Monday, December 15, 2008

China not Holding India's Hand on Terror

By M H Ahssan

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday designated the Jamaatut Dawa (JuD) as a terrorist organization and imposed sanctions on the Pakistan-based group that has called itself a charity. The JuD is believed to have masterminded the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month that left nearly 200 dead and another 300 injured.

JuD projects itself as a charity organization, a claim that India has repeatedly dismissed. India has maintained that it is simply a front for the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) which was outlawed by the United Nations in 2002. When the LET was banned, JuD emerged as a charity organization.

Besides, designating JuD as a terrorist organization, the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council has also declared its chief, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, operations chief Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi (who is regarded by India as the brains behind the Mumbai attacks), its chief of finance Haji Muhammad Ashraf and a Saudi-based financier of the group, Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq, as terrorists, subject to sanctions. These names have been added to a list of people and firms who are under sanctions for their ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, the world body said.

Despite the association of the JuD and these individuals with terrorism, their designation as terrorist by the UN Security Council has not been easy. At least three attempts at labeling them terrorists were blocked by China. According to a note distributed by the Sanctions Committee among representatives of its 15 member states, over the past two years, China stalled the world body's move for a Saeed-specific ban on two occasions.

Indian officials were anxious that China would block the move again this year. It did not.

Indian officials say that it was at the behest of Pakistan that Beijing had been blocking the UN move all these years. But this year it would have been difficult for it to do so, given the unanimity of opinion in the international community that action was needed against JuD and its leaders.

An official in India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), who spoke to HNN on condition of anonymity, said that in the wake of the international outrage triggered by the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistan government realized that whether or not the UN body designated JuD as terrorist, it would be compelled by the US to act against the group. "In the circumstances, it felt it would be better to be seen to be acting under UN orders rather than pressure from India or the US. Hence the Pakistan-China decision to go along with the other Security Council members this time."

Like Pakistan, China has maintained for several years that the JuD is a charity organization. It has justified its stalling of a ban on the outfit and sanctions on its leaders on the grounds that there is not enough evidence to prove that the JuD is indeed terrorist.

Adding to India's irritation over China's pro-Pakistan position on anti-India terrorist groups operating on Pakistani soil was a report in the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the central committee of the Communist Party of China, which alleged that the Mumbai attack was the work of radical Hindus from India rather than terrorists who came from Pakistan.

It is ironic that even as China has been hardly supportive of India’s terrorism concerns, the armies of the two countries have been holding joint counter-terrorism exercises over the past week in Belgaum in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Named "Hand-in-Hand", the nine-day military exercises have been touted as "historic" as it is the first time since the 1962 Sino-Indian war that the two armies have met for military training on Indian soil. A year ago, the two armies participated in joint exercises in Kunming, in China's Yunan province.

At Belgaum, soldiers from the two sides are participating in joint tactical maneuvers and drills, inter-operability training and joint command post procedures. The program will culminate in a joint counter-terrorist operational exercise with simulated enemies.

China-watchers in India are doubtful whether there are gains to be made from such Sino-Indian joint counter-terrorism exercises. For one thing, the two countries don't agree on who they regard as terrorists. Chinese officials rail at the Dalai Lama and his supporters as terrorists, but the Dalai Lama is highly revered in India. And China had until this week gone along with Pakistan in describing the JuD as a charity organization.

Many believe the main terrorist threat to India comes from organizations based on Pakistan soil, many of whom allegedly have the backing of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But China has refused to endorse India's concerns with cross-border terrorism.

In a discussion with HNN last year, a retired Indian diplomat pointed out that "mindful of Islamabad's sensitivities on the matter [of terrorism emanating from its soil]" China was "reluctant to speak out against Pakistan's role in fostering anti-India terrorist groups".

Joint terrorism exercises he said would "remain meaningless so long as the Chinese are reluctant to endorse India's concerns with regard to cross-border terrorism".

That Pakistan's concerns are always on China's mind, even with regard to the location of joint military exercises with India, is evident from the fact that a couple of years ago Beijing refused to participate in an India-Russia-China joint exercise in Rajasthan, which borders Pakistan.

"If China is so mindful of Pakistan's sensitivities in a mock situation, what cooperation can India expect in a situation of a real terrorist threat?" the retired diplomat asked.

In real terms, the joint terrorism exercises have little value for India, say strategic experts. No anti-India terrorist outfit is believed to be based in China.

But both India and China face threats from terrorist groups based in Pakistan. Chinese nationals working in Pakistan have been killed in Pakistan's Balochistan province. Some were taken hostage in Islamabad last year. Beijing has been concerned that some of armed Uyghur groups have been getting sustenance from organizations in Pakistan.

Chinese officials have been quick to clarify that the ongoing counter-terrorism exercise has "no specified background and is not aimed at any third parties".

"The primary objective [of joint counter-terrorism exercises] is to enhance mutual understanding and trust between the two countries and their armies," Major General V K Narula of the Indian army has said.

Even this limited objective is unlikely to be achieved if China remains cool to India's terrorism concerns. China's shift in position on the JuD will be welcomed in India, but it is unlikely to be seen as anything more than a one-time step. This is a shift that has come under international pressure rather than from a change in Beijing’s perception of the issue. Delhi is unlikely to miss that point.

Articles by China's India-watchers in the Chinese media have expressed concern over the possibility of another India-Pakistan war. While some have suggested that China should seek to prevent this, in the event of a war, they have said that Beijing must back Pakistan as it did in the past by putting pressure on Indian troops along the Sino-Indian border as well.

Whatever trust the "Hand-in-Hand" exercises can help build between the two armies is being undermined by these ideas coming out of China.

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