There has been a raging controversy about India’s air strike on Balakot. It is important to analyse the diplomatic implications of the attack, on what was indisputably a major centre for training and ideologically motivating members of the Jaish-e-Mohammed. Pakistan’s assertions that the attack caused no damage have been contradicted by the fact that no outsider has been allowed near the Balakot buildings. More importantly, the attack has triggered widespread international attention and support for India, which has embarrassed not just Pakistan, but also its “all-weather friend”, China.
China has invariably shown a remarkable ability to get its way in Multilateral International Forums. It uses its position as a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council to ensure that it is not seen to be isolated, or obstructive, on issues of global concern. On February 14, however, Beijing found that it had to use its veto power to prevent approval of a resolution sponsored by the US, UK, France and Germany to declare Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the JeM, an ‘International Terrorist’. The Security Council had declared the JeM a ‘Global Terrorist Organisation’ in 2001. While not sponsoring the resolution, Russia nevertheless, backed it.
With 14 of the 15 members of the Council backing the resolution, China found itself in splendid isolation. The Chinese argued they needed further discussion on the subject, even after they exercised their fourth veto since 2016, to protect Azhar. China’s actions have had unexpected consequences. Nobody outside Pakistan and China voiced any serious doubts about Azhar being an international terrorist. A former Director General of the ISI, Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, publicly held the JeM responsible for the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament and for attempts to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf.
The US, France and the UK have now moved for a public discussion in the Security Council on Azhar’s role as an international terrorist. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has alleged that China has detained more than one million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in internment camps in Xinjiang, since April 2017. Pompeo noted: “The world cannot afford China’s shameful hypocrisy towards Muslims. On one hand, China abuses more than a million Muslims at home, and on the other it protects violent Islamic terrorist groups from sanctions.”
These actions in the UN Security Council are going to have far-reaching implications in the UN Human Rights Council and in the Islamic World. How will 53 Islamic countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which have turned a blind eye to Chinese atrocities against Muslims, react? How will Russia, China’s strongest supporter in global affairs, respond? Will global pressures lead to gradual change in China’s policies of active defence of Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups? Will the Taliban turn a blind eye to China’s persecution of Muslims, given Beijing’s own ties with the Taliban? Finally, will India continue its present policies of soft-peddling the adverse impact of China’s terrorist-friendly policies?