Why China should not have backed Pakistan on Lakhvi

Beijing had blocked India's attempt at the UN to embarrass Islamabad over the release of the 26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind, but it is not surprising.

 |  4-minute read |   25-06-2015
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China’s decision to block India’s move to embarrass Pakistan at the United Nations (UN) is not surprising. In fact, considering the all-weather friendship between its two neighbours, New Delhi should have anticipated it. Many in India were disappointed as this came on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successful visit to China last month.

But most hard-headed diplomats, like former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, are not surprised. The simple fact is that ties with Pakistan make strategic sense to China. In spite of the atmospherics and bonhomie during Modi’s visit to China, the ground reality does not change.

"We have to contend with the fact that relations with Pakistan is key to China’s policy in the region. It is a proxy against India and brings in a certain value to Bejing’s ties with the central Asian countries as well as those beyond, in the west Asian neighbourhood. Now with China’s 'One Belt One Road' strategy and the maritime silk road, Beijing will continue to keep its relations intact with Pakistan."

Recently president Xi Jinping announced a $46 billion investment plan for an economic corridor from the Gwadar port in Pakistan to China’s restive Xinjiang region.

All this works in Pakistan’s favour and easily explains why China blocked India’s move in New York. It blocked India’s move on grounds of technicality, saying there was not sufficient proof against the alleged 26/11 Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and his co-conspirators. This is exactly the same argument that Pakistan has been forwarding in its own defence over Lakhvi's release.

After Lakhvi, the operations chief of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), was granted bail by a Lahore Court in April 10, this year, there was outrage across the country. New Delhi approached the UN Sanctions Committee in New York to ask Pakistan for an explanation. Lakhvi was freed on a bail of 200 million Pakistani rupees. India said the release was in violation of the UN resolution 1267 that dealt with designated terror entities and individuals. Both Lakhvi individually, and the LeT as a group, are proscribed by the UN.

India’s target was naming and shaming Pakistan. India wanted to know who posted the bail amount. The individual accounts of such persons and funds of the proscribed outfit are frozen.

The Narendra Modi government is hugely disappointed by China's decision to bail out its old friend Pakistan. Many were optimistic, especially because when Modi and Xi met, the prime minister had explained India’s sensitivity to the case, considering that 166 people were killed and hundreds injured in the 26/11 attack. The families of the victims wanted justice and closure.

In fact, terrorism was mentioned in the joint statement issued at the end of the prime minister’s talks with Chinese premier Li Keqiang on May 15.

"Both sides reiterated their strong condemnation of and resolute opposition to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and committed themselves to cooperate on counterterrorism. They agreed that there is no justification for terrorism and urged all countries and entities to work sincerely to disrupt terrorist networks and their financing, and stop cross-border movement of terrorists, in accordance with the relevant principles and purposes of the UN Charter and international laws. They called for early conclusion of negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism."

In a post 9/11 world, to seem to be helping a terror group goes against international opinion. "China is completely out of line in this," says Vivek Katju, a former ambassador to Pakistan.

"But China will brazen it out," says Shyam Saran. "On its part, India just needs to keep the pressure on by protesting and raising it in bilateral meetings. We may not be happy with what has happened, but this is the reality, we have to deal with it. Remember it is embarrassing for China too." China as a rising power is keen to project itself as a responsible member of the world community.

"It is consistent with China’s policy towards India. Perhaps New Delhi’s expectations were raised because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to China. Perhaps India expected China to be sensitive to India’s concerns on those responsible for the Mumbai terror strikes," said former foreign secretary, Lalit Mansingh.

The question is, how does India deal with China, which takes sides even in a case of a terror suspect. Many believe this has nothing to do with India, Pakistan or China, but with terror, which affects every country. China is majorly worried about the spread of Islamic militancy in its western Xinjiang province and has been at the receiving end of terror strikes against the Han Chinese settled in the area. "We need to learn some hard lessons from China," says Katju. But the truth us is, this incident will not affect long term India-China relations.

"We must not magnify everything that happens between India and China. We need to see things in perspective and not exaggerate the importance of such events," says analyst Alka Archarya.

Writer

Seema Guha Seema Guha @seemaguha1

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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