Beijing has, in a rare acknowledgment recently, described the 2008 attacks carried out by Pakistan-based LeT outfit in Mumbai as one of ‘the most notorious terrorist attacks’.
This comes in a white paper that China has brought out on the occasion of the massive crackdown against militants in the restive Xianjiang province. China has said the global spread of terrorism and extremism over the years had inflicted agony on humanity. The white paper went on to describe the Mumbai attacks as one of ‘the most notorious terrorist attacks’, adding that the ‘global spread of terrorism and extremism over the years has inflicted agony on humanity’.
The paper called ‘The Fight against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang’, was released, interestingly, to coincide with the arrival of the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in Beijing.
Throughout the world, the paper said, terrorism and extremism gravely threaten peace and development, and endanger the life and property of individuals.The paper also came days after China had blocked, for the fourth time, an effort in the United Nations Security Council to designate Pakistan-based chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group, Masood Azhar, as a ‘global terrorist’ by putting a technical hold on the proposal, a move that India has termed as disappointing.
The Jaish had openly claimed responsibility for the February 14 Pulwama attack in Jammu and Kashmir that killed 40 CRPF personnel and heightened tensions between India and Pakistan.
‘Striking aggressively at terrorism and furthering the de-radicalisation effort is the common responsibility of the international community and essential to the protection of human rights,’ said the white paper. It went on to affirm that China opposed all forms of terrorism and extremism, and opposed double standards on fighting terrorism, adding that Beijing opposed linking terrorism and extremism with specific countries, ethnic groups or religions. China advocated comprehensive measures to address both the symptoms and the root causes, with the twin purpose of striking at terrorist activities and eliminating poverty, so that there will be no room for terrorism to breed.
Ten years ago, in one of the most daring and horrific attacks in India’s history, 166 people, including Americans, were killed and over 300 injured as 10 heavily-armed terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) created mayhem simultaneously in four or five landmarks of Mumbai on November 26, 2008. That attack also left nine attackers dead in police firing, while lone survivor Ajmal Kasab was captured and subsequently handed the death sentence and hanged.
The perpetrators of that attack, including its mastermind and banned Jamat-ud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed, continues to roam freely in Pakistan even though the US has offered a 10 million dollar reward for information that would bring him to justice.
It is the same Azhar-led Jaish that had claimed responsibility for the attack on the CRPF convoy on February 14, and is one of the terror groups Beijing considers as important cogs for security and stability in its restive Xinjiang province. Masood Azhar is also Beijing’s go-to man to ensure security of its geo-strategic investments under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), its flagship project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Af-Pak region, one of the most crowded terrorist landscapes.
China’s considerate approach towards that person has not changed after the Pulwama attack, and even though the attacker was a local Kashmiri youth, his ideological indoctrination was done by the JeM chief and his cadres. Its official statement lacked any direct reference to either Azhar or his terror group and Genh Shaung, spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, simply mentioned that China has ‘noted the reports of suicide terrorist attack’ and expressed ‘deep condolences and sympathy to the injured and bereaved families’. For good measure he reiterated China’s official stand on Azhar being named as global terrorist by the UN Security Council, but ‘as for the issue of listing, I could tell you that the 1267 Committee… has a clear stipulation on the listing and procedures of the terrorist organisations.’
Such an ambivalent attitude Beijing displayed has been further exposed when the Global Times published a news brief under the headline ‘Indian Army officer killed in blast in Indian-controlled Kashmir’ on February 19, 2019. This brief merely made a passing reference to the Pulwama attack: ‘on Thursday when as many as 40 security personnel were belonging to the paramilitary force … were killed, and many others injured in a massive blast in the Pulwama district.’
Such infatuation for the Chinese towards terrorists of the Af-Pak region, it would seem, is part of the historical legacy based on its own economic and geo-strategic interests. With its Xinjiang province dominated by the Uyghur Muslims that has affinity with Pakistan culturally and any efforts to draw them into the mainstream and modernisation that was initiated during the 1978 phase needs relative peace along the border.
With the Maulvis reaching out to the Uyghur areas soon after the Afghan situation turned worse with the Soviet invasion in 1980 there were a spate of agitations in the years 1980, 1981, 1985 and 1987 that changed only when the Soviet troops withdrew after the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. It was at this time that separatist movements erupted in Urumchi, Kashgar, Khotan, Kucha, Aksu and Artush areas of the Uyghur region. The breaking point was the Baren incident, where Uyghurs started mass protests on April 6, 1990 to wage a jihad against the Chinese and established the East Turkestan state. China squarely blamed foreign interference for the unrest and alleged that the rioters were trained in the Af-Pak region and fears that with post-USSR disintegration foreign powers will use the Taliban and Pakistan-based terrorists against China grew.
This two-faced policy of Beijing to resort to near ethnic cleansing internally and to courting the Taliban outside their territory with the ambivalence on Azhar with over one million Uyghurs reportedly being imprisoned in re-education camps (concentration camps) across Xinjiang was again on display.
This ‘self-driven diplomacy’ of China was evident even as far back as 2000 when the Chinese envoy in Pakistan met the Taliban leader Mulla Omar, the first time a senior diplomat from a non-Muslim country was meeting with this Taliban chief, where he gave an undertaking that the Taliban would not allow the Uyghurs to launch any attacks on China in Xinjiang. As a result even after the US mounted a strike against the Taliban post-2001, China continued to maintain its ties with the Taliban, providing arms and ammunition with a ‘self-driven diplomacy that gave China good fall-outs.’ There had not been trouble in the Uyghur region since then.
Xinjiang is ‘no barren land where not a blade of grass grows’, but the starting point of Beijing’s ambitious and much-hyped BRI projects, especially the controversial CPEC, the motive behind the latter clearly to serving China’s own geo-strategic and economic interests than helping Pakistan’s ailing economy. These infrastructure projects connect Kashgar in Xinjiang to Balochistan’s Gwadar port, giving China ready access to West Asia and Africa for its energy imports and also reducing greatly its dependency on the traditional route through the narrow Strait of Malacca, which can choke Beijing economically. By courting Azhar China is also ensuring that the Gwadar port construction does not have any impediments and that the five lakh Chinese nationals who are engaged in that work are not be affected.
China is also not happy with India’s warm relationship with the Afghan government. Azhar’s influence is therefore covertly used by both Pakistan and China to strengthen the Taliban, who are averse to Indian interests in Afghanistan as well as in Kashmir. Displaying blatantly its double standards on terrorism, Beijing also held direct talks with Baloch terrorists, who are considered ‘bad terrorists’ and are not under the influence of the Jaish, in February 2018.
India’s signing of the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US after 2001 is also another factor that might have provoked China to appease Azhar as well as court the Taliban. The Global Times noted, in 2016, that ‘if India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan and even Russia. It may not make India safer, but will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia.’
The recent offer by China to be the mediator between India and Pakistan over the border tensions has to be seen in this context of their own double standards. Is it a belated recognition of the fact of the terrorist attacks or the dawning of the fact that India can also be a victim to such actions?
One of the great admirers of the Sun Tzu’s classic, the Art of War, was Napoleon and according to legend the key to his military exploits across Europe was this little book. All his battles depended on mobility, a factor that Tzu stresses. It was only when he failed to follow Tzu’s dicta that he met with his Waterloo. He was also the one who had cautioned, ‘Let China sleep, if she wakes up the world will come to grief.’ But that admiration was not reciprocated, because when Chairman Mao was asked about Napoleon, he said rather laconically, ‘It is too early to pass a judgment.’ The only person Mao admired among all Indian leaders was Mahatma Gandhi who more or less employed the same tactics Tzu had prescribed, of withdrawing when the enemy advances, striking when he retreats. With China that has 1000-year old civil service it would seem it is necessary to play such a waiting game.