By Bhaskar Roy
The recent Chinese decision to block an India-sponsored move at the UN Sanctions Committee seeking clarification from Pakistan on the release of 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, on the grounds that India had produced insufficient evidence was shocking, but not to this writer. China has a long history of standing by Pakistan in the UN whenever India brought up the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. A few weeks earlier, China had obstructed another Indian move to add to the UN terrorist list the name of Sayeed Salahuddin on “technical grounds”. Salahuddin is the chief of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and also heads the United Jihad Council, based in Pakistan. Salahauddin has been waging a terrorist war in Kashmir for two decades. All these organizations, like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), HUM and United Jihad Council are among Pakistan’s military assets to wage asymmetric warfare against India, otherwise known as the strategy of “bleeding with a thousand cuts”.
The Afghan Taliban and the Haqquani Network (HQN) are among terrorist organizations used against the legitimate government in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban was nurtured by Pakistan with some assistance from the US to drive out the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. After the Soviet withdrawal, ,Pakistan used the Taliban to try and establish an Islamist government through them in Kabul, run from the Rawalpindi GHQ, to create strategic depth in Afghanistan, in case of a major war with India. Militarily, the ‘strategic depth’ strategy was stupid. It cannot work.
The HQN is a different matter. This is a tribal group and knows nothing other than fighting and extortion. They are used mainly to attack foreigners in Afghanistan, Indians being a special target.
There is a long list of occasions when China blocked moves against anti-Indian Pakistani terrorists in the UN. These include sanctions against the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), Al-Akhtar Trust (a front of Jaish-e-Mohammad) Maulana Masood Azar, head of Jaish and others. China had stalled a US proposal to designate ISI officials including ex-ISI chief, Lt Gen. (Rtd) Hamid Gul for terrorism.
In the aftermath of the May 23, 2014 terrorist attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, which was described by President Hamid Karzai as an operation of Pakistan’s ISI, China officially defended Pakistan. China’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Sun Yuxi, said he believed that the Pakistani government or any responsible agency of Pakistan will only fight against terrorism instead of being involved with any terrorist group. He also described the ISI as a responsible force battling terrorism, and dismissed any suggestion of the ISI’s involvement in the Herat attack.
Following the Nov 26, 2008 ISI-sponsored attack on Mumbai, when the whole world rose in a chorus to condemn the attack, there was deafening silence from Beijing. The Chinese were aware of what exactly happened, but were taking time to construct a response. The Chinese foreign ministry hardly has any independent role. It has to seek directions from the State Council, which has to seek directions from the highest level.
The 26/11 terrorist attack backed by ISI including serving military officers was a sudden and huge event. For China it was a difficult decision to come up with a strong position. Pakistan is far too important for China’s strategic plans and the “all weather friendship” had to be protected. From 2008 till now Pakistan’s importance to China has increased several times. It has emerged as a hub for China’s maritime Silk Road. It is also the centre point of China’s Indian Ocean strategy, as well as a springboard to the Gulf and West Asia. It is a new entry point for China’s gas and oil imports from the Gulf, West Asia and Africa.
Pakistan has become a client state of China, increasingly dependent on Beijing politically, economically and militarily. Both countries ,of course, claim to be equal partners – an example for the world on relations between a large country and a smaller one, with different ideologies. China has promised to invest US$46 billion in Pakistan.
The issue of support to China’s Uighur separatists from elements in Pakistan, including the ISI, had become a serious issue between the two countries. In the run up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Chinese officials, especially the Party secretary of Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region openly charged Pakistan with harboring Uighur separatists. This problem persisted till recently, but China appears to have succeeded in pressuring Pakistan to take strict measures to curb its Uighur supporters.
Uighur separatists who have adopted violent measures to take on the mighty Chinese state, and the Tibetan peaceful pro-autonomy movement, though unorganized, are China’s only problem with terrorism, separatism and religious extremism, described by Beijing as the “three evils.”
China has another strategy, however, for the three evils active against other countries. It is the old strategy of Mao Zedong, getting together a united front of such groups and elements.
In the early 1980s, China’s supreme leader Deng Xiaoping admitted that the past strategy of supporting such insurgent groups and forming communist revolutionary parties was wrong. China had formed the Communist Party of Burma and parties in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Some of their leaders were shown attending China’s national day celebrations. The Communist Party of Indonesia staged an uprising in 1965, but was defeated. These South East Asian countries broke off diplomatic relations with China.(These relations were restored much later- Indonesia was the last one to do so).Deng promised this policy would not recur. But support to Indian insurgent groups (IIGs) was quietly revived-these included the Nagas (NSCN),People’s Liberation Army of Manipur PLA(M),which were started in the 1960s.Later the United Liberation Front of Assam(ULFA)was added to the list. These insurgents were given training in China’s Yunan province, bordering Myanmar, from where arms were clandestinely transferred to them.
When these IIGs were welcomed in Bangladesh under the BNP-Jamaat government, arms came through Bangladesh’s Chittagong port. In 2004 ten truckloads of arms from China were accidentally interdicted in Chittagong port. ULFA Commander -in -Chief Paresh Barua, who lived in Dhaka openly, was in Chittagong that day to receive the weapons and explosives. Paresh Barua and Antony Shimray of the NSCN(I/M)who lived in Bangladesh, had Chinese visas.
Although some of the IIGs have split, ULFA leader Paresh Barua now operates from the Yunan – Myanmar border. The Naga split faction led by Myanmarese Naga leader Khaplang lives in Myanmar and is active in anti-India insurgency. The PLA (M) camps are based in Myanmar. According to latest reports from Myanmar, China is trying to form these groups into a united front for action in India’s North East. The Chinese intelligence interacts with them through cut-outs, maintaining room for deniability. Anthony Shimray, who is in Indian custody now, has confessed to Chinese assistance. It can, therefore, be fairly concluded that China continues to press India both from the west and the east.
When China supports terrorists and insurgents, Beijing’s much declared position against international terrorism becomes highly questionable. Their focus remains only on the Uighurs. China is going against international efforts to combat terrorism.
This brings to question China’s position on terrorism in Afghanistan and Central Asia. China has given no public statement on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The IMU and Chechen rebels have declared their agenda in Central Asia and Russia.
Despite the new bonhomie between China and Russia, the two are now competing for dominant influence in Central Asia. Moscow considers this region as its legitimate backyard and area of influence. Yet Russia’s economic and political interest forces it to abstain from raising such issues with China. Will Beijing use these terrorists against Russia as it is doing with India?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj have taken up the “technical hold” issue with their Chinese counterparts. China’s response, if any, is not known.
When Modi meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Ufa,Russia for the BRICS Summit,he must ask while four members of the P-5 agreed that India had produced sufficient evidence on Lakhvi, where exactly did the Chinese find evidence was lacking.
China will now be seen in a new paradigm. It supports terrorism to achieve its larger agenda internationally, and also supports a country which is known as a state sponsor of terror.
(Note: The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail [email protected])