Beijing’s unhelpful stance on Azhar runs the risk of upsetting commercial ties between China and India.
It was ten years ago that China, prodded by the military in Pakistan, first placed a hold on the UN Security Council’s 1267 Sanctions Committee doing the obvious and declaring Masood Azhar as a global terrorist subject to international sanctions. Last month’s Pulwama attack, accepted as being his doing by Azhar himself, has created a mood in India that will no longer watch the government confine itself to platitudinal expressions of regret and concern at China’s solicitude for Masood Azhar. They ask for action, and an obvious target for those unhappy with Beijing’s support for Azhar would be telecom exports to India, which are in the $50 billion range this year in a total trade of over $100 billion. Of this, the surplus of exports over imports of China is $60 billion this year. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both India-China trade as well as China’s trade surplus with India has reached levels that are high and rising. In a situation where Chinese telecom manufacturers are facing protectionist measures from the US and from an increasing list of other countries, India has been an exception. Given the anger in India over China’s latest blocking of the move by all other UNSC members to designate Azhar as a global terrorist, Prime Minister Modi faces substantial criticism for being “soft on China”, and there is a clamour from within his own party to place restrictions on Chinese telecom imports into India on security grounds. The argument given by those asking for a complete ban on Chinese telecom products and services into India is that the industry is vital for internal security, and that by once again blocking efforts by the global community to assist India by taking a tough line against a self-acknowledged terrorist of long standing, China has shown that it continues to follow the wishes of the Pakistan military even when that force has been seeking to engulf India in chaos through resort to terrorism.
During 2009, 2016 and 2017, there were zero consequences from India for China’s blocking of UNSC action through a technical hold. This time around, the Government of India will earn the tag of being as careless about national security challenges as the A.B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments were, unless action gets initiated against Chinese trade with India. Only two countries support Pakistan over Azhar, and these are Turkey and China. As a consequence, an argument is being made by China-sceptics that normal commercial dealings with that country in telecom products carry a security risk. The post-Pulwama support shown by China to the Pakistan military and its terrorist associate crossed a red line on 13 March. Public anger at this move by China has surprised the Lutyens Zone, which is habituated to ignoring the harm done to India by other countries and refusing to retaliate in return. After the Azhar slap at the UNSC, Prime Minister Modi will be under pressure to retaliate, just as he did after the Pulwama massacre, fortunately with the backing of the major opposition parties, including the Congress Party led by Rahul Gandhi, all of whom are calling for a strong response by Modi to China’s latest veto on UNSC action against Azhar.
Beijing’s unhelpful stance on Azhar runs the risk of upsetting commercial ties between China and India. Trade is good for both countries. Even though the $100 billion figure seems large, in reality the potential of trade between the two countries that together hold 2.7 billion people is around $300 billion. Of this, India’s imports from China could be $200 billion and its exports $100 billion, comprising items such as services, Information Technology and pharmaceuticals. besides the raw materials that have thus far dominated this country’s exports to the other. Greater cultural contact between China and India would be good for both sides, with Chinese movie starts acting in Bollywood, Tollywood and other productions, and Indian actors and actresses acting in Chinese movies. Music, dance and other forms of entertainment could be made mutually popular, especially if television channels in both countries screen each other’s wares. Overall, there is no substantive cause for any type of conflict between the two most populous countries on the globe, provided China is on India’s side in the matter of cross-border terror.
The reason why GHQ Rawalpindi seeks to protect Azhar is obvious. It has put into operation a plan to make parts of Jammu & Kashmir another Taliban Afghanistan, and in such a transformation, the Jaish e Mohammed (JeM) has been given the lead role. Azhar, who was released in 1999 by the Vajpayee government, is therefore a prized asset of the Pakistan military. The surprise is that the hold of GHQ Rawalpindi over the decision-making process in Beijing is so strong that China repeatedly sacrifices its own interests in order to bat for a terrorist at the UNSC. Beijing has so misunderstood the post-Pulwama mood in India as to believe that this time as well its backing for GHQ Rawalpindi against India will as usual get overlooked, barring a few statements from the MEA. After GHQ Rawalpindi began its latest drive in 2015 to convert parts of Kashmir into an Afghanistan-style cauldron of violence to the detriment of the people living there, terror attacks planned by it and carried out by local recruits have become more and more audacious. Only a very strong response by India on any backing for such moves can retrieve the situation. After the latest technical hold on declaring Azhar a global terrorist, the option of placing curbs on China’s telecom exports to India is becoming an option that may be difficult for those looking only at corporate bottom lines to resist for much longer.
In 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi through D.P. Dhar formed an alliance with the USSR that gave her the backstop needed to take on the Pakistan army. In the same way, India now needs to establish a close military alliance with the US. This would give Delhi the flexibility needed to take on Pakistan’s military once again as was done in 1971. Decisions such as the purchase of the S-400 system from Russia, or the delay in signing the third India-US foundation defence agreement, make no sense in the present geopolitical context. Of the two global superpowers, China has clearly declined to move away from its embrace of Pakistan. That leaves only the US as a superpower partner. The latest Chinese decision on Masood Azhar at the UNSC makes imperative the need to demonstrate that such a move cannot any more be followed by “business as usual”, especially in fields vital to security such as energy, infrastructure and telecom. China may soon learn that choices involve costs, and that by supporting the GHQ Rawalpindi terror machine against India, Beijing is putting at risk what is potentially its largest market in Asia.