Event ReportsPublished on May 31, 2019
How China was cornered on Masood Azhar

After 10 years of persistent diplomatic efforts, the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) 1267 Sanctions Committee designated Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. This development was hailed as a major diplomatic victory for India in its quest to combat terrorism. To discuss the impact of Masood Azhar’s designation on India and the world, ORF organised a discussion in Mumbai. The event saw the participation of Amb. Gautam Bambawale, former Ambassador of India to China and Bhutan; and former High Commissioner of India to Pakistan; Ms. Prabha Rao, former Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi; and Tilak Devasher, former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and an author of two acclaimed books on Pakistan. The discussion saw participation from academia, students, civil society, and researchers from prominent institutions.

Mr. Dhaval Desai, Vice President and Senior Fellow, ORF, started the proceedings by stating that that the designation of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by the UNSC was not just a diplomatic victory for India, but it also underscored the influence that India now wields at the global high table. However, citing the examples of Hafeez Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) chief and mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, he expressed concerns that such designations have had little impact in the past. “These measures have not restrained Pakistan in any way from brazenly nurturing terror hubs on its soil to be used as proxy war tools in India. LeT’s transformation into an NGO and now a political party and the exalted status that Hafeez Saeed continues to enjoy in Pakistan, are classic examples,” he said. He also observed whether this designation will have any impact on China, which has been romancing with terror organisations in the AF-Pak region for its own vested interests. In the context of terrorism, China has always maintained double standards, since on the one hand, it has quelled disturbances in its restive Xinjiang province to prevent any possible Uyghur uprising and on the other hand, China has adopted a soft approach towards terror organisations in its neighbourhood to ensure safety of its economic and geostrategic interests, particularly the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the flagship project of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

Amb. Gautam Bambawale said that the naming of Azhar as a global terrorist was a result of persistent efforts by India at the UN since 2008-09. Explaining about the 1267 UN Sanctions Committee, Amb. Gautam Bambawale said that the important part is to show a link between the terrorist or the terror organisation and Al-Qaeda or Daesh. “This is where India made a few mistakes in the early years of trying to designate Masood Azhar as a global terrorist,” he remarked. He observed that this exercise used to end up becoming another India-Pakistan tussle which would restrain other countries from intervening. “What changed substantially was that India got some its friends in the UNSC like France to move the resolution and other countries of the UNSC co-sponsored that resolution,” he pointed out. The Chinese changed their stance on the issue because they realised that they were not just displeasing India, but also other members of the UNSC. “When they realised that they may have to publicly defend Masood Azhar, they decided to let the designation pass,” he stated.

He added that India had similarly outflanked China at the UN on two previous occasions. The first one was in 2008 after the Indo-US nuclear agreement, when India wanted the Nuclear Supplier Group’s approval. India had to initially face some headwinds from China, but it had to finally give in owing to it being outnumbered. The second occasion was the grey listing of Pakistan by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), when India was once again able to outflank China by agreeing that if China removes its objection to Pakistan’s grey listing, then India would also remove its objection to the Chinese candidature for the Vice Chairman of FATF.

Speaking about fears of Chinese inroads into South Asia, Amb. Bambawale said that India has its own strengths and India should play to its strengths in order to achieve its objectives. Amb. Gautam Bambawale concluded his address by saying that India should now move on from the designation and focus on real and more worrying issues such as cross border terrorism.

Mr. Tilak Devasher explained that the fundamental nature of diplomacy is its transactional and incremental nature and there are only rare occasions when favourable outcomes are achieved almost immediately. He stressed on two key developments in his address: First was the determination of the US, France and the UK to designate Masood Azhar. Second was cornering China in to position that if it had not withdrawn its technical hold, it would have been forced to either veto the resolution of designation or would have to abstain from it. “That would have been a huge setback, as then China would have been seen defending a global terrorist. China could not have taken that hit ahead of its approaching Belt and Road Forum,” he said.

While Azhar’s listing was a favourable outcome, India will need to strengthen counter terrorism efforts and keep military and non-military pressure on Pakistan to give up its policy of promoting terrorism. “India will need to continue to hold Pakistani military and political leadership accountable like it was done in Balakot,” he said.

Ms. Prabha Rao began her address by stating that while India was claiming a diplomatic victory for Azhar’s designation, Pakistan was also claiming it to be their diplomatic victory. She recalled a statement made by Masood Azhar to his new recruits on May 2018 in Bahawalpur that it is good to have peace between India and Pakistan because it gives terrorists “more space”. Ms. Prabha Rao also mentioned about the involvement of Azhar’s immediate family members in promoting terrorism in Kashmir. For instance, she cited the fact that Masood Azhar’s brother, Ibrahim Azhar, was one of the hijackers of Indian Airlines flight IC 814. Usman Haider, Masood Azhar’s nephew, was killed by security forces in Tral. She felt that the text of the resolution could have had references to Kashmir and cross-border infiltration, and that is where India had lost out a bit. “Mention of Kashmir in the listing of Masood Azhar would have given a lot more heft to India’s policy against Pakistan as regards infiltration into India through LoC,” he said. She said that the designation of Masood Azhar will have no impact on the functioning of JEM because the Pakistani army acts as its patron. India needs to develop its own resources and we need to use a lot more technology and our technical skills should be strengthened along the Pakistani border. She also emphasised that there should be a debate on abrogating Article 370 because it will lead to greater integration with India and will give more space for forces to work. We must first deal with the issue of Article 35A, as it is easier to tackle and will certainly be a step in the right direction.

This report has been prepared by Naman Bhatt and Madhu Parki, Research Interns at ORF Mumbai

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