India and China will begin the new year on a sour note, as Beijing confirmed Delhi’s worst fears by blocking a UN Security Council-mandated committee from blacklisting Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, thereby throwing a lifeline of support to its client state, Pakistan.
As the rest of India dealt with the perils of demonetization, the Ministry of External Affairs responded curtly to the news that China was the only nation in the 15-member committee – all of whom are members of the UN Security Council – to block the addition of Masood Azhar to a list of UN-designated terrorists and terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
India had requested the addition in April. The JeM has already been proscribed by the UN.
“The decision by China is surprising as China herself has been affected by the scourge of terrorism and has declared opposition to all forms of terrorism. As a consequence of its decision, the UN Security Council has again been prevented from acting against the leader of a listed terrorist organization,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement said.
In effect, the Chinese have exercised a veto on the matter. The rest of the committee had strongly backed the blacklisting of Masood Azhar, one of three terrorists exchanged by India for passengers of the hijacked flight IC 814, exactly 17 years ago on new year’s eve in Kandahar.
Azhar had been flown to Kandahar and personally handed over to representatives of the Taliban by then Foreign Minister Jawant Singh, only to see him drive off in a jeep southwards into Pakistan, where he has since lived as a free man since.
China’s willingness to openly confront India on the matter of banning a terrorist caps two years of diplomatic thrust and parry between the two Asian powers. As the year melts into a new one, it is clear that China’s strategic embrace of Pakistan is one way of telling the world that its partnership with its client in South Asia is here to stay and that it has fully replaced the US in Rawalpindi’s affections.
Significantly, China is also testing India’s assertion as the region’s leading power and signaling, through its backing of Pakistan, that this assertion is hardly accepted by the rest of the region.
India’s relations with China have been fraught for many decades. While Congress-led governments have tended to obscure and downplay the tension, BJP-ruled governments have preferred the eyeball-to-eyeball approach, in keeping with their own tougher view of politics.
Midway into his reign, the Chinese challenge has emerged as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s toughest foreign policy relationship. It began with Chinese troops deliberately upsetting the stage and crossing the Line of Actual Control when Chinese President Xi Jinping was meeting Modi in Ahmedabad in August 2014. Earlier this year, Xi refused Modi’s request to accommodate India on the high table of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Last week, in response to India successfully testing the Agni-5 missile which has a 5000-km range and can hit most Chinese cities, a Chinese spokesperson pulled out from the discarded bin of history the 18-year-old UN Security Council Resolution 1172. In the wake of India’s nuclear tests in 1998 – undertaken by India to deal with the challenge from China – the resolution had been created by the UN to rap India on the knuckles. The Chinese were using the moment to once again embarrass Delhi.
Meanwhile, the leftover matter from the Manmohan Singh era of the stapled visa issue for Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh continues to simmer beneath the surface.
According to Srikant Kondapalli, professor of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, China’s decision to enfold Pakistan was taken in April 2015 with the signing of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The move confirmed Beijing’s promise to spend $46 billion in upgrading Pakistan’s infrastructure from the Karakoram highway in Gilgit-Baltistan to the Gwadar port in Balochistan. The CPEC reiterated the special relationship between the two countries that are described by both sides, as “higher than the mountains and deeper than the seas,” Kondapalli said.
Certainly, as the Americans began to publicly blame Pakistan for not allowing Afghanistan to stabilize, China once again came to Rawalpindi’s aid. The Americans had begun to take offence about the $18 billion given to Pakistan to fight the war against terror on the Af-Pak battlefield over the last 15 years. China responded with the $46 billion CPEC project that has the potential to lift Pakistan’s 200 million citizens out of its grinding poverty.
What that says for Pakistan, in replacing one country by another as its chief sponsor, is a wholly another matter.
Blocking Masood Azhar from being named and shamed by the UN Security Council is only another Chinese tactic to protect the Pakistanis from being censored by the world body – read, America.
The far-seeing Chinese must have calculated the odds. If it had to dislodge the reigning power, it had to make friends with those with similar, albeit weakened, ambitions – read, Russia – and come out in support of its favourite client state, even if it was in defence of a terrorist.
Beijing has consistently explained its position in the 1267 UN Committee which examined the Masood Azhar matter by saying that this is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has said that India hasn’t provided it any real proof against Masood Azhar’s alleged anti-India terrorist activities.
But something has shifted over the inexorable turn of this new year. Few Indians remember the 1962 debacle and are willing to turn the page by partnering with a prosperous China in the hope of cashing in on some of that prosperity.
Even fewer would like the Indian government to use the so-called “Dalai Lama card,” seeing him as a spiritual leader rather than a political one. But in the last few months, as relations between Delhi and Beijing have deteriorated, Delhi’s attempt to publicise the movements of the Tibetan Buddhist leader are being welcomed by people in India. The costs of ignoring him in deference to Chinese sensitivities, which mistake the Indian moves as weakness, are being reconsidered.
Modi’s biggest foreign policy challenge during the remainder of his reign will certainly constitute the China-Pakistan axis, with an uncertain Russia thrown in for occasional measure. Pakistan’s forays across the Line of Control through the overuse of sponsored militancy is a hackneyed tactic, with which India has now had considerable experience, both in front and behind the purdah.
Dealing with the “bitter northern neighbor,” as Vajpayee’s national security advisor Brajesh Mishra once described Beijing, will be India’s biggest bugbear.
2017 is the Chinese Year of the Rooster and the cock, by all indications, is going to crow early and repeatedly.
Source: Defence Update