Beijing expresses concern over growing threat to the region posed by extremists from across border as it uncovers attack plot.
China tells Pakistan to tackle militancy
ISLAMABAD // China has called upon Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, to take action against its growing militant problem, citing the links between extremist activities in both countries.
Officials are now confirming that the meeting between Meng Jianzhu, China's minister for public security, and Mr Zardari in Shanghai in February addressed concerns of the Chinese government that the militant problem in Pakistan's tribal region presents a significant security challenge to the entire region. Chinese officials are reported to have revealed that the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (Etim), a separatist Uighur group from China's Xinjiang province, is plotting an attack to coincide with 60th anniversary celebrations of the communist revolution, scheduled for Oct 1. The plan for the attack, according to Chinese officials, originated in Pakistani tribal areas.
"They told me that the Etim has its military headquarters in [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and is planning to attack China on the 60th anniversary celebration of the communist revolution," Mushahid Hussain Syed, the former chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, told The Nation, a Pakistani daily newspaper. Beijing dispatched a special envoy to Islamabad in March to discuss the alleged threat posed by the Etim, Mr Syed said.
This week, China claimed to have killed 18 Etim militants in Xinjiang. Last week, two Uighur separatists were executed in Xinjiang for a deadly attack on police in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics. Labelled as a terrorist group both by Beijing and Washington, the Etim has long maintained a low profile in Pakistan's tribal areas, although it is suspected to have links to al Qa'eda. The Pakistani army was reported to have killed in 2003 Hasan Mahsoum, the group's leader.
"China has been concerned for many years about extremists who are increasingly active in the [North West Frontier Province] of Pakistan," said G Eugene Martin, former US deputy chief of mission in Beijing and the Washington-based director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Centre. Once considered an "all-weather friend", China has been talking tough with its neighbour in recent years, particularly as Pakistan's security situation has grown volatile and economic conditions have turned ominous.
Pakistan was among a handful of nations to recognise the communist People's Republic of China in the early 1950s. When the war broke out in 1962 between China and India over the disputed Himalayan border region, China and Pakistan forged a bond based on their shared antagonism towards India. Mr Zardari's visit to China in February, the second in four months, came just days after Washington signed a landmark nuclear energy deal with India, an agreement that ruffled feathers in both Beijing and Islamabad. While China has always been a fervent supporter of Pakistan's nuclear ambitions, there has never been a formal agreement between the two countries. China has invested heavily in the construction of several nuclear power plants in Pakistan, as well as the country's infrastructure, including a new port in Gwadar, linking it to the Strait of Hormuz.
However, today's dynamics between China, Pakistan and India are a far cry from what they were in the 1960s, with many experts pointing to the greater strategic benefits of a stronger China-India alliance. "Pakistan has very few options to protect its security interests," said Shabbir Cheema, the director of the Asia-Pacific Governance and Democracy Initiative. "China-India economic relations are expanding rapidly, so Pakistan now must keep good relations with both China and India to ensure that its security interests are protected."
China, reputed for turning a blind eye where its allies are concerned, has used unusual force with Pakistan in recent months, following a series of abductions of Chinese nationals. In 2007, dozens of armed students from a radical mosque kidnapped - and later released - nine Chinese nationals who had been taken from an alleged brothel in Islamabad. And in August, the abduction of Long Ziaowei, an engineer, in the embattled Swat Valley drew sharp condemnation from China. Mr Ziaowei was released in February as a "goodwill gesture" by the Taliban before peace talks with the government.
The gesture was unlikely to win over the Chinese, however, who are now calling on Pakistan to do more to rein in militants and ensure the security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan. "All of this is having repercussions on relations [between Pakistan and China]," explained Sayem Ali, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Karachi. "They haven't given as much financial assistance as we saw in the past and we are already starting to see them pull out of some investments in Pakistan."