UN ban on Azhar a big win for India

Five years of persistent efforts by India’s incumbent government paid off on May Day when the UN blacklisted Masood Azhar, chief of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), who masterminded several terrorist strikes on India including the 2001 attack on its Parliament.

While the credit for the massive diplomatic win goes to Indian bureaucrats for building a water-tight case against Azhar, the government too worked hard in building international pressure on China to lift its hold on a proposal to blacklist him under the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee.

In the past, China had blocked the UN move to ban Azhar four times citing technicalities.

But the world knew that more than the ‘technicalities’, China did not want to upset its ‘all-weather ally’ Pakistan. Beijing was more concerned about its projects in that country such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor than a few lives lost in India due to cross-border terrorism.

But the nationwide outrage sparked by the massacre of some 40 Indian police officers in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir by Azhar’s men followed by India’s pinpoint airstrikes on JeM’s training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot left China shaken.

What prompted China to finally agree on blacklisting Azhar may be the concern for the safety of its own workers engaged in projects in Pakistan if the situation goes out of control.

After the Pulwama carnage and Balakot airstrikes, India’s political leadership was able to convince the permanent members of the UN Security Council France, the US, UK and Russia that Pakistan-backed terrorist attacks on India by groups like JeM and China’s reluctance to act against its leader Azhar could destabilise the entire South Asia.

Azhar had plotted the deadly attacks on Indian air base in Pathankot and Army brigade headquarters in Uri in 2016. He is also linked to other acts of violence.

Thus, in a way, Beijing was forced to accept the ban on Azhar as it did not want to face international isolation by shielding the most wanted terrorist. Moreover, China knew the UN will find ways to ignore its veto and go ahead with its plan to punish Azhar.

However, China’s reversal of its stand on Azhar is not going to affect its good relationship with Pakistan. In fact, both countries will separately make moves to frustrate India in the days ahead.

For India, the UN’s blacklisting of Azhar is an opportunity to tighten the screws on Pakistan by telling Islamabad to act tough against two other anti-India terrorists blacklisted earlier — Hafiz Sayeed (2008) and Dawood Ibrahim (2010).

Currently, Sayeed and Ibrahim are free citizens enjoying all privileges. Islamabad should have jailed them and frozen their assets.

If Pakistan treats Azhar similarly, the UN blacklisting will become just a symbolic victory for India and other nations that supported the move. The UN move to designate Azhar, Sayeed and Ibrahim as global terrorists makes no sense if there are no procedures to punish Pakistan for not acting against them.

China’s decision to lift the hold on Azhar sparked a political debate in India as it came in the middle of general elections. Opposition parties questioned the timing of Beijing move, saying it will only help BJP during the campaigns for the forthcoming phases of elections.

The parties played down the diplomatic and political significance of the Azhar ban since most of them had mocked the incumbent government when China blocked the UN move to impose sanctions on him in 2016, 2017 and early this year.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s frequent interactions with the leaders of France, the US, UK and Russia helped in expediting the blacklisting process.

They also pointed out the good chemistry between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping after the one-on-one conversation during their walk through a promenade through a promenade along the East Lake in Wuhan last year.

The BJP’s view on the marathon walk by Modi and Xi by the lake makes sense. When two wise leaders meet informally and share some light moments, wonders can happen. The lakeside meeting of Xi and Modi proved that.