Despite a global push for a ban on the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, China has repeatedly blocked any attempts to list him as a global terrorist under the purview of the 1267 Committee of the Security Council. At various points, China has justified this move by taking recourse to procedural technicalities. The most frustrating part here is that barring China, every country in the UNSC is in favor of listing Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Although, India led the initiative initially, the US, UK, and France have at various points called for Masood Azhar’s listing but China’s stubborn resistance through the power of the UNSC veto has thwarted every such attempt. Even after the Pulwama attacks, China refused to back any resolution calling for Masood Azhar’s listing as a global terrorist. The Chinese envoy dodged the question on the listing stating, “As to the listing of an individual, we have always upheld an earnest, responsible and professional manner. We always acted in accordance with the requirement of the situation. We will continue to maintain close communication with India and relevant parties on this issue”.
In the face of China’s refusal and its veto power in the UNSC which makes any other attempt futile, the question is whether there is any other way for India to circumvent China’s veto in the UNSC. The idea of the UNSC veto power was envisaged as a way to enhance multilateral, consensus-based approach in international security matters. In essence, veto power is a unique amalgamation of multilateral ethos coupled with power-politics compulsions. However, geopolitical considerations and strategic calculations of veto holding nation states (or their respective allies during the Cold war) led to a situation where veto power was used more for preventing any action by the UNSC rather than encouraging a multilateral approach resulting in frequent stalemate. In critical international security matters, this stalemate prevented the UNSC from taking any action.
In 1950, during the Korean crisis when the Soviet Union repeatedly vetoed UNSC resolutions for intervention, the ‘Seven-Powers’ submitted a resolution in the General Assembly. The UNGA resolution 377A, also known as the Acheson plan (named after Dean Gooderham Acheson, an American diplomat), was passed in the General Assembly 52-5 (with 2 abstentions). The resolution, although aimed at resolving the stalemate with regard to the Korean crisis in UNSC, also known as ‘Uniting For Peace’ paved the way for circumventing the UNSC in extraordinary circumstances.
The Resolution 377 reads, “If the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security. If not in session at the time, the General Assembly shall therefore meet in emergency special session within twenty-four hours of the request. Such emergency special session may be called if requested by the Security Council on the vote of any seven members [nine since 1965], or by a majority of the Members of the United Nations.”
Since 1950, the Uniting For Peace resolution has been used 10 times. The resolution was last invoked in 1997 on the issue of overcoming Chinese resistance in the Security Council. Procedurally, India has two options under the purview of Uniting for Peace resolution. It could either call upon friendly permanent members of the UNSC to convene a special session of the General Assembly within the ambit of Resolution 377 or India itself can call for a special session. In the latter case, India would require the support of the majority of the nations in the General Assembly. In both scenarios, India is on strong footing, diplomatically, when it comes to the listing of Masood Azhar. The US, UK and France (all permanent members of the UNSC) have already announced that they will be moving to the 1267 committee for this matter. India can persuade these countries to instead convene a special session of the GA under the purview of Res 377. Once the special session is convened, a simple majority is required for passing the resolution which seems very likely given the extraordinary response India received from the International community after the Pulwama attacks.
On the question of technicalities, the most obvious question is whether the listing of Masood Azhar as global terrorist constitutes an important matter of ‘international peace and stability’ within the ambit of Resolution 377. Various UN resolutions (both UNGA and UNSC) answer this question. Terrorism has been deemed a ‘threat to global peace and security’ in multiple UN resolutions. Most recently, the UNSC resolution 2396 (2017) reaffirmed that “Terrorism in all forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable regardless of their motivations, whenever, wherever and by whomsoever committed, and remaining determined to contribute further to enhancing the effectiveness of the overall effort to fight this scourge on a global level.” Masood Azhar’s organization, Jaish-e-Mohammad, is already banned under these resolutions. Hence, convincing the UNGA members that the issue is imperative to maintain global peace and security would not be a problem for India at this stage. Moreover, the Masood Azhar issue has the potential to escalate tensions between two nuclear-armed nations, critically endangering global stability. This provides further impetus for the UNGA to take up the issue with utmost urgency.
At this moment, India has unprecedented global support in the war against terror. The UNSC resolution in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack was a diplomatic triumph for India as the resolution passed despite vehement resistance from China. A Uniting for Peace resolution by India in UNGA would not only provide it with the opportunity to wield its diplomatic heft but also test the Chinese resolve in how far the country would go in backing a terrorist. Although the resolution would not necessarily be binding (unlike a UNSC resolution), since India has the support of the permanent members and other nations (barring China), implementation of the resolution would not be an issue for India. By invoking the Uniting for Peace resolution with regard to the listing of Masood Azhar, India can not only sanction a terrorist but also score a major diplomatic victory against China. The move will likely also start a serious discussion on the current status of the UN Security Council.