China was railroaded by the strong international revulsion against terrorism to go along with the Security Council press statement condemning the Jaish-e-Mohammad’s (J-e-M) suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district that killed 40 Indian security personnel.
While Beijing initially opposed the statement adopted unanimously by the Council on Thursday, following the overwhelming support for such a statement, with the United States playing a key role, it ultimately acquiesced, according to United Nations (UN) and diplomatic sources.
China has provided cover in the Council for Islamabad’s terrorism links and Pakistan-based terrorist leaders, repeatedly vetoing the inclusion of J-e-M leader Masood Azhar in the list of international terrorists.
The Council statement called the February 14 attack a “heinous and cowardly suicide bombing” and noted that the J-e-M claimed responsibility for it.
A Council press statement is short of a resolution and is usually arrived at by consensus but lacks the enforcement authority of a resolution, while making compliance a moral obligation.
Clearly laying out the international obligation, the statement said that all countries need “to combat by all means…threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts”.
The statement “underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice”.
As a Council statement and not a resolution, it avoided a veto by China.
The US, which has responsibility within the Council on terrorism-related matters, pushed hard for the statement, which was held up for several days as it went through a process of fine-tuning to get China on board.
One of the compromises for China, a UN source said, was to not name Pakistan directly in the statement but mention only J-e-M as a face-saving measure for both Beijing and Islamabad.
Facing the mounting international opinion and isolation, Islamabad, which had pressured Beijing to oppose the statement, told China that it would not mind a mention of J-e-M, which is technically banned in Pakistan and is on the UN’s international terrorism list, leading to China’s compromise.
However, diplomats pointed out that it is not much of a face-saver as the UN terrorism sanctions list clearly links J-e-M to Pakistan noting that it operates from Peshawar and Muzaffarabad.
Since it was not a formal resolution, it saved Beijing from the dilemma of having to publicly take a stand and vote for it or veto it as a favor to its ally Pakistan while facing the world’s horror against terrorism.
Soon after the Pulwama attack, Indian diplomats at the UN sprang into action capitalizing on the wave of sympathy for India and the revulsion against the terrorist attack to mobilize Council action, according to observers at the UN.
Spontaneously, there was also a move by most members of the Council to act against terrorism and its sponsors.
The US Mission – which is headed temporarily by Ambassador Jonathan Cohen after Nikki Haley’s resignation – took the lead as the Council member in charge – or “pen-holder” in UN parlance – of counter-terrorism in crafting the statement and getting everyone on board.
US President Donald Trump has declared that the Pulwama attack “only strengthens our resolve to bolster counter-terrorism cooperation and coordination between the United States and India.”
While France strongly supported the statement, it was the US that was the prime mover, according to sources with knowledge of the internal maneuvers of the Council.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s adviser Philippe Etienne’s assurance to India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was about the next step of trying to overcome China’s veto and get Azhar added to the sanctions list.
Azhar, according to India, is the mastermind of the 2001 attack on Indian Parliament, and the 2016 attack on the Pathankot air force base.
The tough and unequivocal Council statement came despite intense lobbying by Pakistan’s Permanent Representative Maleeha Lodhi to blunt diplomatic reprisals.
On Tuesday, she met with Council President Anatolio Ndong Mba of Equatorial Guinea to apprise them of the “dangerous situation”, as well as with other diplomats.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet have called for the prosecution of those responsible for the attack.
Their statements were broad enough to be interpreted to include action against the masterminds and the organization based outside of India.
Ruling out Pakistan’s attempts to justify the attacks as work of what it claims to be “freedom fighters” or to link it to the Kashmir issue, the Council statement said, “The members of the Security Council reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed”.
A key phrase in the statement reaffirming “the need for states to combat by all means” terrorism would be a matter of legal interpretation on how far India can go in retaliation, although it would have to be taken “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law”.