The China factor in India-Pakistan relationship, explained

On Monday, March 11, 2019, China said that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) can only decide to list Masood Azhar as a global terrorist after dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Strong Sino-Pak relations might be the reason China has consistently blocked India’s proposals to list the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief as a terrorist in the UN Security Council.

On the same day, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang was asked if China will vote for Masood Azhar to be listed as a global terrorist in the UN Security Council.

He said, “ Only by making a decision through responsible and serious discussions can we find a lasting solution.”

He added that China has been mediating between India and Pakistan, and encouraging both sides to talk to each other.

“A series of incidents have transpired between Indian and Pakistan recently, which as we see is not conducive to the peace and stability in South Asia…”, said Kang. “We have had extensive and in-depth talks with both sides.”

After the deadly Pulwama attack, India is making a third attempt at getting Azhar listed as a global terrorist in the United Nations Sanctions Committee—a move that has been thwarted by China in the past.

What can the UN Sanctions Committee do?

The fifteen members of the UNSC are the same countries that comprise the Sanctions Committee.

This committee is a subgroup in the UNSC that is tasked with imposing sanctions to ensure international peace and security. From travel bans to trade embargos, this Committee has the power to implement a range of sanctions on individuals and entities.

“Sanctions do not operate, succeed or fail in a vacuum. The measures are most effective at maintaining or restoring international peace and security when applied as part of a comprehensive strategy”, said the UNSC.

The UNSC operates as a consensus and the five permanent members have the option to veto proposals.

This means that blacklisting Azhar alone is not enough; Pakistan, if he is currently residing there, needs to take additional measures to curb his influence and power.

Pakistani officials have recently presented conflicting accounts on Azhar’s whereabouts.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told CNN that Azhar is in Pakistan, but too ill to leave his house.

However, Spokesperson for the Pakistan Armed Forces Major General Asif Ghafoor said that JeM does not exist in Pakistan at all.

Regardless, putting Azhar on the official list of recognised terrorists is a step in the right direction because it justifies future action against him or the JeM.

China goes back and forth

JeM was blacklisted by the UNSC in 2001 says Reuters.

However, Masood himself has escaped unscathed and continues to be a thorn in Indo-Sino relations.

JeM was linked to the 2016 attack on India’s Pathankot base and then, the 2017 attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp. Both times, India moved the UNSC to blacklist the group’s chief, Azhar.

However, China blocked both of those attempts citing a lack of consensus and irrefutable evidence.

The then and current Foreign Ministry Spokespersons have repeatedly said the same thing:

“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. China will continue to communicate and work with relevant parties in a responsible manner so as to properly resolve this matter.”

Experts have suggested that the Sino-Pak economic corridor is too much of a strategic benefit to China for it to back India’s proposal.

India Today reports that the two countries conduct around $62 billion in trade through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The CPEC runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as well.

It is through the CPEC that China bypasses India to gain access to the Middle east and Africa for imports.

Observer Research Foundation also explains that the CPEC reduces China’s dependency on a route through the Strait of Malacca, which can choke the country if it is cut off.

So, Pakistan serves as an important conduit of Chinese interests; so much so that the two countries are often called “all-weather friends”.

Another reason for China’s antagonism could be India providing the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, with asylum.

In 1950, although Chinese troops occupied Tibet, the Dalai Lama was made the head of state. Nine years later, he fled to India after a failed uprising against China.

The Dalai Lama has since voiced his support for Tibetan autonomy but, to China, he poses a threat to the country’s sovereignty.

China’s lack of enthusiastic support for India’s proposals on Azhar could be a reaction to the country giving the Dalai Lama a safe-house.

Moreover, sources have reported that Chinese weapons have managed to reach Taliban hands because of careless export regulation in Afghanistan.

In 2017, Forbes magazine said that China was even holding negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2014.

In a recent interview, former Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf confirmed that Taliban operatives are currently based in Pakistani cities and mountain ranges.

Musharraf also alleged that Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), colluded with terrorist groups like JeM and the Taliban for bombings in India.

Protecting Pakistan against international scrutiny is, therefore, in the interest of China, as its weapons could be found in the terrorists’ hands. It may even be blamed for abetting terrorist activity in Pakistan.

India’s options

Reports say that India is currently enjoying the support of 10 non-permanent and five permanent UNSC members for its proposal to list Azhar.

Bangladesh and Australia, non-permanent members, are co-sponsoring India’s bid.

Australia has been trying to deepen ties with India, ever since China started showing signs of becoming a global power in the east Asian region.

Moreover, India and Bangladesh have also historically shared close relations.

The US, UK, and France are also asking the committee to impose a travel ban, asset freeze, and arms embargo on Azhar.

The UNSC Sanctions Committee said that unless it hears arguments against Azhar’s listing by tomorrow, it is prepared to go forward with India’s proposal.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius

China Pakistan Economic CorridorIndo-ChinaJeMMasood AzharPulwamaSecurity CouncilUNSCVeto