By blatantly standing with dreaded terrorist Masood Azhar, Xi Jinping has put at stake his own credibility at a time when he has declared his intentions to emerge as a ‘world leader’
On November 2 this year, China was once again at its comic best in the theatre of diplomacy. It once again used its veto power in the UN Security Council to stop a resolution aimed at designating Masood Azhar, Chief of Pakistani terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad and the mastermind of the Pathankot terror attack, as a ‘terrorist’. The resolution was moved by USA and backed by Britain and France in a committee of 15 members where all 14 members, other than China, had already expressed their support. According to the rules, a resolution of this kind in the terrorism sanctions Committee of Security Council can pass only if all 15 members express consensus. But China allowed the resolution to fail on the basis that there was no full consensus. The irony was that it quoted itself as a dissenting voice on the resolution.
Does China still need an evidence? Three terrorists, including Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar’s nephew (middle), have been killed in an overnight encounter in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, police said today. A soldier of 44 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) was also killed and two others got injured in the operation. “All three were JeM terrorists, and two of them were Pakistani nationals,” said senior CRPF officer. The terrorists have been identified as Talhr Rasheed, one of the most wanted terrorists and Maulana Masood Azhar's nephew; Mehmood Bhai and Wasim Ahmed Ganai. Security forces have recovered a US-made M4 rifle, one AK-74 (type of AK-47) and a pistol from the encounter site.
This was fourth time in a year that China has blocked this resolution. On earlier three occasions it had blocked similar resolutions with a ‘technical hold’. The first resolution was moved by India whereas all subsequent ones were moved by USA. India was compelled to take this special initiative because Pakistan has been turning down its demand to handover Masood Azhar to her so that India could bring this Pakistani terrorist to justice for organising a dastardly terror attack on Indian air base at Pathankot. Interestingly, the list of 256 individuals and 80 organisations, designated as ‘terrorist’ by the same UN Committee includes Jaish-e-Mohammad that is lead by none other than Masood Azhar himself.
Chinese attempt to sabotage international consensus against terrorism looks absurd on more than one ground. One, it was at the recently concluded BRICS summit at Beijing, hosted by none other than the Chinese Supremo Xi Jinping, where JeM was named and shamed as a ‘terrorist’ organisation along with its other Pakistan counterpart Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the BRICS declaration. And two, since the deadly 9/11 terror attack on USA, China has suddenly started claiming itself as a great champion of anti-terrorism. It’s a different matter that all its energies against terrorism are focused exclusively at branding all those Uygurs, Tibetans, Falun Gang practitioners and dissident pro-democracy Chinese activists who are fighting against Chinese colonialism or the tyranny of communist Chinese regime.
This Chinese act, obviously, invited sharp reaction from India which termed this Chinese vote as a ‘short-sighted and counterproductive act’ because it smacked of ‘accommodating terrorism for narrow objectives’. Only to make it look still more absurd, Chen Xiaodong, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister told the international media on very next day about this vote that “China attaches great importance to its relations with India.” Reacting further to India’s disappointment with Beijing at the UN, Chen claimed that “India is an important neighbour of China”, and that “China plans to step up ties with neighbours under the neighbourhood diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in the new era” as enunciated by President Xi Jinping at the 19th Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).
Incidentally, China’s record in dealing with many other anti-India terrorist groups and individuals in the past leaves hardly any doubt about China’s real levels of honesty towards its claims of attaching “importance to its relations with India”. The latest example is that of Paresh Baruah, a notorious anti-India terrorist and the commander-in-chief of terror group ULFA, whom Beijing is sheltering and protecting in China. These days Beijing is also openly sabotaging New Delhi’s efforts of negotiating a peaceful solution to the Naga problem through a peace-dialogue with various Naga militant groups. It is on China’s insistence that the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) has decided to keep off the ongoing dialogue.
For over half a century, China has been openly supporting, funding, training and promoting a host of anti-India terrorist groups from specially established shelters and camps inside Chinese territory as well as in pockets inside Chinese occupied Tibet, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and some North-Eastern states of India. These groups include the extreme Leftist Naxalites of nineteen sixties and seventies who have now reemerged as ‘Maoists’ in many states of India.
Thanks to ordinary Indian’s preoccupation with Pakistan, China’s latest stand in favour of Masood Azhar at the UN is being seen as yet another instance of China’s support to Pakistan. These overwhelming anti-Pakistan sentiments in India have stopped most people from going in details to find out what is so special about Masood Azhar which has been provoking Beijing to go out of its way to stand by an individual who is recognised as a ruthless terrorist by the world at large? It is also no less surprising to note that soon after the launch of China’s march towards becoming the ‘world leader’ under the leadership of Xi Jinping at the just concluded 19th Congress, Beijing’s very first international step turns out to be stopping the UN Security Council from acting against a dreaded terrorist.
It would be too naive to believe that a statesman like Xi would put his personal credibility at stake in as high a world forum as UN just to please a lackey ‘friend’ Pakistan. To understand the real utility of a terrorist leader like Masood Azhar one will have to look at China’s national sensitivities about its ‘national integrity’ in its restive colony Xinjiang. After closely watching limitations and divided loyalties of Pakistani Army and ISI in putting an effective check on Uyghur militants who have been brought up and trained in various Uyghur refugee camps across Pakistan, Chinese leaders are well aware of potential and promises that an influential terrorist leader like Masood holds for China.
Now that the ISIS Caliphate has fallen in Syria and situation in Afghanistan is changing, a huge number of war baked Uyghur militants are now feeling restless to liberate their own motherland viz. the ‘Republic of East Turkistan’ which China had occupied in 1949 and renamed as ‘Xinjiang’. Only two years later in 1951, a triumphant Chairman Mao and his People’s Liberation Army had managed to occupy adjoining Tibet too. Put together, these two latest colonies of modern day People’s Republic of China (PRC) account for more than half of the PRC’s land mass and two third of its natural resources in addition to giving a direct access to about ten new neighbours like India.
It is interesting to note that unlike the Dalai Lama, the exiled monk ruler of Tibet and his peaceful Buddhist countrymen, Uyghurs are a lot highly motivated race of fighter Muslims whose non-stop violent protests over past 68 years have kept the occupying PLA on its toes. For example, more than 150 Tibetans have lost their lives by self immolation inside Chinese occupied Tibet since 2009 demanding freedom from the Beijing rule. In sharp contrast, when Han labourers lynched 8 Uyghur migrant workers in the Shaoguan town of Guangdong in China during the night of 25/26 June 2009, the Uyghur mobs stabbed and killed nearly 200 Han migrants and Chinese policemen in retaliation in capital city Urumqi of Xinjiang.
Although China has been busy changing the demographic balance against the local Uyghurs by settling millions of Hans in Xinjiang, there have been many instances in early days when angry Uyighur mobs forced the entire population of Hans to run for shelter in the local railway stations and police stations. Chinese Army and police atrocities against the Uyghur populations across Xinjiang witnessed migration into neighbouring Pakistan, especially in 1949, 1954, 1963 and 1974. As per one estimate more than 3000 Uyghurs live in Pakistan in a number of refugee camps named after towns like Kashgar and Khotan.
Over the years these settlements have seen rise of many organisations and freedom movements of ‘East Turkistan’. Obviously, this refugee community has proven to be a potential hunting ground for Islamic as well as pro-America outfits which recruited young Uyghurs for militant groups including the ISIS. Under pressure from China the Pakistan Government has been trying to control the Uyghur freedom activities on its soil with varying success. There have been many instances when Pakistani authorities arrested and deported Uyghur activists to China despite strong protests from human rights groups like Amnesty International.
But China still believes that influential groups in Pakistan, including many senior officers in the Pakistani Army and ISI, protect certain prominent militant Uyghur leaders. Their number might increase following diversion of Uyghur armed militants from Syria where they played prominent role for the ISIS. In the past there have been instances when some Uyghur militants were killed by rival Pakistani Jehadi militant groups. Under such circumstances Beijing finds influential militant leaders like Masood Azhar more useful than the Pakistani establishment in eliminating Uyghur militants who can prove difficult for China as the war theatres in Syria and Afghanistan go through a qualitative change. But by blatantly standing by a known terrorist like Masood Azhar, Xi Jinping has put at stake his own credibility at a time when he has declared his intentions to emerge as the ‘world leader’.
(The writer is a senior journalist and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement)