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JeM chief Masood Azhar: China set to block Masood Azhar ban defying US, India

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BEIJING: In what could plunge Sino-Indian ties into fresh turmoil, China is likely to officially block and thereby terminate a US backed proposal to get Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar designated a global terrorist by the UN.

The proposal, which had the backing of UK and France too, was introduced by the US in January this year and, days later, put on a technical hold by China which, as a permanent UNSC member, wields veto power.

The technical hold was extended by Beijing for another 3 months in August and is set to expire this week on Thursday. Since it can’t be extended any further, as top intelligence sources closely watching the development said, China is moving to introduce a “full fledged block” to dispose off the US proposal.

China’s selective approach to fight against terrorism, made manifest by its position on Azhar who is seen as a strategic asset by Pakistan authorities, has turned into a major foreign policy challenge for India. This development belies all hopes of a Chinese review of its stand on Azhar in the light of Beijing’s decision to allow India to name Pakistan based terror groups like JeM and Lashkar in the Xiamen Brics Declaration. Brics followed the August 28 Doklam military stand-off disengagement which, as the government has repeatedly said, still stands despite reports of a Chinese troop build-up “well within China” but not very far from the Doklam plateau.

India has repeatedly conveyed to China that Azhar has been indicted by Indian agencies for his involvement in the Pathankot airbase attack case and that he continues to head a terror group already proscribed by the UN. China continues to insist though that there isn’t enough “solid evidence” against him.

The fact that China has effectively ruled out any cooperation with India on the issue of cross-border terrorism is as much a setback for the US as it is for New Delhi. When PM Narendra Modi met US President Donald Trump in Washington this year, the 2 leaders had welcomed a new consultation mechanism on domestic and international terrorist designation listing proposals.

The same again came up during Secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s visit to India this week and Tillerson agreed that the 2 countries needed to have a dialogue soon on terrorist designation. Sources said this dialogue will likely take place anytime in the next few months with focus on getting Azhar listed by the UNSC sanctions committee.

In his meeting with Trump, Modi had thanked him for the US listing of the Hizbul Mujahideen leader as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist as evidence of the US commitment to end terror “in all its forms”. China’s intransigence on Azhar, bordering dangerously on outright hostility, will further test the US resolve though as India seeks Washington’s support to rein in cross-border terrorism and as Trump seeks to mend ties with China with a visit to Beijing next month.

The issue of Azhar is in fact likely to figure prominently in India’s foreign policy agenda with other world powers like Russia. Of all the 3 major issues which have bedeviled ties with China in the recent past, including NSG and CPEC, it was on Azhar, widely acknowledged as an international terrorist, that India expected Beijing to not overplay its hand.

China’s position on Azhar is all the more frustrating for India since, after the Doklam disengagement, Beijing has been talking about how it was time for the 2 countries to start a new chapter. Reports from Beijing said Sunday that the delayed Russia-India-China foreign ministers’ trilateral was finally going to take place in December with a visit by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.

Updated: October 30, 2017 — 12:57 am

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