Ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Beijing last month, China’s Premier Li Keqiang stated in an interview with India Today that “China and India … share common interests and face similar challenges in fighting terrorism. China is ready to deepen counterterrorism cooperation with India to better safeguard the development and security interests of our two countries.”
But China’s actions this week at the United Nations Sanctions Committee belie the Premier’s assertions. Reportedly, China blocked India’s attempt through the UN to seek action on Pakistan for releasing Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba and mastermind of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. (see: “Why China Snubbed India on a Pakistan-based Terrorist at the UN“)
China’s interceding at the UN Sanctions Committee on behalf of Pakistan is neither new nor unexpected. In May 2015, China blocked India’s attempt to sanction Syed Salahuddin, the leader of a Pakistan-based terrorist proxy, the Hizb ul-Mujahideen. Suhasini Haider, Diplomatic Affairs Editor in The Hindu notes that since December 2014, India has filed “at least three proposals on Pakistan-based terrorists, each of which has been reportedly delayed or stopped by China.”
Prior to the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, China blocked at least three other attempts by India to proscribe four members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (and its parent organization, Jamaat ud-Dawah) — Lakhvi, JuD chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, chief of finance Haji Mohammad Ashraf and Saudi-based financier and one of JuD’s founders, Mahmoud Bahaziq.
China had also stalled specific sanctions against Hafiz Saeed on two occasions. Prior to 2008, China blocked India-sponsored UN sanctions against al-Akhtar Trust (a front for Jaish-e-Mohammed, yet another Pakistani terrorist proxy) and al-Rashid Trust (a Pakistani Deobandi terrorist group active in Jammu & Kashmir, among other places).
It was only after considerable pressure was put on China by the United States and India after the Mumbai 2008 terrorist attacks that it acceded to sanctions under UNSC Resolution 1267 on Saeed, Lakhvi, Ashraf, Bahaziq as well as against Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat ud-Dawah. This, however, offered India only temporary respite.
Barely a year later in August 2009, China blocked India-sponsored sanctions against Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which was responsible for, among other things, the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.
China’s history of prevarication and clandestine support to Pakistan’s nuclear program is a matter of record. China not only provided a veritable nuclear umbrella under which Pakistan prosecutes a campaign of terror against India, it now also provides diplomatic cover for these Pakistan-funded terrorist proxies through the power of a United Nations Security Council veto.
But how does India address China’s repeated intervention on Pakistan’s behalf at the UN? Nitin Pai, my colleague at the Takshashila Institution, quite rightly suggests that India must proactively liaise with China and other permanent members of the UNSC to ensure that its interests are protected.
Indeed, if India claims it accords the highest of priorities to countering the asymmetric war that it is subjected to by Pakistan, it must marshal its diplomatic and political resources more effectively to convey the importance it attaches to rooting out the scourge of terrorism that it faces.
On Pakistan however, the question of just how effective the sanctions under UNSC Resolution 1267 have been must be asked. Arguably, UN sanctions against Hafiz Saeed and the JuD have neither disrupted nor diminished the capabilities of the group. In fact, the JuD held its largest annual congregation (to which it claimed to have attracted over 400,000 participants) just last year.
Sanctions under UNSC Resolution 1267 requires member-states to impose asset freezes, travel bans and arms embargos on persons and entities designated to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. Yet, these sanctions have not had a material impact on terror groups in Pakistan. Pakistan’s Interior Ministry claimed rather incredulously that JuD did not have any bank accounts in Pakistan and that Hafiz Saeed’s passport had expired several years ago and had not been requested to be renewed, thus rendering the travel ban moot.
More importantly, Resolution 1267 has had limited success in disrupting the activities of groups like Jamaat ud-Dawah because they enjoy the support of the Pakistan Army, which shields, nurtures and utilizes them to advance domestic or foreign policy objectives. Thus, when pressure mounted on Pakistan to act against all terrorist groups following the Peshawar tragedy, a Pakistani minister in the ruling government claimed that Jamaat ud-Dawah was a charity, not a terrorist group.
When Masood Azhar addressed a rally in Muzaffarabad in which he threatened India with “dreaded revenge,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson sought to downplay the incident by claiming that it was “probably a one-time event.”
So a more effective strategy would be to target not specific individuals or terrorist groups, but the Pakistani state itself to make it cost prohibitive for it to continue prosecuting sub-conventional wars across its eastern and western borders. In its Country Reports on Terrorism (2014), the U.S. State Department maintains that Pakistan “did not take action against groups such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which continued to operate, train, rally, propagandize, and fundraise in Pakistan.”
As Indian and U.S. perceptions on terrorism converge as part of the overall bilateral relationship, India must better liaise with the U.S. to impose costs on Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism in its neighborhood. The U.S., under the Clinton Administration, came close to designating Pakistan a “State Sponsor of Terrorism,” which would have carried with it a ban on defense exports and sales to Pakistan as well as foreign assistance and financial restrictions. The designation can therefore impose significant costs on the Pakistani state, which might in turn convince it to reconsider some of its poor strategic choices. The George W. Bush and Obama Administrations were hamstrung by their reliance on Pakistan for the war in Afghanistan to act decisively against Pakistan, even when Osama bin Laden was discovered to be living a mile away from the Pakistani Military Academy in Abbottabad.
An opportunity will exist, sooner than later, to revisit that designation for Pakistan. India would do well to continue to build a case with the U.S. to make it happen.