Committee had given UNSC members until 12:30 am IST, Thursday, 14 March, to argue against these proposals. Had there been no objections, Azhar would have been automatically blacklisted.
Who is Masood Azhar?
Azhar is the current chief of JeM, the terror group that took responsibility for the devastating Pulwama attack.
In February, a JeM suicide bomber ambushed a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans and killed 40 of them.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, “This heinous and despicable act has been perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based, and supported terrorist organisation”.
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale added that despite India providing Pakistan with a dossier on JeM, no anti-terrorist action was taken.
While the international community believes that JeM and Azhar are in Pakistan, the country’s top officials have been giving conflicting accounts on the same.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Azhar is in Pakistan, but is too unwell to leave his house.
Pakistan Armed Forces Spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor contradicted Qureshi by saying, “Jaish-e-Mohammad does not exist in Pakistan”.
Regardless, India is firm on the fact that Azhar is based in, and likely nourished by Pakistani resources, and has moved the UNSC Sanctions Committee to that effect.
Third time’s not the charm
JeM has already been blacklisted in the UNSC Sanctions Committee in 2001. Azhar, however, has never been officially vindicated.
After JeM was linked to the 2016 attack on the Pathankot base, and 2017 attack on the CRPF camp, India moved the UNSC to blacklist Azhar but was shot down by China.
Citing a lack of concrete evidence and disagreement within the UNSC, China vetoed both of India’s proposals.
“China has all along participated in relevant discussions in a responsible manner and in strict accordance with the rules of procedure and provisions of the 1267 Committee”, said the then and current Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokespersons.
“China will continue to communicate and work with relevant parties in a responsible manner so as to properly resolve this matter.”
However, experts have suggested that China vetoed the proposals because of its deep ties with Pakistan.
The two countries conduct trade worth $62 billion via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The CPEC runs through Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Through the CPEC, China is able to override India to gain access to west Asia, the Middle East, and Africa for trade and imports.
A friendly relationship with Pakistan is paramount for Chinese strategy.
The Dalai Lama getting asylum in India is another thorn in Indo-Sino relations. In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed Tibetan uprising against China.
The Chinese do not take kindly to the spiritual leader voicing support for Tibetan autonomy or India for providing him with safety.
A third reason for Chinese hesitation against Azhar is that Chinese arms might be in the hands of militants in Pakistan, including the Taliban, thanks to law import-export regulations.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf said that Taliban soldiers are residing in Pakistani mountains and cities and have worked with the ISI in the past.
So, Pakistan avoiding international scrutiny for being a terrorist safe haven benefits China too.
China has now effectively blocked India’s third proposal to ban Azhar, by putting it on ‘technical hold’.
What happens now?
In 1999, the UN passed Resolution 1267 and established an al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee to blacklist anyone associated with those groups.
However, in 2011 after the UN passed Resolutions 1988 and 1989, it delisted the Taliban to facilitate peace talks between the group and Afghan government.
In 2015, the UNSC adopted Resolution 2253 that expands the terrorism list to ISIS.
Now, criteria for being listed as a global terrorist is being associated with al-Qaida or ISIS as an individual or group or through undertakings and entities. If listed, sanctions include assets freeze, travel bans, and arms embargo.
In a press briefing, US Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said that Azhar meets this criteria.
“Azhar is the founder and the leader of JEM, and he meets the criteria for designation by the United Nations”, said Palladino.
He added that the US and China’s mutual goal of combating terrorism will fail if China blocks Azhar’s blacklisting.
India has expressed her disappointment with China’s move to block this proposal for the third time.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.