Intro: China has to reconsider its stance and join the global community in pressurising Pakistan to act against Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. If China fails to do so, it will not be only a blow to the bilateral relations between India and China, but will also provide a boost to radical Islamists.
India’s attempts at imposing sanctions against Pakistan for releasing Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the mastermind of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack were blocked by China on June 23, 2015 at the United Nations Sanctions Committee (UNSC). India’s permanent Ambassador to the United Nations Asoke Mukerji had sought action against Pakistan for being in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1267 dealing with terrorist entities and individuals, for releasing Lakhvi in the 26/11 trial going on in Pakistan. However, Chinese representatives blocked the move on grounds that New Delhi did not provide sufficient information. It is significant to note that all other 14 members of the Committee, including the other four permanent members of the Security Council supported the resolution. This action of China as expected has caused deep indignation in India and all the recent euphoria about improvement in Sino-Indian relations has evaporated in thin air.
It would not be wrong to say that the Chinese have erred as far as the vote is concerned. Their decision was possibly prompted by India’s relatively low key reaction to two such similar acts by China in the past, including one in respect of Hizbul Mujahideen leader, Sayeed Salahudeen. However, this may have been a grave mistake. Firstly, there were tell-tale signs showing Lakhvi’s clear cut involvement in masterminding the Mumbai attacks. More significantly, many foreign nationals were killed, besides Indian citizens, in Mumbai attack of November 2008 and this was probably the reason, why all other countries in the Committee supported Indian contention. Mumbai is an extremely emotive incident for Indian public and consequently, this tacit support to Lakhvi has elicited a very strong public reaction in India. Probably an autocratic regime in China did not visualise the significance of public perception in shaping the foreign policy of a democratic state.
1962 War had left deep psychological scars on Indian public and when they were about to heal somewhat, on account of numerous efforts made by the two countries to come closer, however, this vote has brought them back, to the same point from where they started. In recent past, China had realised India’s significance and as a result had gone out of its way to woe India, especially after the current government led by Prime Minister Modi. China’s primary objective vis a vis India has been to prevent India from becoming a military ally of the US and it was perceived that under a strong nationalist government led by Modi, India was unlikely to kowtow to the US dictates. On the economic front, the demographic crunch coupled with serious environmental degradation has forced China to relocate its manufacturing activities to other countries and India with its huge market and demographic advantage was the logical destination.
Consequent to these convergences, after six and a half decades a Chinese leader was given a public reception in India and Chinese investments had just started pouring in. During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China, President Xi Jinping, broke protocol for the first time to receive the Prime Minister outside Beijing in Xian. Prime Minister Modi also made an impromptu decision in Beijing to grant e-visas to Chinese visitors. These developments as well as frequent trips by Chinese party and government delegations to India, led to a perception that the relations between the two countries were set to improve, especially as the two countries had been collaborating on climate change issues and had come together to establish BRICS Bank. More significantly, with the rising trend of terrorist attacks in China, it was also felt that the two countries would eventually collaborate against the common threat of terrorism.
However, China by supporting an established offender like Lakhvi has dissipated all such hopes. More significantly, China appears to have seriously miscalculated as Lakhvi and his outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have often talked about the persecution of Muslims in East Turkestan and had close relations with Uighur militants. However, Chinese authorities have failed to understand the subtle nuances of Islamic radical movement; the very nature of the movement is such that its ideology will sooner or later put it into conflict with the secular ‘atheist’ regime of China. More significantly, with the passage of time the Chinese citizens have become most vulnerable foreign nationals in Pakistan and have been regularly targeted.
In fact all anti–government groups in Pakistan have realised that the most effective way of impacting the government of Pakistan is by targeting the Chinese nationals and their interests. Consequently, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Baloch nationalists and Sindhi nationalists are all targeting Chinese companies, Chinese nationals and Chinese interests. They have killed Chinese citizens across Pakistan and have destroyed Chinese property. By its recent action, China has given fillip to some of these potentially anti-China elements. The Chinese folly was clearly visible as on the very next day after its vote in UN, 18 Uighur policemen were killed in Kashgar by suspected Islamic militants of East Turkestan Islamic movement (ETIM), which has close linkages with radical Islamist outfits in Pakistan.
By stalling any UN sanctions against Lakhvi, China has clearly indicated that it gives precedence to Sino-Pak relations over improving relations with India. This from India’s point is extremely problematic, because Sino-Pak relationship has its genesis in anti-Indiaism and evolved only after the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
India has rightly reacted in a strong manner to this overt Chinese support for terrorists and Prime Minister Modi has personally conveyed India’s deep disappointment and concerns to the highest leadership in China. Hopefully Chinese leaders will realise that their myopic actions have derailed the process of normalisation of relations between the two countries, that has been moving at a brisk pace. This would also provide substance to widely held belief in India that the Chinese can never be trusted and this would further enhance the trust deficit. It is time that the Chinese leaders reconsider their stance and join the global community in pressurising Pakistan to act against proclaimed terrorists like Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. If they fail to do so, they will not only be dealing a body blow to the bilateral relations between India and China, but will also provide a boost to radical Islamists, who are ideologically committed to fighting China and attacking targets within China.
(The writer is the Director — Centre for Security and Strategy, India foundation)
(July 12, 2015 Page : 28-29)