China factor: After Masood Azhar, what?

China factor: After Masood Azhar, what?

Hari Jaisingh

China’s Helmsman used to say: “Signal Right, Turn Left”. This maxim was Mao’s way of diplomacy to mislead his opponents. China’s strongman no longer rules the hearts and minds of the leaders at the helm in Beijing. But, they religiously follow the popular saying of Beijing’s revolutionary while conducting their global diplomacy. This is true of even President Xi Jinping who is trying to give twists and turns to his country’s foreign affairs.

China’s turnaround on Jaish-e-Mohammed Chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist after 10 years of blocking the move in the UN Security Council means a lot not only in the South Asia region but also the world over. Who should take credit for making President Xi see the voices of reasons on Azhar? Could this be attributed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s magic trick on President Xi Jinping at Wuhan a year? This is what the BJP party and Narendra Modi think it to be. I do not endorse this line of thinking.

The Chinese President has a mind of his own. He strictly goes by his country’s interests and the new image he wishes to project on the world stage as a global player. Indian leaders are yet to learn from the mistakes and blunders committed by the country from Mao-Chou days when New Delhi was betrayed in the name of the Panchsheel creed.

I have no reservations about Indian diplomacy’s pro-active role on listing Azhar as a global terrorist. China blocked Azhar’s listing in 2009, 2016 and 2017 on technical grounds. It even once rejected the proposal on Azhar moved by the US, UK and France at the UNSC. But finally, it gave in to global voices. And it is truly a “watershed” moment in the long fight against terrorism, as France put it.

It is too simplistic to suggest that China changed its mind after more evidence was given to Beijing on Masood. China had all the information on JeM Chief from the beginning. However, it is guided by its own interests whether to turn Right or Left. It is no secret that China and Pakistan openly proclaim that they are “all-weather friends” and “iron brothers”.

Beijing has huge geostrategic and economic stakes in Islamabad. It has heavily invested in the China-Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC), part of President XI’s Belt and Road initiative. It is also worried about terrorist threats to its workers and assets in Pakistan. So, it strongly feels the need to keep its firm hold on Islamabad’s strategic establishment in order to keep the terrorists on leash.

Even Pakistan on its part fully realizes the need for Azhar’s listing keeping in view the forthcoming meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which will assess its actions against terrorism and terrorist funding. It also ought to be remembered that China takes over the FATF presidency from the US on July 1. Thus, for China as well as Pakistan, the Azhar issue is mainly a matter of global image-building especially for Islamabad which is looking for better international credit terms for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cash-starved establishment.

As Shubhajit Roy of Indian Express put it, “While Jaish remains a strategic asset for Pakistan’s ISI proxy war games in Kashmir and beyond. All the same, defending Azhar was probably proving too costly for Pakistan, which under Imran and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, is trying very hard to improve its badly tarnished global image”. (IE May 3).

Shubhajit Roy further writes, “A key concern of China was to minimize its perceived reputation costs before the international community. For a country aspiring for global leadership, it is bad optics to be seen as protecting, in defiance of a global consensus, a single individual who is responsible for so many terrorist actions. Beijing, which is frequently assailed for violating global rules, would now wish to project an image of responsibility and leadership”. I agree, though multilateral and India’s pressure tactics for years must have made a difference in clinching the Azhar issue.

The South Block needs to review its China and Pakistan strategies and policies. Old strategies and policies will not give its diplomatic efforts the required strength in the midst of today’s fast changing global settings. More often than not, New Delhi has chosen to be mute on matters of our interests in the hope that time will resolve the matter. Time does not resolve complicated issues. Only political will does. And as in other walks of life, there is not much political will among Indian leaders to tackle Sino-Pak challenges before this country.

Of course, facts are sacred. They cannot be used selectively. They have to be looked at closely, assessed and appreciated in totality. Otherwise, the whole purpose of justice and fair play will be defeated. What is regrettable is the inability of Indian diplomats and policy-makers to use hard facts to expose Sino-Pak axis and its game plans. Diplomacy, after all, is not a matter of smile and handshakes. Nor can it revolve around cocktail and goody goody Wuhan –type conversation.

During my overseas trips, I have seen most Indian officials are not well-targeted, nor are they well-focused on our basic national interests. Only PM Modi is Mr Know-all. And he hardly shares his inner thoughts even with his ministerial colleagues vis-à-vis Pakistan or China and their game plans.

Thus, keeping in view global complexities, New Delhi has to create the right setting to pursue pro-active foreign policies. Perhaps, our External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj too does not know the mind of PM Modi. This cannot be accepted.

These flaws, in fact, call for a new orientation and a thorough overhaul of the on-going centralized system in the conduct of foreign policies and postures. In fact, everything needs to be viewed with an open mind. As for Islamabad, it has to discard proxy war against New Delhi as an instrument of Pak Generals’ sponsored terrorism and foreign policy.

In view of Pakistan’s harsh facts and China’s known power games against India, we have to carry on with the normalization process while keeping the powder dry. This is not a tall order.

We also cannot close our eyes to the fact how Beijing is treating its Muslims in Ulghur province. “The Chinese Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps”, says Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the US Defence Department. Detained Muslims could be “closer to 3 million citizens” out of about 10 million. I wonder why the Muslim world, Pakistan included, is silent on such happenings which go against human rights!

(The ideas and views expressed in the article are those of the author.)