China blocks India's bid to designate JeM leader a terrorist

Delhi expresses disappointment; analysts say Beijing's move will impact bilateral ties

Masood Azhar, who is in Pakistan, is wanted in India for terror strikes including the suicide bombing in Kashmir.
Masood Azhar, who is in Pakistan, is wanted in India for terror strikes including the suicide bombing in Kashmir.

India's attempt to get the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to designate Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) leader Masood Azhar as a terrorist has been blocked by China again.

Azhar, who is in Pakistan, is wanted in India for a series of terror strikes in the country including last month's suicide bombing in Pulwama in Kashmir which killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops.

That incident led to a sharp spike in tensions on the sub-continent and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday asked Pakistan to deal with terror before seeking talks.

In retaliation for the Pulwama terror attack, for which JeM claimed responsibility, India launched air strikes across the Line of Control against Pakistan, which retaliated in similar fashion. Tensions eased only after Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the release of an Indian pilot whose plane was shot down in a dogfight.

"Some people say Imran Khan is a statesman; if he is so generous then he should hand over JeM chief Masood Azhar to India. Let's see how generous he is," said Ms Swaraj at an event in New Delhi.

"We are ready to engage with Pakistan in an atmosphere free from terror... talks and terror cannot go together," she said. "You not only keep JeM on your soil, but (also) fund them and when the victim country retaliates, you attack it on the terror outfit's behalf."

Acknowledging that Azhar is in Pakistan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said Islamabad would act against him only if India presented credible evidence. India says it has presented evidence on the Pulwama attacks to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, China was the only country in the UNSC to block the proposal to designate Azhar as a terrorist under a resolution that imposed sanctions on supporters of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and the Taleban.

"We are disappointed by this outcome. This has prevented action by the international community to designate the leader of JeM, a proscribed and active terrorist organisation, which has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on Feb 14, 2019," said India's Ministry of External Affairs.

Without naming China, the ministry said: "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."

India and China have growing economic ties but also a trust deficit caused by a festering border dispute and China's close ties with Pakistan.

Lately, both countries have been trying to increase trust but those efforts will no doubt be impacted by the Chinese decision on Azhar, said analysts.

"There will be negative impact on India-China relations. Pulwama caused nationwide anger. In that background, the Chinese response appears very negative. It will have a negative impact on soft power and on China's image in India. China was isolated as it was the only UNSC member to oppose it," said Dr Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The Confederation of All India Traders, a group of hundreds of small traders, has said that it would burn Chinese goods on Tuesday next week and has demanded that the government hike Customs duty on Chinese goods to 500 per cent.

India is in the throes of an election campaign and, in the politically charged atmosphere, China's decision has become an issue with the opposition Congress president Rahul Gandhi labelling it as a diplomatic failure on the part of the government. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, for its part, accused Mr Gandhi of being in a "celebratory mood" over the failure to designate Azhar as a terrorist.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2019, with the headline China blocks India's bid to designate JeM leader a terrorist. Subscribe