Western countries moved to declare Azhar a “global terrorist” after JeM claimed responsibility for the Kashmir attack, in which a local Kashmiri man killed 40 Indian paramilitary police officers.
Yet for the fourth time in 10 years, China vetoed the proposal to hit Azhar with sanctions including an asset freeze, a travel ban and an arms embargo.
Beijing did not provide a reason for placing a “technical hold” on the proposal, which delays the request for at least nine months, but has in the past been accused of protecting Azhar as part of China’s close alliance with Pakistan’s military establishment.
In a statement released late on Wednesday, India’s foreign ministry said it was “disappointed by this outcome”, without mentioning China by name.
“We will continue to pursue all available avenues to ensure that terrorist leaders who are involved in heinous attacks on our citizens are brought to justice,” the statement read.
India had hoped that international condemnation of the 14 February bombing would finally break the cycle whereby its Western allies - the UK, US and France - would move to sanction Azhar and Pakistan’s ally and permanent Security Council member China would intervene.
Social media users have been demanding action in the wake of the bombing in Pulwama, Kashmir, which led to a dramatic escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan that saw both countries claiming to have shot down each other’s fighter jets.
Angered by the latest development, Indians on Twitter called for a boycott of Chinese products, with #China and #BoycottChineseProducts the top trends in the country.
And with a general election looming in April and May, the opposition Congress party in India accused prime minister Narendra Modi of “bowing to” Beijing over the Azhar issue.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Weak Modi is scared of [Chinese president] Xi. Not a word comes out of his mouth when China acts against India.”
Since it is not a member of the UN Security Council itself, India will rely on its allies to keep up the pressure on Pakistan, which earlier this month admitted Azhar is “in Pakistan” but “very unwell… to the extent that he cannot leave his house”. India said it was “grateful” to the member states who moved to designate Azhar a global terrorist.
Speaking to the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, a UN Security Council diplomat said that if China continued to prevent the designation of Azhar, member states "may be forced to pursue other actions at the Security Council."
The diplomat said: "The case for designating Masood Azhar - the leader of a group the UN already calls an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organisation - is undeniable."
Western powers could also blacklist Azhar by adopting a Security Council resolution, which needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by permanent members Russia, China, the US, Britain or France.
While JeM claimed the Pulwama bombing, and the bomber pre-recorded a video declaring allegiance to the group, the extent to which the attack was ordered and coordinated from Pakistan remains unclear.
Pakistan’s foreign minister said the country had not moved to arrest Azhar, “ill or not”, because the evidence provided in a dossier by India was insufficient to bring a case to trial.
In interviews with The Independent last week, the family of the Pulwama bomber played down Pakistan’s role, suggesting that the bomber, Adil Ahmad Dar, was a separatist motivated by the “struggle for freedom” for Kashmir. They questioned Indian media reports that Dar made “several visits” to Pakistan in the year before the attack.
Azhar founded JeM in 2000 after a hostage exchange that freed him from an Indian prison in return for 155 people held on a hijacked aircraft.
In December 2001, the group collaborated with another Pakistan-based militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba, in an attack on India's parliament that nearly triggered a fourth war between the two countries.
Pakistani authorities have also linked JeM with two assassination bids on former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003, as well as the kidnap and video-taped beheading of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.
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