New Delhi: Chinese ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui on Sunday said the issue of the UN listing Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar – blocked by China so far – would be resolved soon, raising speculation that India and China could be working on a compromise formula on the matter.
Such a move would help bolster ties between the two neighbours that are returning to normal after a 73 day tense military standoff in 2017. China preventing the listing of Azhar as a terrorist seemingly at the instance of Pakistan has been a key irritant in India-China ties
“This matter (the UN listing Masood Azhar as a terrorist) will be resolved. This is only a technical hold, which means there is time for continued consultations. It will be resolved, believe me," Zhaohui told ANI agency on Sunday.
The proposal to list Masood Azhar as a terrorist under UN norms was brought in the wake of 14 February suicide bombing targeting an Indian paramilitary security convoy in Pulwama in Kashmir. The suicide bomber in a video had claimed allegiance to Azhar’s group – the JeM -- based in Pakistan. The proposal was put on technical hold by China on Wednesday though it was co-sponsored by France, the US and the UK.
Beijing’s move to hold the proposal, supported by 14 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council, was seen as taking place at the instance of Pakistan where Azhar currently is. China and Pakistan are “all weather" friends, with Beijing supplying prohibited nuclear technology and with the partnership between the two making India uncomfortable.
In its initial response on Wednesday, New Delhi expressed its disappointment at the Chinese move to put a “hold" on the proposal. “We will continue to pursue all available avenues to ensure that terrorist leaders who are involved in heinous attacks on our citizens are brought to justice," a statement from the Indian foreign ministry said. India did not name China by name in its statement referring merely to it as “one country" as holding back the initiative.
India’s seemingly tepid response to the Chinese move – the fourth time since 2016 — drew flak from analysts who demanded a strong reaction given that a terrorist tag on Azhar would curtail his travel, frozen his assets and prevented him from raising funds.
“India's pathetic response doesn't even name China for blocking UN sanctions against the chief of a Pakistan-based terrorist group behind the recent soldiers' massacre. "Disappointed," not even outraged. Since Wuhan summit, India’s China policy has become more feckless than ever," said analyst Brahma Chellany with the New Delhi based Centre for Policy Studies think tank in a Twitter post on Thursday.
The Wuhan summit in April had set the stage for India and China to stabilise ties rocked by a 73 day long military standoff in Doklam in Bhutan in 2017. The two sides had agreed to set in place procedures and practices that would prevent such faceoffs from taking place as well as build up confidence between their two militaries.
The Chinese hold on the UN proposal was seen as contrary to the Wuhan spirit but on Saturday, a person familiar with the developments said India was willing to show patience with China adding that New Delhi was optimistic that it could work with Beijing on the matter.
Though New Delhi would not cut any deal with China or any of the members of the UN’s 1267 sanctions committee, the person said that India understood that there are issues China has to resolve with Pakistan on this matter and India is cautiously confident that eventually Masood Azhar will get listed, the person said. The person sought to explain India’s optimism by pointing out that Beijing had put a “hold" and not blocked the proposal.
The comments from India taken together with the Chinese ambassador’s remarks seem to point at a possible compromise formula in the works. This coincided with a news report in the Hindustan Times on Saturday that said discussions were under way to reach a compromise that would enable China to allow the UN Security Council to list and sanction Azhar in exchange for some changes in the language of the designation as proposed.
Former Indian ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, however, sounded a note of caution.
“It appears that there are some discussions taking place between India and China on the listing of Masood Azhar. But we will have to wait and see what the results of those discussions are," he said.