It is amusing to see news reports that for fear of being isolated on the issue of exercising ‘technical hold’ on terrorist mullah Masood Azhar by the UN, China will change course. Nothing of the sort is likely to happen given that China cares little about world opinion. Case in point is China’s treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang and China supporting Pakistani genocide in Baluchistan, even gifting attack helicopters to attack the Baluchis. The west has started to make some noises about China’s ‘concentration camps’ for Uighurs but is mum on the genocide in Baluchistan. China’s White Paper titled ‘The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang’ released on March 18, 2019, says that ‘Terrorism is the common enemy of humanity, and the target of international community’ is part of the same veneer. Though the white paper is to justify the “cultural cleaning” of Xinjiang, what is happening inside the so-called “re-education camps” for Uighurs has become an open secret.
Most importantly, China has the support of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Pakistan and other Islamist countries for how it is treating Uighurs. The OIC and the Arab too are mum. Radical Islamist organizations have not issued any threats to China either. The US has called out China’s hypocrisy in repressing Uighurs in Xinjiang while shielding actual terrorists elsewhere. It is being said that Beijing needs to consider the double risk of its citizens, getting radicalized by repression and terrorists across the Himalayas, turning on it someday. But does the US expect that all this is not part of China’s calculus? True that the US-France-UK (UFU) have given an ultimatum to China to lift her so called ‘technical hold’ on Masood Azhar’s ban by April 23, after China stalled the UNSC for the fourth time from branding Masood Azhar global terrorist on March 14, 2019, failing which UFU will approach UNSC. But China has already responded to the UFU ultimatum by announcing that the issue of designating Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UN was moving towards a “settlement”, and asked the US not to push through a resolution to list him at the UNSC. This is the Chinese way of putting an issue in cold storage or extracting a ‘hard’ bargain.
But China also knows very well that for the UFU motion to succeed all five P-5 members must vote in favour, in addition to four out of the 10 non-permanent members. At the same time, China knows full well that its single veto would fail the motion. So the question is will China vote in favour of the UFU motion? The straight answer is no notwithstanding Masood Azhar taking claim for the Pulwama car bombing that killed 44 CRPF personnel. JeM has masterminded multiple terror attacks in India, of which China is fully aware. In fact, China may be advising Pakistan’s ISI how to refine terror attacks. Remember Zhou en-Lai advising Ayub Khan to raise a militia to fight behind enemy (Indian) lines? Expecting China to go with the UFU motion implies China’s admission it was wrong on the four earlier occasions it exercised the ‘technical hold’. Such thinking is rather stupid, given the indication from Pakistan foreign office spokesman, Mohammad Faisal stating that Pakistan will not be “pressured” by anyone on the issue of banning Masood Azhar. That such a statement was in consultation with China was obvious. In fact the script may have come from Beijing itself.
Now comes the second speculation that China may ‘abstain’ from voting if the UFU motion comes up in UNSC. True China is talking about a “settlement” but what would that be? It could range from settlement of US-China Trade War that suits Chinese national interests, west to stop putting spokes in China’s BRI initiative, China to substitute US-NATO in Afghanistan, US to stop arming Taiwan and the like. In Chinese terms, a “settlement” could be as ridiculous as this even for a mundane issue like branding Masood Azhar global terrorist, which anyway would not change the ground situation. Branding Masood Azhar global terrorist by the UNSC would imply placing strictures on his travel and activities including collecting funds for the JeM. But factually, it means little since Azhar doesn’t have to travel out of Pakistan and as far as collection of funds go, this will continue to happen through the plethora of front organizations, new ones that can be created, plus affiliates of other radical organizations that are all used as covert arms of Pakistan’s military and ISI.
So what will happen to the UFU ultimatum beyond April 23? China has already stated what it wanted to. UFU are welcome to move the UNSC to brand Azhar global terrorist. China will veto the motion once again. The world can shout from rooftops that China is sheltering terrorists. China will issue a statement that it is against terrorism and world must unite against terrorism – same as it has been saying at world forums including through resolutions at the end of BRICS, SCO forums etc. For China, Masood Azhar may have claimed responsibility for the Pulwama car bombing due to overdose of Maotai supplied by Beijing with 90% alcohol, of which the mullah was not used to; and having been gifted personally by Xi Jinping he had no option but to down it least Xi felt insulted. Sure there is chance of China abstaining from voting if the UFU motion is tabled at UNSC. But it will depend on what “settlement” is acceptable to China.
The best part is that US has for the first time removed Pakistan’s from the National Security Threat List (NSTL). Apparently, the strategic value of Pakistan for the US has shot up with Donald Trump putting Iran in his cross hairs, and for the same reason preparing for a larger role for Taliban in Afghanistan. China is aware of these American moves and supports Taliban in snubbing the live branch of the US, being on the winning spree. But if Pakistan has become strategically important to the US beyond safe exit of US exit from Afghanistan, Pakistan is even more strategically important to China past decades. As for Pakistan, its economy is down in doldrums but as Hussain Haqqani says “the country is full of terrorists with government and military are directly involved in terrorism. For them, it doesn’t matter whether FATF or no FATF, international or no international isolation, bankrupt or no bankrupt. If they want to self destruct, they will make it happen sooner or later. Few good men left with the country can no longer save it.”
After all, ZA Bhutto was even prepared to eat grass. Pakistan will not collapse; China, Saudi Arabia and even the US would likely ensure that. Alternatively, Pakistan can declare itself a province of China. As for Masood Azhar, he will continue to enjoy his notoriety.