BACKGROUND: China’s blocking of an Indian move in the United Nations Sanctions Committee seeking censure of Pakistan’s violation of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1267 underscores Beijing’s duplicitous approach to fighting terrorism. While it uses its considerable influence over Pakistan’s government to get it to crack down on Uighur militants running training camps on Pakistani soil, Beijing stands in the way of global efforts to end Pakistan’s nurturing of terrorism directed against other countries.
Recently, Beijing used a “technical hold” to block India’s bid for UN censure of Pakistan for releasing Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) commander Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, who masterminded the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 that left 167 people dead.
UNSCR 1267 lists the LeT as a terrorist group and Lakhvi as a terrorist. Besides designating individuals and entities as terrorist, it calls for freezing their funds and other financial assets or economic resources. In April, a Pakistan court released Lakhvi on bail. If his access to funds is frozen, how did he get the money needed for the bail? India alleges that Pakistan’s release of Lakhvi and the posting of bail money for him is a violation of UNSCR 1267.
By placing a “technical hold” on India’s request for a discussion of Pakistan’s violation of UNSCR 1267 – a technical hold puts off the case for three months before it can come back before the committee – on the grounds that Delhi had not provided “sufficient information,” China got Pakistan off the hook.
China has a history of placing technical holds on India’s attempts at getting Pakistan-backed terrorist outfits and terrorists included in the UN’s terrorist list. It used this strategy repeatedly to block the listing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a front of the LeT, as a terrorist group. It was only after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, when global outrage with JuD/ LeT soared that China, fearing isolation on the matter voted in the UNSC to declare it a terrorist organization and impose sanctions on its leaders. Similarly, China placed technical holds on India’s bids to have the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Maulana Masood Azhar, the LeT’s Abdur Rehman Makki and Azam Cheema and the Hizbul Mujahideen’s Syed Salahuddin included in the UN’s terrorist list. The JuD/ LeT, JeM and HM are among several anti-India terrorist groups that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has nurtured for decades.
IMPLICATIONS: Through its use of the technical hold in the UN Sanctions Committee, China has shielded Pakistan from international scrutiny on the issue of its support to terrorism. While Beijing’s defense of Pakistan is not surprising given their “all-weather friendship,” backing its actions with regard to terrorism seems ill-considered given that China is itself at the receiving end of terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based Uighur groups.
Prominent among these groups is the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an organization of militant Uighur Islamists. A close affiliate of al-Qaeda, the Pakistan Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the ETIM has training camps in Pakistan’s turbulent North Waziristan region and it is from bases here that it has carried out dozens of attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of China.
While the roots of Uighur alienation lie in grievances that are domestic – Beijing’s Hannization of Xinjiang and its repression of the Uighur people, for instance – its articulation in violence and terrorism has been facilitated by easy access to weapons and training in the neighborhood, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, IMU and the Taliban have provided ETIM with arms and training. These groups also share operational bases in North Waziristan and strategic expertise. It is this collaboration among terror outfits in North Waziristan that has made the ETIM a dangerous group.
The frequency, magnitude and geographic spread of ETIM attacks have grown remarkably in recent years, prompting Beijing to accelerate measures to stamp out dissent and protest in Xinjiang. China is also taking steps at the multi-lateral and bilateral levels. Traditionally reluctant to coordinate counter-terrorism strategies in multi-lateral forums – although counter-terrorism co-operation has over the past decade been a key theme on the agenda of the China-led Shanghai Co-operation Organization – China has relied on measures at the bilateral level. Besides intelligence-sharing, it has signed treaties with 36 countries so far to have suspected terrorists extradited.
Its preference for a bilateral approach is most evident in its handling of its terrorism problems emanating from Pakistan. It has preferred to deal with the Pakistan government quietly on this matter, avoiding admonishing it publicly for the sanctuary and other support it provides terrorist groups. Instead, Beijing has preferred to use direct dialogue to seek action from Islamabad.
What is more, Beijing restricts its demands to action against terrorists that threaten China’s interests; it has avoided questioning Pakistan’s policies of using terrorism to further its interests vis-à-vis countries like India.
China has pressed Islamabad to crack down on Pakistan-based Uighur terrorist groups. It was under pressure from Beijing that Pakistan banned the ETIM, the IMU and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU); extradited ETIM leaders to China and carried out military operations to dismantle ETIM’s bases in Pakistan. In fact, the operation launched by Pakistan’s military in North Waziristan in June last year that reportedly focused on the ETIM and the IMU was at Beijing’s behest.
Despite Pakistan’s cooperation with Beijing, the latter is reportedly not fully satisfied. The ETIM and other Uighur militant groups remain capable of major attacks in China as the recent attack on a police check point in Kashgar in Xinjiang indicates.
CONCLUSIONS: A few extraditions and military operations are unlikely to weaken the ETIM as long as it can draw sustenance from the massive terrorist network that the ISI nurtures in Pakistan. This underscores the need for Beijing to get Pakistan to crackdown not only on a couple of terrorist outfits but to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism it has set up over several decades.
Beijing will have to end its appeasement of Pakistan’s support to terrorism directed at other countries if it is keen to end terrorist attacks in China. Its selective approach of demanding action against anti-China groups while ignoring Pakistan’s nurturing of anti-India outfits may endear it to the Pakistani establishment and also help it keep a rising India under pressure but this strategy is not without costs. Not only will it limit the scope of Sino-Indian co-operation but will also keep the military capacity of groups like the ETIM intact.
Image Attribution: Wikimedia Commons & Boris Ajeganov