Sanskriti Bachao Manch activists raise slogans during protest against Xi Jinping after China blocked the attempt to list JEM chief Masood Azhar in Bhopal. (Source: PTI)

France Freezes Pakistan Militant's Assets as China Poses Hurdles

(Bloomberg) -- France has frozen the assets of Pakistani militant leader Masood Azhar on Friday after China blocked an attempt to list him as a global terrorist at the United Nations.

France’s foreign, interior and finance ministries said in a joint statement that the action was linked to the Feb. 14 attack in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed 40 security personnel. While Islamabad denied involvement in the suicide bombing, Azhar’s group -- Jaish-e-Mohammed -- claimed the attack. France said it would also ask the 28-member European Union to add Azhar on its terror list.

The move comes immediately after China blocked a fresh attempt by the UN Security Council to proscribe the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief as a terrorist, which has intensified pressure on the tense relationship between New Delhi and Beijing.

India, which said Pakistan’s government was complicit in the Feb. 14 attack, has repeatedly sought to get Azhar designated. New Delhi’s efforts have been blocked by Beijing, which is an all-weather ally of Islamabad and has financed about $60 billion in infrastructure projects across Pakistan. China argues that Azhar’s group is already clearly designated as a terrorist group.

‘More Time’

New Delhi claims that Azhar enjoys free rein in Pakistan. Azhar was released by India in exchange for the safe return on 160 hostages on an Indian Airlines plane hijacked to Afghanistan in 1999. Jaish-e-Mohammed, or Army of Mohammed, was founded after his release and was linked to the murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. The group was banned in Pakistan later that year.

Speaking in a regular press conference in Beijing this week, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China was willing to work with India and Pakistan. The UN had clear standards on designating terrorist organizations and individuals, he added. “China is conducting a thorough and in-depth assessment of this application and we still need more time,” Lu said.

India did not name China, mentioning only that their move to list Azhar was stopped “on account of a member placing the proposal on hold.” On Friday, India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted that the move was supported by 14 of the 15 Security Council members.

The French statement didn’t indicate if Azhar actually has any assets in France. “France will always be on the side of India in the struggle against terrorism,” it said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.