India has yet again become the victim of cross-border terrorism and insurgency. An attack in the Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir cost the lives of over 40 Central Reserve Police Force troops. Afterward, countries across the globe expressed deep condolences and resolutely spoke out against terrorism. While India continues to stand its ground firmly in denouncing terrorism, the Pulwama attack lays bare the difficulty of the fight against Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorism and the ineffectiveness of the measures India has been taking at the international level, in various multilateral organizations such as in the United Nations, BRICS, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. When terrorist and insurgent groups strike, India retaliates with counter measures and pre-emptive strikes but it continues to suffer the costs of terrorism domestically.
Now the question largely remains as to how India will try to advance its cause on the international stage, especially the UNSC and give a befitting ultimatum to Pakistan, which indeed has proven largely responsible as it continues to act as a “safe haven” for the various terrorist organizations. The key issue, as it has been for decades, is China’s ability to block any action targeting Pakistan, its “iron brother,” for supporting terrorism.
The Adversary: JeM and Masood Azhar
Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Pakistan-based terrorist organization, has been operating since the early 2000s and actively participating in violence and causing instability in the Jammu and Kashmir region. JeM’s primary motive remains the separation of Kashmir from India and merging it with Pakistan. JeM has been associated with many terrorist attacks on Indian soil, from the 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814 in Khandahar to the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.
These events gained prominence after the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terrorism was initiated. India’s inherent struggle with terrorism was highlighted and this led many other countries — such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, South Korea, and even the United Nations — to declare a ban on JeM as a terrorist organization. By then, Pakistan was also forced to act responsibly and was pressured to impose a ban on the various terrorist organizations thriving on its soil. However, Pakistan’s authorities conveniently let go of the arrested militants and Masood Azhar, the leader of JeM, was released under a court order. He has remained free ever since.
Azhar allegedly kept a low profile from his base in Bahawalpur, Pakistan for years after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but resurfaced in 2014, voraciously speaking against India and the United States and boasting of having hundreds of suicide killers, ready to create havoc, at his beck and call. JeM has ever since been actively recruiting and gathering forces via madrassas or Islamic schools (an issue that has not escaped notice in Pakistan). JeM maintains the United States and India as its two biggest enemies and also seeks to drive the American forces out of Afghanistan.
The International Response
On February 15 in New Delhi, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale called for a meeting of around 25 heads of mission of various countries such as South Africa, Japan, Germany, the United States, China, the U.K., and others. In this meeting, Gokhale spoke about how Pakistan has been actively perpetuating terrorism and using it as an instrument of state policy. He said, “Pakistan must take immediate and verifiable action” against JeM and immediately stop other associates of the groups in creating any further nuisance. India vowed to isolate Pakistan diplomatically from here on unless action is taken. It also withdrew Pakistan’s “Most Favored Nation” status.
Many countries have expressed their sorrow, unambiguously condemned this terrorist attack, and supported India’s stance at this hour of grief. Countries such as the United States and Russia have strongly condemned the act and have made thorough remarks on the subject. The White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released the statement saying, “The United States condemns in the strongest terms the heinous terrorist attack by a Pakistan-based terrorist group that killed over 40 Indian paramilitary forces and wounded at least 44 others.” The press release also remarked, “The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence and terror in the region.” This would implies the future will see more intensive cooperation and strengthening of ties between the United States and India on counterterrorism.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke against the terrorist attack. He also called for “punishments” of the perpetrators, who were responsible for such a “heinous act.” The message also implied unwavering support in the efforts of counterterrorism operations and partnership in fighting against terrorism.
China Stays Silent Yet Again
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued a statement on the attacks in India, expressing his condolences for the country and stressing that terrorism remains the common enemy of mankind. The “Chinese side resolutely opposes and strongly condemns all forms of terrorism,” Wang insisted. Strangely, though, his remarks fail to mention either the terrorist organization responsible (JeM) or the leader of that group (Masood Azhar) – much less the state backing them both (Pakistan). Most states made it a point to deliberately reference the perpetrator of the attack.
This, however, comes as no surprise. Every time India has appealed at the United Nations Security Council to designate JeM chief Masood Azhar as a “global terrorist,” China has single-handled vetoed the action. Beijing continues to remain silent on the reasoning behind its decision. India has been pushing for that listing since the infamous 26/11 Mumbai Attacks, but every time its discussed in the UNSC, China has placed a “technical hold” on the matter.
Now with another terrorist attack infuriating India’s populace, the mystery behind this Chinese silence remains unsolved. While most attribute China’s apparent silence as a favor to Pakistan, as both continue to maintain their “all-weather friendship,” others argue that China holds India responsible for granting political asylum to the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama, whom Beijing equates to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Saeed.
China’s stand on the listing of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by the UNSC was brought up at a recent press conference. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang on Friday responded that “As for the issue of listing, I could tell you that the 1267 Committee of Security Council has a clear stipulation on the listing and procedure of terrorist organizations.” He also maintained that China would abide by proper rules and regulations to “handle the relevant sanctions issue in a constructive and responsible manner.”
China’s stonewalling of an international rebuke to Azhar – and by extension Pakistan — has been one of the greatest hindrances in the relationship between India and China, alongside everlasting issues pertaining to border disputes, the Dalai Lama, and the trade disparity. Both countries take part in many international and multilateral initiatives such as BRICS and SCO, the latter of which denounces terrorism strongly and thus provides a platform for India to denounce Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorism (as Pakistan too became a member of SCO). But the blacklisting of Masood Azhar, and China’s inadequate response, has become an irritant for India. As the Pulwama attack continues making news and the country may be gearing up to fight back, the India-China tug-of-war on the matter remains at a stalemate.
Prarthana Basu is a Research Assistant at the Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi.