Silk Route to Jihad

Maulana Masood Azhar
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China’s attitude to terrorism is too relaxed for anyone’s good

FOR A COUNTRY that is quite familiar with terrorism, China’s attitude towards it is remarkably insouciant. During his recent visit to Beijing, India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar was informed by Chinese officials that “solid” proof was required to declare Maulana Masood Azhar a terrorist at the United Nations. Azhar is the leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist outfit that operates out of Bahawalpur in Pakistan. He is infamous for being released by India in exchange for the safety of passengers on an Indian Airlines plane that was hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in Afghanistan in 1999.

Demand for proof, solid or otherwise, is unexceptionable. Even terrorists have rights. But there’s more at play here. Under a UN Security Council resolution passed in 1999, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations can be proscribed globally and their sources of funding, ability to move personnel and other logistics can be cut off once their name figures on the list of entities declared as terrorist outfits. This work is done by the 1267 Committee—named after the 1999 resolution that enabled its creation. Like much else at the UN, the work of this committee is carried out by a consensus of its members, rendering the task of proscribing and catching terrorists at once a political task. The result is that the Committee comes perilously close to saying, ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’

Had this been a matter of procedure and politics, India could have been successful in mounting a diplomatic campaign. It already has, to an extent. Barring China, there is consensus on listing Azhar as a terrorist. But if that happens, Pakistan stands to lose a ‘strategic asset’. That is code for a person who carries out tasks that Islamabad cannot do using its armed forces and does not want to acknowledge. From attacks in Kashmir to creating terrorist cells in India, Azhar has been involved in plenty of subversive activities. So there’s more here than just the boring work of a committee considering evidence on paper dispassionately. China is only abetting Pakistan’s dirty work.

Beijing should know that it faces an Islamist terrorist threat in Xinjiang, one of its most restive provinces. It also has evidence that support for such networks comes from just across its border, in Pakistan. It would be good if our diplomats were to explain to their Chinese counterparts that the road to jihad lies on the Old Silk Route.