The logical follow-up to the IAF strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) training base for terrorists in Balakot should have been action against its chief Masood Azhar. But the Indian delegation met with a setback when an hour before the deadline, China filed an objection at the UN Security Council against his listing as an international terrorist. This was classical Chinese statecraft of trying to preserve its options while holding out the possibility of entering into a quid pro quo if India was really determined on indicting Masood. All through the run-up to the UNSC meet, Indian diplomats had championed the belief that indicting was a done deal and that the world had lined up behind India in its hour of grief and mortification.
Listing under UNSC Resolution 1267 (also the al-Qaeda/Islamic State resolution) has rarely been contentious. Osama’s son was listed last month on the mere ‘suspicion’ of being the new al-Qaeda chief. Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, accused of a greater horror in Mumbai, was listed barely a year after the 2008 attacks. China did not throw a spanner in either case. We may well be encountering a Naya Beijing under President-for-life Xi Jinping — a China that has forsaken the intimacy of transactional arrangements for cynical, hard-headed pursuit of its narrow national interests.
But China must realise that its overbearing approach is helping set up a grid of disaffected neighbours. Yet, its attitude cannot obscure the inability of the Indian state to leverage its domestic market to extract foreign policy gains. Both Pakistan and China profit little from honouring the sentiments of the Indian citizen. This is in contrast to the deals India promises to encourage the US, France and the UK to stand by it. Both Pakistan and China have remained persistent thorns for the Modi government in contrast to 2008, when Hafiz Saeed was listed because both were on the same page. India needs to recognise the geopolitical muddle in the region and act accordingly, instead of hoping for ‘made-for-TV’ moments on every occasion.