India’s efforts to get Jaish e Mohammad Masood Azhar have come a cropper again, for the fourth time, with China blocking the move to designate him a terrorist in the United Nations. A strong diplomatic push to ensure that Azhar was singled out for the Pulwama terror attack has been blocked, not by Islamabad but by China that has relentlessly been countering Indian objections to the ‘technical hold’ against Azhar being designated a terrorist by the UN Security Council.

There is a sense of déjà vu.

As India had gone along the same diplomatic route and loud rhetoric after the Pathankot terror attack on January 2, 2016 for which the Jaish e Mohammad claimed responsibility as well. A heavily armed group of terrorists had attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station, Western Air Command with the ensuing gun battle lasting over 17 hours. Ten persons, five terrorists and five soldiers were killed in this attack.

New Delhi had launched a diplomatic offensive, then as now, to convince China to change its stance. In fact this time around, slivers of hope were shared by the ‘sources’ who head India’s strategic team with the willing media, that China would bow to increasing pressure, and join the other UNSC nations to so designate the Jaish founder.

This did not happen. And was not a surprise as there has been little by way of political indication since the Pulwama terror attack that Beijing was actually considering a shift in its considered stand.

China while condemning the terror attack at Pulwama had given no indication that it was prepared to review its position on Masood Azhar, the terrorist released by New Delhi under the first NDA government led by PM Vajpayee, in exchange for hijacked prisoners. Ironically, as The Citizen has pointed out, the intelligence chief who masterminded Azhar’s release then, Ajit Doval, is now the National Security Advisor heading India’s efforts to isolate Azhar as a declared terrorist.

China has made it very clear, again, that it will not play ball on Azhar, with the announcement an hour before the UNSC meeting again coming as a “surprise” to New Delhi. In 2016 India had cleared two high level visits to China and was shocked at its stance in the UNSC. Then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar landed in Shanghai even as the news broke, with Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj scheduled to attend a high level meeting with her Russian and Chinese counterparts soon after.

This time too Minister Sushma Swaraj with her Chinese counterparts shortly after Pulwama and the Balakot military operations to muster support for India’s position on terrorism, and the need for Masood Azhar to be designated a terrorist by the UNSC. However, an aggressive diplomatic drive since seems to have failed to budge China on this issue, despite media efforts to read nuances in statements that clearly did not exist.

Pakistan had placed Azhar in what it described as “protective custody” after the Pathankot attack, though initially the media had projected it as an arrest. Similar noises were heard briefly this time after the Pulwama attack, which soon changed again to a flat denial by Islamabad that JeM was involved.

During the Pathankot attack the second NDA government led by PM Modi received considerable flak from the security establishment for allowing the Pakistan joint investigation team access to the Pathankot Air Force base, despite the fact that a senior officer of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence was part of the delegation. New Delhi had claimed that this was on a reciprocal basis, and a similar team from here would be given access to Azhar. This was denied within a day of the Pakistan team's returning to Islamabad, Indian protests notwithstanding.

Just today, a 16 member Pakistani delegation arrived in India to begin talks on the Kartarpur corridor. Exactly a month after the Pulwama attack killing 40 CRPF soldiers, the two countries are meeting to discuss the modalities of the corridor to the Kartarpur Sahab Gurudwara. MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted, “Commitment to fulfil a dream! Talks begin between India&Pakistan to discuss and finalise the modalities for the #KartarpurCorridor, at Attari, Amritsar, that’ll facilitate Indian pilgrims to visit the holy shrine of Gurudwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur.”

India had approached the UN following ‘evidence’ of JeM involvement in the Pathankot terror attack then as it has now. China had just taken over the rotational UNSC presidency, in 2016 and in a first move placed this ‘technical hold’ on the UN Sanctions Committee to prevent it from designating Azhar as a terrorist.

India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin had criticised the ‘hidden veto’ in dealing with the listing of terrorist outfits and their leaders. China had countered this with, "China always deals with the listing of 1267 Committee based on facts and pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions and relevant rules in a fair manner."

In response the Chinese Foreign Ministry had said, "We have noticed the remarks by India's Permanent Representative to the UN. Ironically both China and India share similar positions when it comes to combating terrorism.”

“China supports the UN in playing a leading role in international anti-terrorism cooperation and takes an active part in international anti-terrorism cooperation," the Chinese Foreign Ministry has maintained. In 2016 it had further stated, "In order to reach an international consensus on counter-terrorism, China encourages all parties to fully leverage the leading and coordinating role played by the UN and the Security Council and forge international synergy on counter-terrorism.”

Beijing is of the view that Azhar does not qualify to be nailed as a “terrorist” and face UN sanctions as his case “did not meet” the Security Council’s requirements. “Any listing would have to meet the requirements” for blacklisting, Chinese Permanent Representative to the UN Liu Jieyi told reporters earlier in response to questions over China’s decision after the Pathankot attack.

There has been little in these three years by way of diplomacy or statements to suggest a shift in China’s position from 2016. Then Foreign Secretary Jaishankar had confirmed at the time that the issue had been taken up with China “at a fairly high level.” This was almost immediately countered by Liu Jinsong at a function at the University of Delhi where he said, “We agree with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea that there should be no discrimination when dealing with terrorists. But when it comes to naming who is a terrorist, we need more discussion at the international level.”

In a statement now the Ministry of External Affairs said it was “disappointed,” adding, “This (technical hold) has prevented action by the international community to designate the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a proscribed and active terrorist organisation which has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February 2019.”

The MEA stated it was grateful for the efforts of the member states who moved the designation proposal. It said it had received unprecedented support from Security Council members as well as non-members, who joined as co-sponsors of the purported resolution. It did not name China specifically in the statement referring to it broadly as a UNSC “member.”