NEW DELHI: All eyes are on China as India works the diplomatic channels at the United Nations (UN) to get Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar designated by the Security Council as a terrorist.
The play has gone to the wire with the deadline for raising objections to the proposal set to end at 12.30am (India time) on Thursday. The government is watching whether China would let the process conclude or place a “technical hold" on it—as it has done several times in the past.
This comes in the backdrop of a proposal by France, the UK and the US to collar Azhar whose group JeM has claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack that killed 40 Indian security personnel. Listing of Azhar as a terrorist will mean placing restrictions on his travel and freezing his assets.
Several people familiar with the development said that there were no objections yet recorded with the ‘1267 sanctions committee’ that aims to impose strictures against individuals and entities associated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. “Anyone can send objection in writing, anytime till the time specified," said an Indian government official.
China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, has blocked, at the behest of Pakistan, several attempts by India, France, the UK, and the US to sanction Azhar under UN Resolution 1267 for links to Al-Qaeda.
Press Trust of India on Wednesday quoted Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang as hinting China may once again block the move, stating only “the solution that is acceptable to all sides" is conducive for resolving the issue.
China has historically used Pakistan to try to thwart India’s rise as a challenger to China’s dominance in Asia. China considers Pakistan an all-weather ally, describing their friendship as “higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the deepest sea in the world, and sweeter than honey".
If, however, Beijing doesn’t object, it would show Chinese pragmatism had won the day, a second person familiar with the issue said noting that major countries in the 15-member Security Council had backed India and that three of the permanent members had moved the proposal.
If it does object, India would have to take a relook at its China policy, the person added.
India and China have been in the process of slowly mending ties after a 73-day military standoff in 2017. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met four times last year including in April 2018 in Wuhan in a bid to stabilize ties rocked by the standoff. There were high level visits to India including by the Chinese defence and foreign ministers as part of the efforts to mend ties.
A third person familiar with the development said that a UN ban on Azhar would send out a “strong political signal" that Pakistan was harbouring a UN-proscribed terrorist. “It is a strong statement that stands on its own when one looks at the sheer numbers of UN-proscribed terrorists and terrorist groups that are present and active in Pakistan," said this person.
The Chinese position has also been attributed to Pakistan’s support for China within groupings like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and others like the Non-Aligned Movement where China has no representation. Also, India’s growing proximity to the US, sheltering Tibetan leader Dalai Lama, and Pakistan’s role in China’s One Belt One Road strategy are said to be among factors behind China protecting Pakistan’s interests. What could tilt the balance this time is the international support for India post the Pulwama attack and its strike on Balakot.