China has again blocked an Indian request to blacklist the leader of a Pakistan-based militant group that claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on Indian paramilitary police in disputed Kashmir last month.
At a meeting of the United Nations Security Council’s Islamic State and al-Qaeda sanctions committee on Wednesday, the United States, Britain and France backed the request that sanctions be applied to Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
But China placed a “technical hold” on the request to the 15-member committee, delaying it indefinitely.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday that the decision was in “full compliance” with the rules and to “avoid adding complex factors that endanger the peace and stability of the region”.
“China conducted a comprehensive and in-depth evaluation of the listing applications submitted by the countries concerned … We still need more time and thus put forward a technical hold,” Lu said.
India said it was “disappointed” with China’s move, with a diplomatic source saying India presented “video evidence” of JeM’s connections to the attack, the deadliest in the area in 30 years.
JeM was founded in 2000 and has been sanctioned by the Security Council since 2001 because of its links to al-Qaeda. India accuses the Pakistani military of aiding the group, and various countries, including the US, have listed it as a terrorist organisation.
China, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, previously stopped the committee from sanctioning Azhar in 2016 and 2017. But at a summit of leading developing nations in Xiamen in 2017, China agreed to name JeM as one of a number of groups “causing violence”, a move regarded by India as a diplomatic victory.
Beijing has what it describes as an “all-weather friendship” with Islamabad and has been very cautious when dealing with militants pursuing independence of Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Lin Minwang, deputy head of South Asian studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the group had limited its attacks to Indian military and government targets, rather than civilian ones, allowing debate about JeM’s nature.
“By China’s definition, they are more separatists than terrorists,” Lin said.
In response to China’s move on Wednesday, the Confederation of All India Traders, which represents about 70 million traders, said it would burn Chinese goods on Tuesday to “teach a lesson” to China. Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition party, also accused Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being “weak” and “scared of” China.
Lin said Indian political candidates might use the issue to rally support in the coming general election but the nationalist calls were unlikely to affect ties between the two countries.
“There were several rounds of interactions between India and China on this particular issue in 2016 and so forth. And both sides have been clear about each other’s position,” he said. “I think the Modi government will react with restraint this time.”
At least 40 Indian paramilitary police were killed by a suicide bomb in Pulwama district in Kashmir on February 14, an attack that JeM said it carried out.
New Delhi launched a retaliatory strike at a Pakistani-controlled area, saying its air force bombed JeM’s training camp, and Islamabad responded by shooting down an Indian MiG-21 fighter and capturing a pilot.
The tension between the two nuclear-armed neighbours eased after Pakistan released the pilot and arrested 44 members of JeM, including Azhar’s son and brother.
In a statement late on Wednesday, India’s Ministry of External Affairs vowed to pursue “all available avenues to ensure that terrorist leaders who are involved in heinous attacks on our citizens are brought to justice”.