It’s an open secret among diplomatic circles. Why China is supporting Pak terrorist JeM Chief Masood Azhar? There is a clue. FATF. By placing Azhar’s listing on ‘technical hold’, China has given Pakistan time to work its processes to clear its name to evade from the clutches of FATF….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
There are several reasons why China has placed a fourth technical hold on the listing of JeM chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist entity under the Al-Qaeda 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN. First, there is the official line that China wants to give the Sanctions Committee more time to study the evidence with regard to Masood Azhar. Second, China is of the view that the evidence provided so far by the international community is insufficient to place a ban on Masood Azhar. Both explanations are not sufficiently weighty to be taken as reasonable.
China’s official stand on Masood Azhar being named as global terrorist by the UN Security Council was provided by the official spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry when he said: “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”. While all this is fine, digging a little deeper reveals another layer of reasons for China’s tacit support to Pakistan on Masood Azhar. China indirectly helps Pakistan by placing a technical hold on Azhar.
Recall that Pakistan is already facing Financial Action Task Force (FATF) strictures with regard to individuals & entities like Hafiz Saeed and Jamaat-ud-Dawa and is taking action (albeit slowly) against such entities already proscribed under Pakistani law and placed in the 1267 Sanctions Consolidated list. By placing Azhar’s listing on ‘technical hold’, China has given Pakistan time to work its processes, so that it can find a way to keep things in check or at least divert such forces onto other battlefields. The change of the name JeM to Al-Madina Trust indicates how easy it is for Pakistan-based jihadi organisations to make use of state sponsorship and bypass the law.
The other objective for China in assisting Masood Azhar is to keep India off balance. While the support of US, UK and France has been important for India in its push to get Azhar listed in the 1267 Committee List, it needs to be kept in mind that the war on terror has a much larger ambit and for China it suits them as long as India focuses on one individual. This then in a real sense, provides China with the ability to use its veto power over India for no particular reason, except to spite India. In a larger sense, this also has to do with showing solidarity with Pakistan at a time when the international community is breathing down Pakistan’s neck.
There have been reports that China wants to protect its strategic investments in Pakistan, with particular reference to the CPEC. If China is willing to do a deal with Baloch Liberation fighters in Balochistan to keep the CPEC safe, one can safely assume that they would do with all other terrorist and extremist elements including Masood Azhar if so required. One newspaper report claims that China backs Masood Azhar because the JeM has very often helped to prevent attacks at the CPEC. China wants to ensure the safety of thousands of its workers and hence such protection from the likes of Azhar is necessary. While there is no specific reason why Azhar should help China on the CPEC, it is just that he serves the purpose of keeping India off balance.
A perusal of China’s official statement on the Pulwama attack shows that it lacks any direct reference to either Azhar or his terror group. 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”. Essentially, this is in line with the Chinese view that Masood Azhar is a respected gentlemen who helps Pakistan in myriad ways! This unstinting support to Pakistan became evident when it emerged that the proposal to ban Masood Azhar had 14 proposers with only China opposing it!
The deeper question of how Masood Azhar is linked to the Chinese still remains. One clue can be found in the 2007 kidnapping of 7 Chinese working in a parlour in Islamabad by the group led by Lal Masjid’s chief Maulana Abdul Aziz. In turn, the Chinese put pressure on Pakistan’s then President Musharraf to get the Chinese released. Further, the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan got into the act and contacted the Taliban and other groups to obtain the release of the Chinese. In Lal Masjid were also a dozen Uighur fighters.
Is it possible that the Chinese Ambassador spoke to Maulana Masood Azhar and he helped them to get the seven Chinese nationals released? There is no certain way of assuming that this happened, but Azhar along with his colleagues could have been inside the Lal Masjid in 2007. The other possibility is that China may have been in touch with Azhar earlier and they used their contacts with him to get the kidnapped Chinese nationals freed. China later claimed that the kidnappings of the Chinese nationals occurred at the instigation of the Uighurs who were holed up in the Lal Masjid and wanted revenge. While all this is speculative, the recent Chinese support for Masood Azhar certainly has some old connection which is yet to see the light of the day.
Whatever be the facts, it is time India called out the Chinese for what they are doing by shielding Masood Azhar. More importantly, India should call out China for its repressive policy towards Uighurs in Xinjiang. Particular mention may be made of the re-education camps in Xinjiang which have seen almost a million ethnic Uighurs being interned. India should also openly state that China is a state-sponsor of terror as it has blocked the listing of Masood Azhar four times. It is time to take the battle with China to the next level.