When Will China Read the Riot Act to Pakistan?

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Pakistan and China are on the same page on the terrorism front.

Pakistan has placed the founder of LeT, Hafiz Saeed, under a 90-day house arrest. This is his sixth detention over the past two decades.

How long Saeed, who is known as the mastermind of 28/11 (terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008), will remain at his own home is a moot question.

The clergy and the Islamists have knocked at the courts to ‘free’ Saeed.

LeT became Jamat-ud Dawa when it faced US and UN sanctions. Now it has become ‘Tehreek Azadi Jammu and Kashmir’ (TAJK). This puts pressure on the political and military establishments for whom Kashmir remains the jugular vein and “unfinished agenda” of the Partition.

The police have not yet registered a case against Hafiz Saeed. This is a telling commentary by itself. A police case is the first primary requisite for prosecution.

Masood Azhar- Hafiz Saeed

China-Speak

China-actions and China-speak on terrorism are no more than audacious.

On Chinese soil, Muslims do not enjoy even second class citizen status.

In the Muslim majority Uighur region of Western Xinjinag province, Muslims are not allowed to fast during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Also absolute no in Uighur is the burqa (also called paranja), the outer garment Muslim women wear many places in the world to cover themselves in public.

Yet, China has no qualms about saving Maulana Masood Azhar – the head of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) from being designated a global terrorist. He is the mastermind of the attack on the Indian Parliament in Dec 2001 and the Pathankot airbase in January 2016.

Chinese Veto

China voted against a joint proposal on Masood Azhar by the US, England and France at the United Nations. It avers that the “conditions” have not been met for taking such a step and that there is no consensus. This is the second veto by China; it also contends that there is no conclusive evidence on Azhar’s involvement in the Pathankot attack that killed seven Indian soldiers.

To rally in support of its all-weather friend, China is willing to gloss over ‘evidence’ in the public domain of Pakistan and India.

Evidence Galore

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif acknowledged that India had provided leads that would help the Pakistani team probe the matter. His advisor on foreign affairs, the soft spoken, Sartaj Aziz revealed that one of the mobile phone numbers linked to those who had attacked the Pathankot airbase had been traced to the Jaish-e-Muhammad group’s headquarters in Bahawalpur. He also confirmed media reports that Masood Azhar, along with a few other operatives of JeM, had been placed under “protective custody” on Jan 14 (2016) and that some of JeM’s premises including a Jaish-run seminary in Sialkot, had been sealed.

Police Case

As a “logical and positive step,” the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of the Punjab police registered a First-Information Report (FIR) based on Indian input, Dawn correspondent, Imran Gabol, reported on Feb 19, 2016.

And Sartaj Aziz went to the town declaring that the FIR had created the legal basis for a Special Investigation Team of Pakistan to visit India to collect evidence.

The FIR carried the number 06/2016. It was registered at the CTD police station in Gujranwala, under sections 302, 324 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code, and sections 7 and 21-I of the Anti-Terrorism Act, Dawn reported quoting the CTD spokesman.

On what basis was the police case registered?

Well, on the basis of initial evidence provided by India, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told the media. He added that further action would be taken once more evidence is uncovered.

What did the FIR state?

As published in Dawn, which obtained a copy of the FIR it said: “Indian National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval informed (Pak) authorities that four attackers had probably crossed the border adjacent to the Pathankot general area. While in India, they made phone calls to cell phones … .,” and belonged to a proscribed organization.

Image Problem

“If you want to make your image before the world better, and to dispel the propaganda of other countries that our commitment (to fight terrorism) is questionable, then we have to do things like this,” Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told reporters, Pakistan Observer said on Feb 20, 2016 in a front page dispatch from Gujranwala under the heading “FIR registered against Pathankot attackers, abettors.”

Within two months, however, Azhar was seen to be free.

The turn of events lead to one inescapable conclusion. It is that like Hafiz Saeed, Azhar, has become ‘undumpable’ for his ISI masters. China is willing to go along with the Rawalpindi assessment with an eye on the security of its own personnel drafted for working on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that provides a new silk route for the Dragon from Xinjiang to Gwadar.

Otherwise there is no reason for Beijing to ignore the fact that Masood Azhar had brought India and Pakistan to the edge of war in 2001-02 by attacking Indian parliament house and that JeM was placed on the United Nations Security Council’s 1267 list of terrorist groups.

What prompted the UN to place JeM on the sanctions list?

Both Pakistan and its new financier may be loath to read history. But if they do, they will come face-to-face with the reality check that shielding the Jaish and its leadership might have consequences for Pakistan itself.

JeM Hits

This observation is based on the fact that the Punjab Police records for 2011 identify the attackers of a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bus as JeM operatives, Mati-ur-Rahman Arain, Muhammad Haroon Akbar Khan and Muhammad Tayyab. The record also shows that JeM made an attempt to assassinate Gen Pervez Musharraf when he was the military ruler of the country.

A few more nuggets will be in order. Originally, Masood belonged to the Hark-at-ul-Ansar (HuA), and saw action in the CIA orchestrated Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union. HuA transformed itself as the Hark-at-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) after attracting US sanctions. Azhar floated JeM once he was released from an Indian jail in December 1999 in exchange for the passengers of an Indian aircraft IC 814 that his brother had managed to hijack to Kandahar.

On Jihadi Circuit

Azhar is active on the international jihad circuit as well. He has visited Zambia, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia, the United Kingdom and Albania to spread the ‘good’ word, and to raise funds for jihad. In 1993, he helped the Somalia – based Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiyah with funds and mercenaries from Yemen.

Like Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar too faced house arrests in the past. For instance, in Dec 2001, he was ‘arrested’ following the attack on the Indian parliament by his group. It was just for one year. A three-member Review Board of Lahore High Court ordered his release on Dec 14, 2002.

On the latest ‘house arrest’ of Saeed, the Pakistani defense minister, Khwaja Asif, has an interesting take.

“Saeed also poses a serious threat to my country,” he told a recent security conference in Munich.

The Hong Kong based Asia Times quoted him as saying that Saeed’s house arrest was in the greater interest of Pakistan. But Washington Post attributed the arrest to the warnings and the action on ground by the US president Donald Trump against countries involved in terrorist activities.

Self-Certificate

Islamabad is also facing pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body formed by G-7 group in 1989 to check money laundering and terrorism financing. The house arrest of Saeed is no more than a self-certificate to show Islamabad’s compliance to the Task Force so that Pakistan doesn’t slip into a grey zone.

But how long can Pakistan pull the wool over the eyes of the global community. And how long will China pretend to see or hear no negative thing about Masood Azhar? Islamabad must realize that the rules of the game are fast changing and it has to update itself. Once Pakistan puts its act, China probably will be left with no alibi not to fall in line.

Should Beijing wait for an all-clear signal from its friend?

Read Riot Act

China cannot claim to be unaware of Islamist resurgence in Pakistan. It knows first-hand the threats daily faced by its own nationals engaged in govt sponsored projects or running their own enterprises that range from massage parlors to repair shops across Pakistan.

From time to time, China has been giving a pep talk, and forcing Pakistan to act, like it arm-twisted Gen Pervez Musharraf to take against Islamabad’s Lal Masjid chief in 2007, when some Chinese women working in massage parlors became victims of his vigilantes. So what self-interest will make China read the riot act to its all-weather friend? And give up the fixation with short term pursuits to needle India?

Your guess is as good as mine.