Evaluating China’s hold on India-led resolutions on UN-designated global terrorists

| Ashish Keserwani

It is evident that China and Pakistan are in a quid pro quo agreement over dreaded Islamic terrorists, which safeguards their mutual interests at the cost of millions of lives and global peace.

  • China does not want to harm these terrorist groups and expects these groups not to harm Chinese interests, especially in Xinjiang.
  • China put a technical hold on Masood Azhar being designated as a global terrorist and maintained the stance for almost a decade.
  • Even today China has not agreed to designate Abdul Rauf Azhar as the UN-designated global terrorist who planned and executed the hijacking of Indian Aircraft IC 814.
  • New Delhi’s only option is to do everything in its hand to expose the shenanigans of Pakistan and China to the world.

Abdul Rehman Makki, the deputy head of the Pakistan-based terror organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba, was blacklisted as a global terrorist by the United Nations on 16 January 2023. Makki, the brother-in-law of LeT Chief and Mumbai 26/11 attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed, served in multiple leadership roles such as the head of the political affairs wing and head of the foreign relations department of LeT.

Makki was added to the sanctions list of the UN Security Council’s ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee (commonly known as the UNSC 1267 committee) for his involvement in raising funds, recruiting and radicalising youth to violence and planning attacks in India. Now as a result of this designation he is subjected to a travel ban,  assets freeze and an arms embargo (source- The Hindu).

Makki is most wanted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of India for its linkage with various terror activities in India. US designated Makki as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ in 2010 which limits his ability to access American resources and under its ‘Rewards for Justice Program’ US announced a reward of USD 2 million for information to help convict him.

It was a joint bid of India and the US to declare Makki an UN-designated global terrorist. India was a non-permanent member of the UNSC for the term 2021-22 when in June 2022 India and the US jointly proposed a resolution to include him in the sanctions list of the UNSC 1267 committee. At that time China objected but all other members, permanent as well as non-permanent, were in support of the resolution. Due to the technicality of the UNSC 1267 committee, where the decisions by this committee are taken entirely by consensus, the resolution was put on hold. The Indian government responded to it as ‘extremely unexpected’ and declared China is following ‘double standards’ over the issue of terrorism.

Change in China’s stance?

Now the question that arises here is, what is the reason behind the change in China’s stance to sanction Makki as a global terrorist? Is it a change of heart or a core diplomatic move? For the time being, there is no clear answer which is why we can only speculate on the reasons for this change in China’s stance.  

First, it could be that China does not want to be a country that opposes a resolution to put a person on the sanctions list when all the members of the UNSC are supporting the resolution which considered Makki a global terrorist. Single-handedly opposing an important issue such as terrorism, especially when its image has already been damaged at the global level due to Covid-19, puts huge diplomatic pressure on it. This may have led to China changing its stance.

The second reason could be that India and China developed some backdoor consensus on this issue. New Delhi and Beijing having tensions at the border for a long time and Beijing might have wanted to strike a deal with New Delhi.  However, no one has hinted at this possibility but the actions of the two countries give credence to this speculation.

A third reason that we can speculate is the timing of Pakistan moving out of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) Grey list (Jurisdiction under Increased Monitoring). In June 2022, the possibility of Pakistan moving out of FATF’s Grey list was increasing only if the Pakistan-based terrorists were designated as global terrorists. In the FATF plenary meeting in Paris in October 2022, Pakistan was taken off the list of Jurisdiction under Increased Monitoring. Therefore, there was less concern for China and Pakistan to save a Pakistan-based terrorist from being designated as an UN-designated global terrorist and facing huge diplomatic pressure.

Whatever the reason for the change in China’s stance, the Ministry of External Affairs of India welcomed the move. But this is not the first time China was trying to save Pakistan’s image by protecting Pakistan-based terrorists in United Nations. China has saved Pakistan many times in the past.

The year 1999 whole world witnessed the release of Masood Azhar from the Indian jail in exchange for 155 people held on a hijacked Indian aircraft in 2000. Subsequently, Azhar founded the Islamic terror group, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which carried out major terrorist attacks in India. The JeM attacked the Jammu and Kashmir assembly (October 2001), India’s Parliament (December 2001), the Pathankot airbase (January 2016), the Indian Mission in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan (January 2016), India Army brigade headquarters at Uri (September 2016), and an Indian paramilitary convoy at Pulwama (February 2019).

In 2001, JeM was designated as a terror group by the UN. But China put a technical hold on Masood Azhar being designated as a global terrorist and maintained the stance for almost a decade, from 2009 to 2019. Finally, India won this battle in May 2019.

The irony is that even today China has not agreed to designate Abdul Rauf Azhar, JeM deputy leader and younger brother of Masood Azhar, as the UN-designated global terrorist who planned and executed the hijacking of Indian Aircraft IC 814. Others whose designations as global terrorists were blocked by China are:

  • LeT commander Sajid Mir is on the most wanted list in India, the US and Denmark. Sajid Mir directed terrorists through a phone call during the Mumbai 26/11 terror attack.
  • Deputy Chief of LeT Front Falah-I-Insaniyat Foundation Shahid Mehmood.
  • LeT commander Talha Saeed is the son of the LeT chief Hafiz Saeed.

Shenanigans of China and Pakistan

We need to ponder upon what makes China do so. The obvious reason is Beijing and Islamabad share an ‘All Weather Friendship’ and India is the common enemy. There are other reasons also. It is well known to the world that many terror organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Taliban etc. have very close collaboration with Pakistan’s intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Beijing is heavily invested in Pakistan that’s why Beijing needs Islamabad’s support to take care of its investment inside Pakistan. China does not want to harm these terrorist groups and expects these groups not to harm Chinese interests. In China, there is a problem in Xinjiang province related to Uyghur Muslims. China wants these Pakistan-based terror organisations not to divert their attention towards Uyghur Muslim issues but rather target India or the West. Therefore, China used its position as a permanent member of the UNSC to appease these terrorist Organisations.

After the designation of global terrorists in the UN what did India gain or what was its effect on Pakistan? Of course, it put extra pressure on Islamabad to handle terrorism more seriously. But the ground reality is that things remain as it was before. Terrorists move freely in Pakistan and give speeches. Being convicted by a court in Pakistan is of no real consequence as it is only a show put up for the outside world. We can see the latest case of Makki releasing a video from inside a Pakistan jail declaring that he has no connection with LeT. But we cannot remain silent and blame the outcomes later. New Delhi’s only option is to do everything in its hand to expose the shenanigans of Pakistan and China to the world.

(Ashish Keserwani has an MA in Political Science from Indra Gandhi National Open University. He is currently a Research Scholar Pursuing PhD from Amity University, Noida)

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