External Affairs

Despite “New Energy”, Lakhvi Issue Remains Bridge Too Far for Modi, Xi Jinping

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping  during their delegation level meeting in Ufa,Russia on Wednesday.PTI Photo by Manvender Vashist

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their delegation level meeting in Ufa,Russia on Wednesday.
PTI Photo by Manvender Vashist

New Delhi: Despite Prime Minster Narendra Modi personally raising the matter with President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, India and China still do not see eye-to-eye on the question of UN action against 26/11 accused Zki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.

In a wide-ranging, 90-minute conversation with Xi in Ufa, Russia – where the two leaders met on the sidelines of what will be back-to-back summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS – Modi “strongly took up the issue” of Beijing blocking a United Nations proposal for action against Pakistan for releasing Lakhvi. However, the Chinese side is still not ready to act on the basis of India’s evidence against the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba commander.

Briefing Indian reporters about the meeting which he said reflected “a new energy, a new enthusiasm in the relationship”, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said Modi “conveyed India’s concerns” about the matter but provided no details of the manner in which the PM framed the Lakhvi issue or what Xi’s response was. The issue was discussed in “some detail,” he said, adding, “the Prime Minister expressed our view, how people see it in India… [He] made our concerns known very clearly.”

Asked how Xi responded,  Jaishankar said: “I can assume that the Chinese side was impressed with the clarity and directness in which it was conveyed.”

China blocked India’s request for action against Pakistan at the UN on June 23, taking advantage of the consensus rule for decision-making on the 1267 sanctions committee. Two days later, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj raised the issue with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi in Kathmandu, who assured her he would “look into the matter.”

If escalating the Lakhvi issue to the level of the President was meant to convey the depth of India’s concerns, it is evident that the Chinese remain unmoved for now. Having failed to reach an agreement, all that Modi and Xi appear to have done is kick the can back down to their diplomats without specifying a timeline or mechanism for resolving differences. Describing what might happen next, Jaishankar said:

I think where we left off was a fact that the officials would further pick up on what the leaders said. It was not that they identified a particular mechanism but I think that is a fairly obvious answer because the Foreign Ministry talks to the Embassy and the other way round in Beijing, our Embassies talk to each other in New York at the UN, we have other mechanisms including counterterrorism and the Special Representatives. So, there are a range of mechanisms here.

Implicitly conceding that China’s political perception was the obstacle and not the “weak evidence” on Lakhvi that its UN representative had accused India of presenting, the Foreign Secretary said, “it is not an issue of evidence… The whole world knows what was the role of Lakhvi [in the26/11 attacks]. If our evidence was weak, then why did all others [in the UN] accept it?”

Apart from Lakhvi,  Modi also reiterated India’s concerns over the US$ 46 billion economic corridor that China is building with Pakistan as it crosses Pakistan-occupied Kashmir(PoK), which India considers its part. The PM had already raised this with Xi during their summit meeting in May. This is what Jaishankar said of the latest exchange:

Usually every country expresses its position, the other country expresses their position, it goes up and down. I think it would be fair for me to brief you of the substance of the discussion; and the substance of the discussion was that where China is concerned they talk about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, where India is concerned we highlight the fact that insofar as that corridor passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, it is a matter naturally of concern for us.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Yang Jiechi, China’s Special Representative on the Bounday Question were also present in the meeting. Doval and Yang held the 18th round of SR talks in march this year.

Asked about the BRICS-sponsored New Development Bank and whether it is a competitor to the Chinese-established Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), which India has also joined, Jaishankar said the two have different roles and are not overlapping. Development is a huge issue and resources for should not necessarily be channelised from only one source but multiple sources, he said. “There is large enough space for multiple institutions,” the Foreign Secretary added.