China could agree to Jaish chief Masood Azhar’s listing in compromise deal

Discussions are understood to be under way to reach a compromise that would enable China to allow the UN Security Council to list and sanction Masood Azhar, founder of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, a terrorist in exchange for some changes in the language of the designation as proposed.

An outcome is expected within days, and not weeks and month, it has been reliably learnt.

But if these discussions fail, the three UN Security Council (UNSC) members, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, whose proposal to designate Azhar was temporarily blocked by China earlier this week, are said to be prepared to escalate the issue and push for a UNSC resolution, which would be debated and voted upon openly in contrast to the confidential decision-making process of the council’s sanction committee that deals with listing requests.

Discussions are underway on certain changes that China is understood to have suggested in the language in which the designation is announced, which could be about words and phrases or about the need for more information in support of Azhar’s listing. The three proposers appear willing to concede the changes in the interest of achieving the higher goal of designating Azhar, whose organization claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Pulwama in February.

There is a sense among people involved in the negotiations that China has shown flexibility and willingness to discuss the issue that it hadn’t before, and that has raised expectations about a compromise that could lead eventually to Azhar being sanctioned by the UN, enjoining member nations, including Azhar’s host and patron Pakistan, to not host, arm or fund him.

The UNSC press statement of February 22 condemning the Pulwama attack was taken as a sign of this new willingness stemming from Chinese frustration with Pakistan on this issue, which, it has been learnt, wasn’t lost on Pakistan.

When discussions started for the UNSC to issue a statement condemning the February 14 Pulwama attack, there was every expectation, it was leant, that China would block anything meaningful from coming out. Gradually, however, negotiators realized to their surprise that China was willing to go along and actually wanted to get to a yes, and it was just a matter of coming up with the right language. And the negotiators did get that language right.

The statement turned out to be “path-breaking” for India. It was for the first time that the UNSC had condemned a terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir. And it also referred to the state by its official name, Jammu and Kashmir, and not Indian-administered Kashmir as it had been called by the world body before. Also, it was the first time that the UNSC had condemned a terrorist attack on Indian security forces in that state. And, finally, it named Jaish-e-Mohammad, which was intended to clear the way for designating its founder, Azhar.

It could not be immediately ascertained what was conceded to China in those negotiations.

It’s also not clear if these on-going discussions are based on the proposal put on hold by China or whether a new proposal would be brought before the UNSC sanctions committee based on the compromise under discussion.

While these signs were noted and gave hope to negotiators about an eventual designation, China appears to have been in no hurry to get there. On Wednesday, it put a technical hold on the proposal, which can last six months, and then for another three months. Beijing has said it needs time.

Its long and close relationship with Pakistan can, and will, be an issue, western powers acknowledge, but they are well past caring because of their frustration with Pakistan, a country seen around the world as a supporter of terrorism despite the financial aid it has received, and that it continues to seek/claim/demand to tide over an economic crisis caused, in some estimates, by generous support of terrorists.

So, China has time now, but not for ever. It is learnt that if China is not seen discussing the designation in good faith, the United States, the United Kingdom and France are ready to move quickly to the next phase, which is escalating the issue and seek a UNSC resolution, a possible next-step first reported by Hindustan Times.

That will be dramatic. Proceedings of UNSC’s 1267 sanctions committee (1267 is the number of the resolution passed by the body to set up this committee in 1999) are confidential, which gives member nations the opportunity to act under the cover of anonymity, and without the burden of explaining themselves.

A UNSC resolution, on the other hand, will be deliberated in an open meeting, which will be aired live as all open sessions. China will have to defend a terrorist, if and when a resolution is proposed to designate Azhar, under the gaze of the world and if it chooses to vote to defeat the motion, it will do so, again, in full public view.

First Published:
Mar 16, 2019 09:38 IST

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