If China decides not to place a hold on the listing of Masood Azhar at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, and the Jaish e Mohammad (JeM) chief is listed as a terrorist sanctioned by the “1267 Al Qaeda Committee”, it would be a major break from the past two decades.
Since 2001, when the JeM was first listed as an entity, to 2008 in the wake of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, to 2016, after the Pathankot airbase attack, the UNSC has failed to put Azhar on its list, mainly due to opposition from China.
“China has in the past said it doesn’t have enough information to list Masood Azhar, despite the fact that on each occasion we have provided more information of his links to terror attacks,” said Gautam Bambawale, a former Ambassador to China who led the most recent efforts to convince the permanent member on the Security Council to withdraw its objections to listing Azhar. “I think we must keep trying as we have, and this time around I think we are very close to having Masood Azhar on the list,” Mr. Bambawale told The Hindu in an interview.
Significantly, when the JeM was first listed on October 17, 2001, its listing actually named Masood Azhar as its founder, but didn’t include Azhar as a “designated individual”. According to the listing, “Azhar formed [JeM] with support from Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and several other extremist organisations”, and the organisation was listed after it claimed responsibility for the attack on the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly building.
However, despite being named, Azhar escaped being targeted for sanctions, which under the UNSC 1267 rules means he would not be allowed to travel, access weapons or funding.
After the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008, India decided to take up the issue on a war footing, and the effort met with remarkably similar responses as the more recent attempts have. On December 10, 2008, according to a U.S. embassy telegram accessed by Wikileaks, then MEA joint secretary TCA Raghavan (who was subsequently High Commissioner to Pakistan before retiring) met with the (unnamed) US Political Councillor to discuss India’s decision to pursue the listing at the UNSC 1267 Sanctions Committee. “The Indians feel that the Pakistanis are reacting in the way they did following the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, when the “usual suspects” were rounded up and then released three months later,” the cable read. In another cable, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is quoted as saying China’s blocks were a consequence of Pakistan’s objections.
In March 2009, India decided to request the designation of Azhar, along with two Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operatives Abdur Rahman Makki and Azam Cheema, but on April 28 China put a hold on the listings, requesting “additional information”. This was in contrast to China’s support for the designation of Hafiz Saeed, Zaki Ur Rahman Lakhvi and other LeT leaders Arif Qasmani and Yahya Mujahid just a few months earlier. A cable dated 25th June 2009 showed the US even expressing its “appreciation” for China’s support on the latter cases. However, by August it was clear that China would not play ball on Masood Azhar. Once again, China said it had placed the “technical hold” on Azhar’s listing due to “inadequate information”.
In January 2010, the US tried to list Masood Azhar again. In a cable (Wikileak dated January 20, American political counselor in the US Embassy in Beijing Aubrey Carlson wrote that he met with the Chinese UN Division Deputy Director Shen Yinyin to “request that the PRC not place a hold” on the new listing. The US also tried to place strictures on Pakistan through the “Illicit Finance Task Force (IFTF), working in the same way it has at the Financial Action Task Force, which greylisted Pakistan from 2012-2015, and more recently in 2018.
After the Pathankot airbase attack in January 2016, India revived its move to list Azhar, with the same result: China first placed a technical hold on the listing, citing “inadequate information” and followed it with a veto in December. The veto came despite the government constituting a three-member committee from the Ministries of Home and External Affairs, only to “expedite the listings” of Azhar and some other leaders. In 2017 and 2018, France led the effort supported by the U.S. and U.K. to try and list Azhar, with no shift in China’s position. If China doesn’t raise an objection by the deadline on March 13, it will be a marked departure from the past. If, however, it does raise a technical hold on the listing, it would only be following an old and well-worn script.