New Delhi: Going by the celebration in the BJP camp, you would think that Masood Azhar has been shanghaied to India and faces trial. What’s really happened? The Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist leader, the same one that a previous BJP government released in a hostage swap in 1999, has been blacklisted by the United Nations. Would that stop his terrorism? Not really. Hafiz Sayeed, another notorious terrorist leader, was also banned. Has it crimped his bloodthirstiness? Scarcely.

Meanwhile, several state parties are claiming victory for the Masood Azhar ban. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, says that American diplomacy won. Pakistan reiterates that the absence of the Phulwama bombing from the charges against Masood proves its non-involvement in the death of over forty CRPF men. China drops hints that there was a deal with India without revealing details. Has India agreed to join the Belt and Road Initiative as a quid pro quo after years of saying no? We don’t know. Meanwhile, of course, the Narendra Modi regime is bragging about Masood with no clear gains in sight.

What’s the truth?

The Modi regime habitually claims victory for every low-hanging fruit that is picked. When the regime staked everything on a Masood ban with an eye on election gains, the United States scented an opportunity. No thanks to the regime, India is a major economic power with a vast, open economy. Since coming to power, Donald Trump has targeted India for protectionism. Seizing the symbolism of the barriers to Harley-Davidson imports, Trump bullied Modi to halve the tariff on the motorcycle giant. Having got that, he is pushing for import liberalization for US farm products and medical equipment and policy relaxations for American ecommerce companies.

Not stopping at that, the Trump administration has coerced India to cease oil imports from Iran. In no mood to spare India’s blushes, Washington linked zero Iran oil to the lobbying for Masood. And since the ban on Masood would save Pakistan from a worse fate in FATF, Islamabad did not raise objections of the sort that would hint at non-assistance to Washington for a peaceful withdrawal from Afghanistan. In any event, China was watching its back, and India presented Washington with a low hanging fruit with which to embarrass Beijing and scare it of an Indian tilt towards the United States should it not play ball.

Given the low stakes involved, all sides won except India, which ceded too much for too little. It comes from having a geopolitical and geo-economic cipher leading the country. India has come to possess few levers in the disastrous five years of Narendra Modi’s rule. Those few are the leftovers of a booming economy founded on the 1991 reforms. Now they too are at risk.

Such economic leverage as India possesses still frightens China because the West has more or less united to oppose its export-led model and its intellectual property thieving, its strong-arming of Western firms located in China to part with high technology and its determined bid to supplant the United States as the world technology leader. Moreover, China’s giant technology firms serve Beijing’s mandate to subvert the free world through cyber-hostilities.

Against this background, India employed its economic lever subtly but significantly by keeping away from the second BRI Forum meeting. Finding his designs for Asian and global hegemony aborted, the Chinese strongman, Xi Jinping, likely moved to accommodate India on Masood Azhar but not enough to give New Delhi outright victory. In any case, China was hardly signing Azhar’s death warrant.

Two questions follow: Was there a quid pro quo? Was too much ceded? Throwing open the Indian market to the United States or China is a steep price for blacklisting a terrorist leader. A geopolitical tilt either towards the United States or China is scarcely worth the price of a ban. Worst of all would be if India is obliged to join the BRI because of Masood, effectively surrendering sovereign territories through which the flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes. Was there such a deal? There is no clarity. Is this what the “Wuhan Spirit” means?

The world is only interested in India’s vast, open market. It is a lever India cannot sell cheap. Unless India becomes an economic power, it will not have the means to contain Pakistani terrorism in a real sense. Political power, military strength, diplomatic reach, etc, are only effective when they are reinforced by economic power. The Narendra Modi regime is not expected to know this or even care having impaired the Indian economy in a five-year period. The next non-Modi government has its work cut out for it.