Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar. Photo: Reuters
Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar. Photo: Reuters

China once again blocked the blacklisting of the chief of the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Masood Azhar, as a “global terrorist” at the United Nations on Wednesday. The resolution, spearheaded by France and backed by the United States and Britain, was vetoed by Beijing on the last day before the proposal was to be ratified by the 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council.

The proposal was initiated after last month’s suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir, which killed 40 Indian police officials. JeM claimed responsibility for the terror attack, which later led to cross-border military exchanges between India and Pakistan.

This is the fourth time, and the third successive year, that China has blocked a motion to blacklist Azhar at the UN. Beijing also vetoed the move in 2009, a year after the Mumbai terror attack was carried out by militants affiliated with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Asia Times reported following the Pulwama attack last month that Beijing had reassured Islamabad that it had “no immediate plan” to retract its veto against Azhar’s sanctioning at the UN. Observers noted that the reassurance meant that Islamabad did not feel any urgency to go after JeM. It also translated into repeated offers for peace talks extended by Prime Minister Imran Khan to his counterpart Narendra Modi, which led directly to the release of Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

In a statement released to the United Nations Security Council, China maintained it “needed more time” to examine the proposed sanctions against Azhar. Last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman also expressed his support to Pakistan, with a joint statement asking India to “avoid politicization of the UN listing regime.”

New Delhi has condemned Beijng’s use of the veto. “We are disappointed by this outcome. This has prevented action by the international community to designate the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a proscribed and active terrorist organization which has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, 2019,” said the Indian Ministry of External Affairs in a statement.

Azhar, a former Harkat-ul-Mujahideen leader, founded JeM in 2000 after being released by India in exchange for passengers held on an Indian Airlines flight in Kandahar. JeM targeted the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly and the Indian parliament in 2001, leading to a military standoff between India and Pakistan. JeM was banned as a “terrorist organization” in 2002 after the beheading of captured American journalist Daniel Pearl and a foiled attempt on the then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

More recently, JeM orchestrated the 2016 Pathankot attack, which came in the immediate aftermath of Modi’s visit to Lahore. The Pathankot raid prompted a move by India to blacklist Azhar at the UN, which China vetoed in 2017.

Beijing’s latest veto has come a week after Pakistan initiated a raid on banned militant groups in the country, which resulted in the detention of senior JeM leaders including Hamad Azhar and Abdul Rauf – Masood Azhar’s son and younger brother respectively.

The raid also comes in the aftermath of terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) informing Islamabad at last month’s Paris meeting that it needed to curb the activities of groups affiliated with Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT), Chief Hafiz Saeed and JeM.

While China had told Pakistan that it would veto the move to blacklist Azhar at the UN, diplomatic sources confirm that Beijing’s support was conditional upon visible action against JeM before the no-objection period lapsed at the UNSC.

“China uses the technical ground to veto Masood Azhar’s sanctioning,” said security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana, the Director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). “This is because the resolution is about groups linked to al-Qaeda and there needs to be clear evidence showing JeM’s affiliation.”

Since the Pulwama bombing, Pakistan has been giving out contradictory statements on JeM and Azhar. In separate interviews with CNN and the BBC, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi denied Jaish-e-Mohammad’s links to the Pulwama bombing before the Ministry of Interior arrested the group’s members. Both Qureshi and PM Khan, however have maintained that this is a new government which will not exercise any duplicity towards militant groups.

“If that’s the case it should be more evident. They are going to reveal their formal policy on banned organisations soon, so that will make it clearer,” Rana said.

Military scientist Ayesha Siddiqa, the author of Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, maintains that the duplicity regarding militant groups will only be overcome when the Pakistan Army wills it.

“There is the example of Hafiz Saeed, who despite being designated as a global terrorist roams around free in Pakistan,” she said. “The Kashmir-bound militants are key assets [of the military establishment] as it looks to conflate Afghanistan and Kashmir.”

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