The "breakthrough" in designating Masood Azhar as a global terrorist came during Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's recent visit to China where the two sides agreed to withdraw their opposition to the latest move to blacklist the JeM chief, a media report said here Thursday. The UN's sanctions committee announced Wednesday the designation of Pakistan-based Azhar, leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), over its ties to Al-Qaeda.
The US, France along with the UK had moved the proposal to designate Azhar as a "global terrorist" in the UN Security Council's 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee in February, just days after the deadly Pulwama terror attack that killed 40 CRPF soldiers. A veto-wielding permanent member of the UNSC, China was the sole hold-out in the 15-nation world body on the bid to blacklist Azhar, blocking four attempts since 2009 by placing a "technical hold" and asking for "more time to examine" the proposal.
Hours after sanctions were imposed on Azhar, the Express Tribune newspaper, quoting diplomatic sources, reported that Pakistan and China held extensive discussions before making a decision on the Azhar issue. "It is believed that the breakthrough came during the recent visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to China where both sides agreed to withdraw opposition to the latest move after realising that Islamabad's concerns were addressed," the report said.
Khan was in Beijing to attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping from April 25 to 27. Apart from President Xi, the Pakistan prime minister met his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang as well as Vice President Wang Qishan.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday that China lifted its hold on the US, the UK and French proposal after a "careful study of the revised materials" it had to designate Azhar as a global terrorist.
The listing of Azhar means that he will now be facing a travel ban, assets freeze and arms embargo.
But the source told the paper that the listing does not mean the person should be detained. Another official claimed that authorities were "unaware" of Azhar's whereabouts. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, during the peak of India-Pakistan tensions following the Pulwama terror attack had admitted that Azhar was in Pakistan. He also mentioned that the JeM chief was "very unwell" to the extent that he cannot leave his house.
The report also claimed that Islamabad agreeing to the designation of Azhar as a global terrorist was a "paradigm shift" in the country's approach.
An official said prime minister Khan had made a public commitment that Pakistan's soil would not be used against any country. However, he made it clear that Pakistan would go after these groups in a manner that the peace and security of the country was not affected.
The Washington Post reported that Azhar's sanctioning comes weeks after Washington said it was seeking to have him put on the UN blacklist. In Washington, a senior US administration official told reporters that "after 10 years China has done the right thing by lifting its hold on this designation."
The official, who insisted on speaking anonymously, said Britain and France joined the US in putting pressure on China after the February 14 attack, and Beijing seems to have understood "that it is increasingly important that its actions on the international stage on terrorism matched its rhetoric."
The official said the Trump administration is watching to see if Pakistan Prime Minister Khan's commitment to crack down on militants in the country "will translate into irreversible steps to end terrorist and militant safe havens inside Pakistan."
Meanwhile, a leading Hong Kong based newspaper reported that China's decision to lift its hold was taken considering that Beijing would be isolated over issue.
Analysts linked the climbdown to Beijing's increasing concerns about being isolated diplomatically at a time of heightened global concern about terrorism, but some also argued that the shift was made possible by a change of wording that avoided angering China's long-standing ally Pakistan, the South China Morning Post reported. Zhang Jiadong, a former Chinese diplomat in India and international relations professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, said: "This is a diplomatic concession from China for India, a signal of diplomatic support.
"At the same time, it was also driven by the global anti-terrorism trend. Without the February terrorist attack in Kashmir, China may not have agreed to India's request," Zhang was quoted as saying.
China's shift was the result of pressure mainly from the broader international community, and not just unilateral pressure from the Indian government, he said.
"In the past, we mainly took Pakistan's attitude into consideration, but now we need to balance Pakistan's relationship with India and the rest of the international community," Zhang added.