What Are India’s Options, With China Still Vague on Masood Azhar?
The suicide bomb attack that killed around 40 CRPF jawans in Pulwama is easily one of the most serious attacks the security forces have faced in Jammu & Kashmir since the beginning of insurgency in 1990.
Comparisons are being made with the J&K Legislative Assembly attack in 2001 that led to the killing of 38 people. Both attacks seem to have used the same modus operandi – having a suicide bomber ram an SUV loaded with explosives on to the target.
Both attacks have been claimed by the Jaish-e-Muhammad – in the 2001 case the bomber was a Pakistani, while this time it is an Indian, Adil Ahmad Dar.
The Modi government has two choices in dealing with the situation. It can, like 2016 launch another strike into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, reminiscent of its so-called surgical strike of 29 September 2016. Or, it can take the somewhat sterile road of diplomacy.
Going the Diplomatic Way
Given the state of India-Pakistan relations, India doesn’t have much diplomatic leverage with Islamabad at this juncture.
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It could, make it an issue with the United States whose President Trump had condemned Pakistan for providing “safe havens” to terror groups and supporting Afghan militants in August 2017. Subsequently, the US cut military aid to Islamabad. But right now, Pakistan is back in Washington’s good graces because the latter is keen to leave Afghanistan and wants Pakistan to play a “responsible” role in the process.
Can India Exert Influence on China?
So we are left with China. For years China has imposed a hold on New Delhi’s efforts to have Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar listed in the UN’s 1267 Committee as a terrorist. Even after the Sino-Indian thaw following the Modi-Xi summit in Wuhan in April 2018, Beijing has continued to maintain its hold on Azhar’s nomination. The JeM has already been listed as an entity as of 17 October 2001, but New Delhi has been keen to list Azhar as a person.
As a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, China has a veto which it has threatened to use in the event of the name coming up.
In August 2018, China extended by three months its technical hold on the proposal which has been backed by the US, France and UK to name Azhar as a global terrorist.
In September 2018, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi defended Beijing’s repeated blocking of India’s efforts to list Azhar as a global terrorist. He said that Beijing would support it if all parties “come to a consensus.” In actual fact, all countries in the UNSC except China are ready to list Azhar.
So by all parties he meant India and Pakistan and the likelihood of that happening as of now is remote, considering the use Islamabad has been making of the Jaish to carry out its covert war in Jammu & Kashmir.
The Chinese minister spoke of the need for “solid facts and proof” and declared that Islamabad would not “turn its back” on “irrefutable evidence.” He went on to declare that China was against all forms of terrorism, and had been encouraging Pakistan in its battle against the terrorists and said that Pakistan had paid a heavy price in fighting the Al Qaida in Afghanistan.
The reset in Sino-Indian ties launched by the Wuhan meeting has not had much effect on the Azhar issue. Modi and Xi met four times in 2018 and ministers from both sides traveled to each other’s countries and held talks.
The two nations also held the 21st round of border talks between their Special Representatives in the year. India toned down its criticism of the Belt and Road Initiative and CPEC and also committed not to use the Tibet card. Yet, somehow the Azhar issue has remained intractable. It clearly signals the limits of India’s ability to influence China.
Another ‘Surgical Strike’?
So, the Modi government may be compelled to return to its muscular strategy “surgical strike” mode. This is easier said than done.
The real world of cross-border strikes is infinitely more difficult that the Bollywood recreations.
The “surgical strikes” were carefully thought through and, though they were successful in killing several terrorists, they barely dented the terrorist infrastructure along the Line of Control. In fact, Pakistan was able to convince itself that the attacks didn’t take place at all. The fact that there was no let up in cross-border attacks after the so-called surgical strikes indicated that they had not achieved what India had set out to do – to deter Pakistan from repeating their attack.
This time around, can the government come up with a formula that will work ?