Wednesday, July 24, 2019
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Protecting Azhar may prove Pyrrhic for China, Pak

by Allabaksh

With its third consecutive “technical hold” on Maulana Msud Azhar Alvi at the UNSC designating him as a global terrorist, China has for now helped save its “iron brother” Pakistan from sanctions and embarrassment. But scoring this diplomatic brownie against the other P4 and in defiance of a growing world opinion may prove Pyrrhic in the long run.

The irony, also the reality, is that both China and Pakistan know this, and so do India and the P4. But that is how diplomatic games are played at the United Nations.

China’s fig leaf of peace advocacy is off with its insistence of “serious discussions” on the issue of Azhar and militancy. Both China and Pakistan are insisting on them and harping on the Kashmir issue without touching upon the threat from militancy for the entire region.

China has blocked a move that India wants to keep the latter on toes and at arm’s length. It wants to retain a bargaining point, even an irritant, since it knows India would not want it to affect bilateral relations. Beijing thinks that this is a diplomatic threshold that New Delhi will not want to cross. But can it feel confident on this when India has only recently crossed the nuclear threshold with Pakistan by launching an air raid on Balakot, Azhar’s stronghold?

The reality is that while trying to get even with India, China is boosting threat to its own security on two significant counts. Thriving militancy in Pakistan is bad for a China that is battling its own Uighour Muslim rebels in the Xinjiang region adjoining Pakistan. These rebels were till the recent past trained by Pakistan’s ISI in the non-man’s tribal region on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Secondly, and more significantly, the militants active from the POK to Balochistan threaten the CPEC wherein China has invested billions. The protection to its 60,000-plus workers on various CPEC projects and installations in Balochistan has not proved adequate despite the special force raised by the Pakistan Army. Expanding CPEC and a restive Balochistan are both daunting and the activities of militants of various hues, who view China as a godless adversary intruding into what has been their territory.

While threat from Pakistan’s militants to the Chinese presence have, if at all, been at the best part of academic discussions in China where the media is not free, in relatively democratic Pakistan, the media has been critical. If not so much of the Chinese protection to Azhar and the likes, then certainly, the dominant role the militants have come to play in Pakistan’s polity.

Pakistan’s own security experts have noted that while India’s claim that Azhar-founded Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has accepted responsibility for the February 14 attack in Indian-occupied Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops, the denial to it has come from Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

The minister had flatly denied that Azhar is in Pakistan and also gamely said that JeM “does not formally exist in Pakistan” raising the inevitable questions – what about informally and on the ground? And who is nurturing them and protecting them?

Then, he admitted to his presence but tried to evoke sympathy by saying that he is unwell and too sick to move out. The world community is used to such denials and subterfuge, experts say.

Having flip-flopped on Azhar, Pakistan has then gone about arresting more than 100 members of banned organisations, including the son and brother of Azhar and other JeM members, had been detained in a crackdown. But here, too, serious doubts are being expressed.

Writing in Dawn newspaper (March 12, 2019), analyst Zahid Husain says: “It is not the first time such actions have been taken against these groups. It has almost become a ritual to clamp down on them after each crisis and under international pressure.”

He recalls that “Almost all previous actions against these groups had proved largely cosmetic. There was hardly any serious effort to take the campaign to its logical conclusion. As a result, these groups kept resurfacing after the pressure was over. This has been evident over the last 15 years since a decision was taken to outlaw jihadist and extremist religious groups, manifesting a nonchalant approach towards a most serious security and diplomatic challenge.”

Husain deprecates the “political expediency and the old habit of creating distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants made it harder to deal with the problem.

“There has hardly been any tangible sign of containing the activities of the groups that are now under intense international scrutiny. In fact, groups like JuD, though apparently involved in charity work, are alleged to have expanded their operations in the past, despite being put on the terror watch list. There are few who believe the argument that the group was only involved in charity work and had no connection with extremist politics.

“Where the JeM is concerned, this outlawed group has been blamed for militant attacks across the LoC including the one on the Pathankot airbase three years ago. There were claims of a crackdown on the madressahs allegedly run by the group then but afterwards this action seemed to have petered out.”
He has hoped that the world opinion would oblige Pakistan to act against Azhar. But, he observes: “It would have been much better for Pakistan not to have tarried until now; it should have taken action against these non-state groups much earlier because of its own security considerations. That would have also saved it from diplomatic embarrassment.”

Urging Pakistan’s authorities to look within, he says: “There is no room any more for any expediency and slackness in dealing with outlawed militant groups.

Of the ‘good’ militants, he alludes to those nurtured by the ISI to cause trouble in neighbouring Afghanistan, Iran and India. In that context, he warns: “The argument presented by some that these outfits have not targeted the Pakistani state is not acceptable because it is equally dangerous for our national security if non-state actors who are accused of using our territory to strike beyond the borders are not reined in.”

(The author is a Kashmir based freelance journalist)

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