By B Raman
The US and India are not the only countries that have been pressing Pakistan to do more against jihadi terrorists operating from sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. China too has been exercising similar pressure on the Pakistani authorities to do more against Uighur and other terrorists operating from Pakistani territory. These terrorists pose a threat not only to the security of Chinese nationals living and working in Pakistan, but also to the internal security of the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region.
China’s concern arises due to three reasons: first, the threats to the lives of Chinese nationals. There have been five attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan in recent years. Three of these were in Balochistan and one each in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Four of these incidents resulted in Chinese fatalities. Two of these incidents took place after the Pakistani commando action in the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007. Three Chinese nationals were killed by unidentified elements in Peshawar and Chinese engineers travelling by bus in Balochistan escaped an explosion targeting their bus. In addition to these incidents, there was one incident in which six Chinese women working in a massage parlour in Islamabad were kidnapped by students of the girls’ madrasa of the Lal Masjid. They were subsequently released.
Second, Pakistani police have failed to make any progress in the investigation into these incidents and arrest and prosecute those responsible. Third, the Pakistani intelligence agencies have failed to locate and neutralise Uighur terrorists belonging to the East Turkestan Islamic movement (ETIM) who, according to the Chinese, have taken sanctuary in Pakistan.
In August 2007, the Daily Times of Lahore quoted Liu Guchang, the then Chinese Ambassador in Moscow, from a media briefing on a six-nation counter-terrorism exercise of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), held in Xinjiang that month: “Judging from recent years the most real terrorist threat mainly comes from the East Turkestan terrorist forces active both within China and beyond its borders.”
Pakistan more responsive to China
There has been equal pressure from the US and China to do more against jihadi terrorists operating from Pakistani territory; however, the Pakistani Government has been more responsive to Chinese concerns and more worried about the impact of the Chinese concerns on Pakistan’s strategic relationship with China.
While former President Pervez Musharraf avoided any action against the pro-Taliban elements operating from the Lal Masjid for six months, Chinese expression of concern and unhappiness over the failure of the police to prevent the kidnapping of six Chinese women by students of its girls’ madrasa and over the slanderous campaign of the Masjid projecting Chinese women working in Islamabad as prostitutes made him order a commando raid on the Masjid on 10 July 2007.
One saw a similar response in the case of Abdullah Mahsud, the pro-Taliban tribal leader from South Waziristan, who was helping the Neo Taliban in its operations against British and American forces in Afghan territory. The Pakistani security forces did not heed repeated expressions of concern from Hamid Karzai government officials over Mahsud’s activities in Afghanistan from Pakistani territory. But a Chinese expression of concern over the threat he posed to the lives of Chinese nationals in Pakistani territory made the Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies trace him to a hide-out in Zhob in Balochistan on 23 July 2007 and kill him. While the Government claimed that he blew himself up when surrounded by security forces, his followers alleged that he was shot dead at point-blank range by the security forces.
China was behind the Lal Masjid raid
Chinese concern over the threat that Mahsud and his followers could pose to the lives of Chinese nationals in the wake of the jihadi anger against the Chinese over their suspected role in prompting Musharraf to act against the Lal Masjid could be traced to an incident in October 2004. At that time, Mahsud’s followers had kidnapped two Chinese engineers working on the Gomal Zam Dam project in South Waziristan-Tank area, Pakistani commandoes staged a rescue mission, in which five of the kidnappers and one of the Chinese engineers were killed. The other engineer was rescued.
In a subsequent interview, Abdullah Mahsud said that while he did not have anything against the Chinese, he ordered their kidnapping in order to force Musharraf to stop military operations against pro-Taliban elements in South Waziristan. He said: “I am not against the Chinese people. I realise that China is Pakistan’s best friend. But desperate people do desperate things. That is the reason I ordered the kidnapping of the Chinese engineers. I felt this act would hurt the Musharraf Government the most.”
While the kidnappers were killed in the commando action, Abdullah Mahsud, who ordered the kidnapping, remained at large; the Pakistani security forces took no action against him at that time. Only after the commando action on the Lal Masjid, when Chinese officials expressed concern over the likely threats to Chinese nationals from Mahsud, did Pakistani security forces run him down.
Despite all this, Chinese concerns remained high because the Pakistani intelligence agencies and security forces were not able to trace and neutralise the Uighur members of the ETIM, who have been operating from Mir Ali in North Waziristan along with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).
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