London: Top Western leaders, including the British leadership have started questioning China’s motive in protecting Masood Azhar, the head of the terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
The doubts in the minds of the Western Powers have arisen in the wake of Beijing blocking the Indian government’s bid to have Azhar declared a global terrorist by the United Nations in the wake of the January 2, 2016 terror strike on an air force base in Pathankot, Punjab.
China claimed that Azhar did not qualify as a terrorist who would have to face UN sanctions, and insisted that the ban on the former be placed on hold.
Beijing’s stand was projected by its Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Liu Jieyi.
After assuming the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, Ambassador Liu asserted that Azhar did not meet “the Council’s requirements” to be considered a terrorist, and therefore, China had exercised its right to veto the ban move.
It may be recalled that following the January 2, 2016 attack on the Pathankot Air Force Base, India had requested the U.N. sanctions committee in February to include Azhar in its list of global terrorists. The action by the panel, popularly known as the 1267 Committee after the Council’s resolution number setting it up, would have required Pakistan and other countries to freeze Azhar’s assets and ban his travel.
At the committee meeting, of the 15 U.N. Security Council members, 14 supported placing Azhar on the banned list, but China put a hold on it.
Beijing’s decision to exercise its right to veto as one of the permanent members in the sanctions committee immediately raised the question as to why it blocked the United Nations from designating Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
Senior leaders in the British government are now saying that of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), also known as the Permanent Five, Big Five, or P5, four of them — France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have started questioning the fifth i.e. China on its decision not to ban Masood Azhar.
They said they were left surprised, as China itself is and has been a victim of terrorism, and therefore, it is hard to understand as to why Beijing would defend one of the world’s most dreaded terrorists.
It is a well known fact that China has also had its problems with neutralising terrorism. It has had a history of launching counter-terrorism campaigns in Xinjiang Province, which is a hotbed for Pan-Turkism, Uyghur nationalism and Islamism all of which have attracted segments of the Uyghur population in the past several decades.
Recent incidents include the 1992 Urumqi bombings, the 1997 Ürümqi bus bombings, the 2010 Aksu bombing, the 2011 Hotan attack, the 2011 Kashgar attacks and the 2014 Ürümqi attack.
Historically, violence occurs as a form of political resistance to Chinese government policies that restrict the practice of religion and political expression, particularly in the country’s Xinjiang region.
China identifies terrorism as one of “Three Evils” which also include separatism and religious fundamentalism. Beijing sees these forces as inter-connected threats to social stability and national security.
Terrorism in particular is viewed as a violent manifestation of ethnic separatism, while separatism is understood as an offshoot of religious zealotry.
The Chinese government has embarked on strike-hard campaigns to suppress these tendencies, particularly in its Xinjiang and Tibetan regions.
This is the second time that China has come to the aid of Pakistan terrorists in the sanctions committee. Last June, China had blocked India’s demand for taking action under the Council’s anti-terrorism resolutions against Pakistan for freeing Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the Lashkar-e-Taiba mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack in which 166 people were killed.
What comes even more as a surprise is a report that Azhar was once a VIP guest of one of Britain’s leading Islamic scholars. According to the BBC magazine on August 6, 1993, he landed in London and within a few hours of his arrival, was delivering a sermon at the Madina Mosque in East London’s Clapton area. That sermon focused on the idea of jihad and moved many in the congregation to tears.
Thereafter, according to a report appearing in the jihadist leader’s own magazine, he was accorded a reception by a group of Islamic scholars where there was a long discussion on jihad, its need, training and other related issues.
The investigation by the BBC uncovered the details of his 1993 tour, which provide an astounding insight into the way hardcore jihadist ideology was promoted in some mainstream UK mosques in the early 1990s – and involved some of Britain’s most senior Islamic scholars.
In 1993, Azhar also visited the Zakariya Mosque in Dewsbury, the Jamia Masjid in Blackburn and Jamia Masjid in Burnley. According to the BBC, his popularity in these northern British towns was such that he accumulated more scholars in his entourage.
The most surprising engagement of the tour was a speech Azhar gave at a boarding school and seminary in Lancashire — the Darul Uloom Bury.
According to the report of the trip, Azhar told students and teachers that a substantial proportion of the Koran was devoted to the “killing for the sake of Allah” and that a substantial volume of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad were on the issue of jihad.