People of India heaved a collective sigh of relief when China finally withdrew its veto and permitted the listing of the architect of Pulwama attack as an international terrorist. This should have been done a decade ago when India and other countries provided sufficient evidence of his collusion with the al-Qaeda to spread terror around the world. China turned the matter into a major bilateral issue with India by merely delaying a decision as a measure of shielding Pakistan and countering India. The Chinese decision to drag on the negotiations on this issue resulted in Pakistan getting off the hook on Pulwama and China gaining India’s neutrality on their Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China relented in the end as though it was responding to international pressure, but in reality it was a calculated diplomatic move to gain advantages.
India dealt with the matter patiently, particularly after it became clear that it had the support of the international community behind it even though it was under pressure to close the matter before the Lok Sabha elections ended. India kept an eye not only on Pakistan, but also on China and the US as its diplomats, notably Foreign Secretary Viijay Gokhale and UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin engaged the world. As I wrote to a friend when I heard the news on May 1 in New York, our mood should be one of “celebration without jubilation, optimism without triumphalism and hard work without expectation of breakthroughs. If China has moved an inch towards India, it may have moved a few yards toward Pakistan.”
Pakistan made an effort to save its face by claiming that the main obstacle to designating Azhar as a terrorist was the link India tried to establish between Azhar and the Pulwama attack. Pakistan stated that it agreed to the listing after removing "politically motivated attempts" to link the issue with the Pulwama attack, a formula that may have been worked out during its Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Beijing just before the change in the Chinese position. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs responded by playing down the absence of any reference to Pulwama in the decision. This was actually removed at some stage in the negotiations, but the aim of the listing is tagging him a global terrorist, it is not exactly a bio-data, the Ministry said. "The Pulwama terror attack did play a role in the listing of Masood Azhar as global terrorist," the spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. But the designation is not based on any specific incident. Rather, it is "on the basis of evidence which we have shared with the members of the sanctions committee linking Masood Azhar to several acts of terror," he added. Diplomacy is, after all, the art of the possible.
Like many other decisions of the UN, the listing has only a symbolic value, though it is mandatory for all countries to impose a freeze on Masood Azhar's finances and assets, a travel ban and an arms embargo. As long as he is free in Pakistan under the protection of the armed forces, all his operations would continue in the names of others. JEM was listed long ago as a terrorist organisation without it having any impact on its global operations. On the other hand, some believe that the listing carries deep diplomatic, geopolitical and political impact. According to them, the Narendra Modi Government in India has been able to strike a balance between its effort to pressurise China by aligning with other world powers and maintain an equilibrium in the Sino-Indian relationship.
After the listing, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the entire credit for the US in a tweet: "Congrats to our team @USUN for their work in negotiating JEM's Masood Azhar's #UN designation as a terrorist. This long-awaited action is a victory for American diplomacy and the international community against terrorism, and an important step towards peace in South Asia". No word about apparent relaxation of tensions between China and India on this account. The fact that three permanent members including the US weighed in on this matter was significant for China.
The expectation that the closure on the Azhar issue will lead to another Wuhan and normalisation of relations with China is not realistic. China may not have pushed the demands put forward by Imran Khan such as a resumption of dialogue and resolution of the Kashmir issue, but it pushed India into a neutral position on BRI at a time when the whole world caved in to Chinese wishes. India’s position can only be tactical as our stakes are high not only on the sovereignty question, but also on the whole concept of Chinese hegemony. The formidable issues that remain on the long list of Indian grievances cannot be wished away or resolved with the Chinese tendency to measure time in terms of ages. The Azhar issue was simpler than the rest, but the fact that it took China 10 years to concede even a symbolic win for India should be another lesson for us.
The listing of Azhar as a terrorist has given Prime Minister Narendrta Modi one last diplomatic victory before the elections, but it may not help in improving relations with China or Pakistan. If anything, it proves that the US has abandoned Pakistan as an ally and that is a significant development.