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Designating JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist was long overdue. (AFP)
Designating JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist was long overdue. (AFP)

Opinion | China’s flip flop on Azhar and the war on terror

Terrorism does not respect topography and global powers must be united in their stand

The United Nations (UN) on Wednesday finally designated the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) chief, Masood Azhar, as a global terrorist but not till China, under enormous global diplomatic pressure, finally blinked and lifted its block on the move. It may well be a turning point in the global war on terror—which recently spread to Sri Lanka on Easter—and a warning to countries like Pakistan who use it as a strategic tool.

The group which operates from within Pakistan was responsible for the attacks on the Indian Parliament in 2001, on the Pathankot Air Force Station in 2016, and most recently the Pulwama suicide attack on a convoy of Indian defence personnel, among other terrorist strikes. India’s first attempt to get Azhar listed as a terrorist came in 2009, seven years after the JeM was designated as a terrorist outfit by the UN following the attack on the Indian Parliament. Given this dubious track record it was rather inexplicable to see the Chinese block a UN resolution designating Azhar a terrorist since 2016.

The realpolitik is obvious: Pakistan is an all-weather ally of the Chinese. Strategically it helps China if Pakistan keeps India preoccupied on the Western border. Further, though the wisdom of such thinking is questionable, the various terror outfits controlled by the Pakistan Army can also be deployed as mercenaries to protect the expensive investments China is undertaking as part of the Belt and Road Initiative—a key part of the route goes through the bad lands of Pakistan and Afghanistan, largely in control of terrorist outfits and war lords.

But after the Pulwama attack, the mood among the Western powers underwent a dramatic makeover. A resolution was moved by France to designate Azhar a terrorist and was backed by the UK and the US. China found itself risking global isolation, especially at a time when it has been losing friends—increasingly wary about underlying threats of Chinese hegemony. The Chinese stance is particularly disturbing because of the manner in which it has been dealing with Uyghur Muslims resident in Xinjiang province in north-west China; scores of them have been packed off to so-called re-education camps to deny them the practice of their faith: Islam. So here you have a country which protects Islamic terrorists, most of whom espouse the cause of their version of Islam, and at the same time curbs the rights of Muslims from practising their faith.

Regardless, it should be apparent to global powers, especially to China which is already part of the global high table, that terrorism does not respect topography and they need to be united in their stand. The distinction between good and bad terrorists is absolutely untenable. Terrorists have to be treated alike.

Eighteen years ago, the audacious strikes on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 exposed the vulnerability of the US to this global scourge. In fact, the US had been cautioned by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee exactly a year earlier. Addressing the UN General Assembly in 2000, Vajpayee had warned the world against the perils of ignoring cross-border terrorism of the kind sponsored by Pakistan against India. The tragic incidents in New York underlined this stark reality; just like the terrorist attacks in 2015 in Paris that led to the killing of 129 people—and these were preceded by attacks on London and Madrid.

In the final analysis, it is clear that designating Azhar as a terrorist was long overdue. That it has been achieved overcoming Chinese resistance is further cause for celebration. Now it is time for all countries to take the right cue. Or is that wishful thinking.

Anil Padmanabhan is managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.Read Anil Padmanabhan’s earlier columns at livemint.com/capitalcalculus.

Comments are welcome at anil.p@livemint.com

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