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China has blocked a US move to blacklist Jaish-e-Mohammad's chief Masood Azhar at the UN. In a DW interview, Siegfried O Wolf explains why China is protecting the Pakistan-based militant group's head.
On Tuesday, China blocked a proposal by the United States to designate Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist, according to media reports. The US move at the United Nations Security Council was backed by the United Kingdom and France in an apparent show of support for India.
New Delhi accuses JeM and Azhar of masterminding several terrorist attacks on Indian soil, including a deadly assault on an Indian airbase in Pathankot in January 2016. Pakistani investigators say Azhar and his associates had no links with the attack.
In December last year, China vetoed India's request at the UN to blacklist the Pakistan-based JeM head Azhar as a terrorist. The UN Security Council has already blacklisted JeM, but not Azhar.
Vikas Swarup, the spokesman for India's Foreign Ministry, said at the time that his country had requested nine months ago that Azhar be blacklisted, and claimed that most members of the Security Council had backed the move.
"We had expected China would have been more understanding of the danger posed to all by terrorism," Swarup said in a statement in December, adding that the inability of the international community to ban Azhar showed the "prevalence of double standards in the fight against terrorism."
New Delhi accuses Pakistan of using jihadist proxies to mount attacks inside India, including India-administered Kashmir. Islamabad denies these allegations.
In a DW interview, Siegfried O. Wolf, a South Asia expert at the University of Heidelberg, explains why Beijing continues to block the moves to blacklist Masood Azhar.
DW: China blocked a recent US move to blacklist Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar at the UN. Last year, Beijing put two similar Indian proposals on hold. Why is China protecting Azhar?
Siegfried O. Wolf: China's diplomatic support for Pakistan-based militants is multi-faceted. Therefore, one must look at Beijing's latest action at the UN in a larger context.
China's protection of Masood Azhar is only one component of the Chinese campaign to provide Pakistan its diplomatic support, which includes informal "lobbying work" to prevent Pakistan from being listed as a state that sponsors terrorism. The possible sanctions would not only have immense political and economic implications for Islamabad, they would also reflect poorly on Beijing as Pakistan is widely seen as a close China ally. Therefore, Chinese authorities try to undermine all Indian attempts to officially name Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism on international platforms like BRICS or the Heart of Asia conference.
Beijing is now also drawing on Islamabad's improved relations with Moscow. China is increasingly involving Pakistan in multilateral dialogues on regional cooperation and security in relation to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and Central Asia in an attempt to minimize Pakistan's international isolation.
Another dimension of China's move to block the US and Indian efforts to designate Azhar as a terrorist is the threat that anti-Indian militant groups like the JeM could turn against the Pakistani state. This would have dangerous implications for China, especially for its massive investments and development initiatives in the South Asian country, including the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. We must not forget that international terror groups like al Qaeda, "Islamic State" (IS) and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) oppose Beijing for its alleged anti-Muslim policies against the Uighurs in its western Xinjiang province. China doesn't want an additional confrontation with Islamist groups.
Finally, there is no doubt that the India-China rivalry might also be a factor in Beijing's support for Islamabad and Pakistan-based terrorists. In this context, China's major development projects like "One Belt, One Road" to link China with Europe and the Middle East, and several other infrastructure projects show that Beijing considers Afghanistan an important country for its economic, security and geopolitical interests.
Why does India want the UN to designate Azhar as a terrorist?
The Indian policy is that the internationally community recognizes Pakistan as a terror sponsor. New Delhi wants the global powers to impose sanctions on Pakistan. If the international community declares Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, it would help India to justify its military action against militants on Pakistani soil and legitimize cross-border operations.
China is also facing a protracted Islamist insurgency in Xinjiang. Why are Beijing and New Delhi not on the same page over Islamist terrorism?
China's counter-terrorism measures exclude the US and India. Chinese authorities have historically treated New Delhi as a geopolitical rival. India's close ties with the US are also perceived as a threat in Beijing, therefore China prefers not to cooperate with India. Last year, China bolstered its ties with Moscow, and at the moment it appears that Beijing is trying to construct a new security bloc in Asia. This, however, does not involve the Sino-Indian security cooperation.
Will Chinese support embolden Pakistan in what some experts say is its backing for jihadist proxies in India and Afghanistan?
China is indirectly encouraging Pakistan to continue its state patronage of cross-border terrorism. At the same time, Beijing is supporting Pakistan's policy of fighting anti-state militants, especially those groups that could pose a threat to CPEC.
Beijing will most likely not intervene in Pakistan's policy of backing militants that are operating in Afghanistan and India. Any measures against such groups, or the withdrawal of support, will be perceived as a hostile act by these jihadists. In this context, it is interesting to note that a recent tripartite meeting between Russia, China, and Pakistan on how to bring stability and peace to Afghanistan identified IS as the major threat and not the pro-Pakistan Taliban groups or the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network.
Siegfried O. Wolf is a researcher at the University of Heidelberg's South Asia Institute. He is also the director of research at the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF).
The interview was conducted by Shamil Shams.