The vexatious question of Masood Azhar

“The only consequence of including Masood Azhar’s name in the list of global terrorists is that he cannot travel to other countries and his funds in foreign accounts will get frozen.” The JeM leader in  

The UN Security Council adopted a statement on February 21 condemning the Pulwama terrorist attack of February 14, for which the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) took responsibility. India is applauding this development and it should. A lot of diplomatic effort had gone into achieving this result. But this statement should be looked at with a proper perspective.

Hierarchy of actions

Some media organisations and analysts have mistakenly described the Council as having adopted a resolution. This is not true; the Council made a presidential statement. It may be worthwhile to understand the nuances of the action the Council takes in a given situation.

The least forceful action that the Council can take is to authorise the current month’s President to speak to media representatives about the proceedings of the Council. There is no official record of these remarks.

The second level is when the Council adopts a presidential statement. A lot of negotiations are undertaken in the small room reserved for informal consultations next to the Council chamber where only members of the Council are present. Of necessity, it has to be a consensus, as distinct from unanimous, document, meaning that not all the members support everything included in it but go along since they do not have a serious problem with the text. Even if one member has strong objections to the text, the statement cannot be approved. The draft of the text could be prepared either by the President or by one of the members; for the most part, that member is the representative of one of the permanent members. Also, the statement could be issued either in the name of the Council or in the name of ‘members of the Security Council’. The former is generally regarded as carrying more weight than the latter.

The third level is the resolution, which is the most authentic voice of the Council, carrying maximum weight. Again, the resolution can be under Chapter VI or Chapter VII of the Charter. Resolutions adopted under Chapter VII are enforceable unlike those under Chapter VI (Resolutions regarding Kashmir are under Chapter VI).

Some analysts dismiss the statements and resolutions of the Council as of no consequence, arguing that the countries concerned should pursue their interests irrespective of the Council’s action. In practice, the country against which the resolution or statement is aimed cares a lot about the text of the resolution because countries care about their image in the international community. Israel, which has the maximum number of resolutions critical of its actions, makes strenuous efforts, through its protector, the U.S., to have the resolutions moderated to make them less critical. Hours are spent on negotiations, discussing whether to ‘condemn’, ‘deplore’ or ‘strongly deplore’ something.

The February 21 statement was in the name of the members of the Council. It is not that it is not worth much; it is just that it is a notch below a statement that is issued in the name of the Council. A statement in the name of the members might also suggest that not all them were fully on board with the entire text. A statement in the name of the Council would suggest that all the 15 members are in agreement with the text.

The fact that China went along with the statement does not signify much of a shift in its position, since the Council had already declared the JeM as a terrorist organisation. The statement does not name Masood Azhar. It is not known if the French, who took the initiative in this matter, had at any stage included Azhar’s name in the text and took it out at China’s insistence. From the French perspective, this initiative will earn them brownie points from India, without having to pay much of a price.

In 2016, India moved the sanctions committee to include Azhar’s name, with the support of three permanent members: the U.S., the U.K., and France. Again, in 2017, India took a similar initiative, supported by the same countries. On both occasions, Russia did not actively support the proposal, though it went along with it. China vetoed it both times.

It is for consideration whether and why it is so important for India to have Azhar included in the list of global terrorists. The only consequence of naming an individual is that the person cannot travel to other countries and his funds in foreign accounts will get frozen. In Azhar’s case, this will not cause him much discomfort. Is it worth India’s while to invest so much effort and perhaps political capital in getting him named an international terrorist? Suppose China at some stage removes its veto on Azhar’s name, which it will only do with Pakistan’s approval, it would be doing a big favour to India. Will that be regarded enough of a concession by Pakistan for India to resume dialogue with it?

There is no doubt that India’s relations with West Asia have improved significantly in the past five years. The invitation to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to be guest of honour on March 1 at the Foreign Ministers meet is ample evidence of this. The past record of the OIC with respect to India is most objectionable. In 2017, the OIC adopted a resolution “strongly condemning the unprovoked firing by the Indian forces on the Line of Control and the Working Boundary with intentional targeting of civilian areas” and “denouncing India” for refusing the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission of the OIC access to “IoK”. It makes sense not to allow the present to be held hostage to the past. Ms. Swaraj has a challenging mission to accomplish. However, to regard the previous OIC resolutions regarding Kashmir as of no consequence is in the nature of rationalising the current approach. Hopefully, the OIC will respect India’s gesture and refrain from embarrassing Ms. Swaraj after her departure.

Raising issues in the Council

The successful preventive non-military strike carried out by the Indian Air Force on the JeM’s terrorist training camp in Pakistan on Tuesday undoubtedly caught Pakistan by surprise. Apart from military action, which Pakistan has already taken, it will certainly try to raise the issue in the Council. It may be difficult to prevent it, since what has happened would certainly be regarded as threatening international peace and security. Pakistan’s all-weather friend, China, may take the initiative on behalf of its protégé. According to Council rules, if a member of the Council asks for a meeting, the meeting has to be called. India must have spoken to the U.S. and others about this possibility. If the Council does meet, it would give India an opportunity to expose Pakistan’s true face. It will no doubt screen footage and photos to buttress its case in the Council.

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, a former Indian Ambassador to the UN, is the author of ‘The Horseshoe Table: An inside view of UN Security Council’

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 3:58:22 AM |

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