It had taken a decade of relentless efforts for the United Nations Security Council’s Sanctions Committee to declare the fugitive in Pakistan, Maulana Masood Azhar a global terrorist and a threat to international security and to humanity at large, though the genesis of the problem began two decades earlier when he was handed over to Pakistan at the end of the last century.
Of the august company China had been holding out on the move to blacklist Azhar at least four times in the course of these years, for some mysterious reasons. The latest veto was when a convoy of Indian security personnel were ambushed at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir that resulted in the death of 44 personnel and the UN body made an effort again. Pulwama led to the retaliatory attack by India on the Balakot air base deep inside Pakistan.
And finally, when China relented after this brazen attack it seems redemption for those who had been working relentlessly to have Azhar brought to book. It was also a partial redemption for the earlier NDA government whose foreign minister Jaswant Singh had escorted him to Kandahar to help free the 180 passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight from Khathmandu to Delhi. Along with Azhar were handed over Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar.
At last, the world seems to have coalesced to acknowledge that Azhar is indeed a global terrorist, and a threat to international security and humanity. China lifted its hold at last on May 1 on the UN body’s proposal to blacklist him after blocking the move at least four times in the past decade. The effort to bring Azhar to book started right in earnest in 2009 when the UPA government, was the lone proposer of the move to put him on the infamous list. By 2016, the US, Britain and France had co-sponsored the move, but China remained obdurate whenever it came for listing under the UNSC 1267 Sanctions Committee.
As late as March, China once again put a technical hold on designating the Jaish chief a global terrorist despite the outfit openly claiming responsibility for the Pulwama attack of February 14. It needed a decade of persuasion and even diplomatic efforts to break through the Chinese resistance to declaring Azhar a terrorist. But even then the most pessimistic of observers were a bit surprised by the ease with China relented. Apart from China’s deep suspicions and inbuilt hostility to anything India suggests, another reason could be its long-term interests in Pakistan including the road and bridge initiative and the port at Gadwar that would be its opening to the Indian Ocean region. China has also probably become a bit tired of Pakistan’s prevarications and its moving closer to the US.
With the international opinion also getting wary of the relentless terrorist attacks, the latest being the one in Sri Lanka, China has also felt that it would get isolated in the long run. And that, taking into account its long term global ambitions and trade relations, was too small a price. From the time the case came up in 2009 to now, much had happened to change dramatically the world situation. The nature of Islamic terror has also assumed more potentially dangerous proportions and the West had suddenly come to realise its destructive potential. Probably the Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s visit to Beijing and the briefing he gave the Chinese decision makers might also have helped it get a better idea of the issue. He had gone to China after visits to the US capital and Berlin where he had discussed the issue with the leaders there. By then there was already the feeling that China would relent.
Happening as it does in the thick of a bitterly fought election in India it is just natural that motives could be attributed to this international situation. The articulate Shashi Tharoor, no stranger to international diplomacy and its nuances, made a reference to the subtle shifts in the Government’s stand from the time of the Pathankot attack to Pulwama, implying that there is something more than a trigger happy expedition Azhar had mounted. The mention of Pulwama in the election campaigns of the ruling party also did not help matters. But that is by the way. Of late, though there had been indications that China is likely to relent and will lift its hold on the Azhar proposal, though this is not the way the descendents of the imperial Hans used to behave. There time moves slowly and a decade is just a blip. Beijing had indicted this and said that the vexed issue of designating Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN will be ‘properly resolved’.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mr. Geng Shuang, had said that ‘we support the listing issue being settled within the 1267 committee through dialogue and consultation and I believe this is the consensus of most members. Second, the relevant consultations are going on within the committee and have achieved some progress. Third, I believe, with the joint efforts of all parties, this issue can be properly resolved.’ Beijing had put the hold on the proposal of March 13, scuttling yet another attempt to blacklist the Jaish chief, the proposal was the fourth bid at the UN.
In 2009, India first moved a proposal by itself and in 2016 again moved the proposal with the P3—the United States, the United Kingdom and France— in the UN's 1267 Sanctions Committee to ban Azhar, who was also the mastermind of the attack on the air base in Pathankot in January 2016. In 2017, the P3 nations moved a similar proposal again. However, on all occasions China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the august council blocked India's proposal. Keeping up the international pressure, the US, supported by France and the UK, moved a draft resolution directly in the UN Security Council to blacklist the Pakistan-based terror organization's head.
Beijing lifting its hold is a massive diplomatic win for India, which had relentlessly pursued the matter with its international allies. There had been sustained international pressure on China, particularly from the US, to remove its objection to Azhar's listing. Hectic discussions between New Delhi, Washington, New York and Beijing had ensued after the March 13 hold by Beijing as it was clear that India will not relent on the matter Diplomats at the UN's principal organ had warned that responsible member-states of the Security Council ‘may be forced to pursue other actions’ if China continued to block moves to designate Azhar as a global terrorist.