Dr. Nivedita Das Kundu@
On 14th February 2019, the convoy of 78 buses, in which around 2500 Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) personnel were travelling from Jammu to Srinagar, came under an attack at around 03.15 pm at Ladhu Modi Lethpora, Awantipora, in Pulwama,when 40 CRPF Jawans were martyred in the suicide bomb blast on a CRPF convoy. Earlier the civilian vehicles were not allowed when convoys used to pass, but because of inconvenience caused to civilians and on the request of locals, civilian vehicles could pass at the same time and that is how this suicide bomber vehicle took advantage and entered the area at the same time and attacked the convoy. Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) which is led my notorious Maulana Masood Azar claimed responsibility for this attack.
Earlier in the year 2001 and in 2016, JeM was responsible for some of the most heinous terror attacks in India these were the attacks on the Indian Parliament and the attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. In 1990’s Maulana Masood Azhar, was captured and imprisoned by Indian forces. However, he had to be released as part of a hostage exchange under Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government in December 1999, along with two other notorious terrorists Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Omar Sheikh, after an Indian Airlines flight IC-814 was hijacked to Kandahar in Kabul in 1999, in exchange for release of the passengers of the hijacked plane this deal was struck.
The Pakistan based JeM has been designated as a terrorist group by several countries and by the United Nations (UN). India has been pressuring the UN to designate Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the aegis of the United Nations Security Council(UNSC) 1267 committee. However, China, Pakistan’s close allay and all-weather friend is among the five permanent members of UNSC, has the power to veto, has repeatedly hindered the process and blocked the move number of times at UNSC in the garb of a technical hold, once in March 2016 and again in October 2016. Again, when the technical hold was supposed to end in December 2016, China used its veto power to block the same proposal of declaring Azhar as a Global Terrorist. Once again during January 2017, the proposal was put forward by the US, the UK and France, (the three important members among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) but China again recommended a technical hold and blocked the move.
Apart from the fact that China and Pakistan share a cordial relationship, they support each other in many international groupings and forums. China has a very clear strategic agenda to support Pakistan, as China wants to expand its geographic reach, which essentially means increasing China’s footprint in the region also in the Indo-Pacific and in the Indo-US region. All the strategic 13 choke points in the Indian ocean region which was once upon a time under the strong hold of US Navy but today out of 13 choke points US navy is not strong even in one choke point where as, China today, is strong in almost all the choke points including Chittagong and Hambantota. This change has taken place over a decade and China gradually increased its foothold and presence in the Indian ocean region. Though China is equal participant in Chabahar port and India is also present there, Iran will not allow the use of Chabahar port that easily. Chabahar is one port where US presence is not there, because of US Iran trade war and sanctions, though this is in advantage of China; therefore, China requires important point of contact in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and that important point is Gwadar. Hence, importance of Gwadar for China is immense and that is how importance for Pakistan also increases for China for the geostrategic significance.
The dynamics of geopolitics has a significance in maintaining close relationship between Pakistan and China and as far as, Masood Azhar is concerned, he has a huge influence in the western Pakistan region and that is another region where both China and Pakistan’s interest lies. Long time back Pakistan has ceded a very important chunk of land to China which is called Aksai Chin, which is also part of the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Though India never accepted this as a part of neither Pakistan nor of China. Therefore, China requires a strong person and force in this area. Nawaz Sharif did not want to use Masood Azhar in this area that is why Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif made in charge of this area, now with Nawaz Sharif not in power and out of favour with army also, that region became volatile. The reports say that this is one of the reasons why China wanted Pakistan army to get rid of Nawaz Sharif and that is how present Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power, who is said to be a pawn in the hands of Pakistan’s army.
Pakistan supports China in many international forums like in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) where Beijing has a low representation also Pakistan allowed China to invest $51 billion in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plan. This BRI infrastructural project will provide China access to connect with West Asia and Africa.These are some of the dynamics for which China and Pakistan jointly working and that is also the reason why they are protecting a terrorist organisation leader like Maulana Masood Azhar as he plays an important role in the regional dynamics. Pakistan facilitates China in many ways and in return gets China’s support.
Another reason where China holds a grudge against India and supports their decision to favour Masood Azhar is that China is extremely unhappy with Indian government on Dalai Lama issue and for giving asylum to the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama in 1959, after China occupied Tibet in 1950. As per Chinese government, the Dalai Lama is equivalent of terrorist group leader like Masood Azhar and India has been supporting him for many years and he also lives in Dharamshala in the Indian State of Himachal Pradesh.
Though Chinese government has expressed condolences over the terrorist incident in Phulwama on 14th of February 2019 and it seems that they are considering options for taking some decision to consider Azhar as a Global Terrorist, however, it is still unclear if China will upset its close allay Pakistan on this issue. China also might look for certain hard bargaining tactics with India to make this happen. Nonetheless, there is a need to engage China much more on this matter and declare JeM leader Massood Azhar as a Global Terrorist sooner the better. However, many things will depend on how India is able to bargain with China on this very important issue and concern.
@ Nivedita Das Kundu, Ph.D Foreign Policy and Strategic Analysts. Associated with Canada-India Foundation (CIF) & York University.
* CIF announced a $20,000 contribution to the families of CRPF Jawans massacred in Jammu & Kashmir's Pulwama district by Jaish e Mohammad terrorist group on 14th February 2019 .This is a small gesture on CIF's part to reach out to the families in their moment of grief. This is to convey that Indian Diaspora in Canada deeply value the martyrdom of these brave soldiers.