August 02, 2011

COUNTER-TERRORISM: CHINESE PRESSURE ON PAKISTAN

B.RAMAN

The US and India are not the only countries, which 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, who not only pose a threat to the security of Chinese nationals living and working in Pakistan, but also to the internal security of the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang province.

2. The Chinese concern is due to three reasons: firstly, the threats to the lives of Chinese nationals. There have already been five attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistanin 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 Commando action in the Lal Masjid in Islamabad between July 10 and 13,2007. Three Chinese nationals were killed by unidentified elements in Peshawar and Chinese engineers travelling by bus in Hub in Balochistan had a miraculous escape when there was an explosion targeting their bus. In addition to these incidents, there was one incident of kidnapping of six Chinese women working in a massage parlour of Islamabad by some women students of the girls' madrasa of the Lal Masjid. They were subsequently released.

3. Secondly, the failure of the Pakistani Police to make any progress in the investigation into these incidents and arrest and prosecute those responsible. Thirdly, the failure of the Pakistani intelligence agencies to locate and neutralise Uighur terrorists belonging to the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (IMET) who, according to the Chinese, have taken sanctuary in Pakistan.

4.In its issue of August 11,2007, the "Daily Times" of Lahore quoted Mr.LiuGuchang, the then Chinese Ambassador in Moscow, as stating as follows while briefing the media on a six-nation counter-terrorism exercise of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), which was held in Xinjiang in August 2007: “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."

5.While there has been equal pressure from the US and China to do more against jihadi terrorists operating from Pakistani territory, 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 Musharraf avoided any action against the pro-Taliban elements operating from the Lal Masjid for six months, the Chinese expression of concern and unhappiness over the failure of the police to prevent the kidnapping of six Chinese women by the students of its girls' madrasa and over the slanderous campaign of the Masjid projecting Chinese women working in Islamabad as prostitutes made him act immediately and order a commando raid into the Masjid on July 10,2007.

6.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 the British and American forces in Afghan territory. Repeated expressions of concern over his activities in Afghanistan from Pakistani territory by the officials of the Hamid Karzai Government did not elicit any response from the Pakistani security forces. But a Chinese expression of concern over the threat posed by him 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 July 23,2007, and kill him. While the Government claimed that he blew himself up when surrounded by the security forces, his followers alleged that he was shot dead at point-blank range by the security forces.

7.The Chinese concern over the threat he 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, when some of his followers had kidnapped two Chinese engineers working in the GomalZam Dam project in the South Waziristan-Tank area. In a rescue mission mounted by Pakistani commandoes , five of the kidnappers and one of the Chinese engineers were killed. The other engineer was rescued.

8. 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 the 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."

9.While the actual kidnappers were killed in the commando action, Abdullah Mahsud, who ordered the kidnapping, remained at large without the Pakistani security forces taking any action against him. A strong expression of Chinese concern after the Commando action in the Lal Masjid over the likely threats to Chinese nationals from him made the Pakistani security forces run him down and kill him.

10.Despite this, the Chinese concerns remained high because the Pakistani intelligence agencies and security forces were not able to trace and neutralise the Uighur members of the IMET, who have been operating from Mir Ali in North Waziristan along with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

11.Embarrased by the failure of the intelligence agencies and the security forces to trace and neutralise the Uighur terrorists and to effectively protect the Chinese nationals, the Pakistani authorities were alleging that unidentified foreign elements were instigating these attacks. Even then Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz alleged while talking to journalists on August 8,2007 at KallaKahar, near Chakwal, that there was an "international conspiracy" behind the attacks on the Chinese nationals.

12.Itwas reported that the security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan and action against the Uighur terrorists was the main subject discussed by Mr.CuiTiankai, the then Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister, during a visit to Pakistan from August 6 to 8,2007. Among others, he called on Gen.Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz and then Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.

13.The local media reported that Musharraf condemned the attacks on Chinese nationals and assured the Chinese Government of Pakistan’s commitment to bring the perpetrators to justice. Mr.Shaukat Aziz was quoted as telling the Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister that the security and safety of Chinese people working in Pakistan was of paramount importance for Pakistan and that the Government was taking stern measures to ensure their safety.He reportedly alleged that harming Chinese nationals in Pakistan was a “deliberate act of our adversaries to create mistrust between the two counties”, but assured that any such attempt would be dealt with an “iron hand”.Mr.Kasuri expressed deep sorrow over an incident in which three Chinese nationals were killed in Peshawar and assured that the Government was investigating the matter.Additional security measures had been taken for the security of Chinese nationals, he reportedly said.

14.On August 6,2007,Syed Kamal Shah, the then Pakistani Interior Secretary, and Mr.LuoZhaohui, the then Chinese Ambassador, signed an MOU to form a joint task force for improving security for Chinese nationals in Pakistan, and for reviewing investigations made till then into the past attacks. After the signing ceremony, then Interior Minister AftabSherpao noted the recent “sad incidents” against the Chinese in Pakistan. “The agreement will give us leverage for a quick response on any such security issues which crop up and where the lives of Chinese nationals are in danger,” he said. The task force was to consist of senior officials from the Interior and Foreign ministries, the National Crisis Management Cell and top Chinese diplomats in Pakistan.

15.During a visit to Beijing in May 2008, Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, said: “Enemies of China are the enemies of Pakistan” and his country would spare no effort in future as well in eliminating elements posing athreat “to our most trusted ally.”Responding to a question at a press conference, Rehman Malik said: “Let me tell you first that China is a great friend of Pakistan, we treat like a family and any enemy of China is enemy of Pakistan. The cooperation in the field of anti-terrorism is already at high and greater level and the cooperation in this regard is visible and will continue to be visible in future as well. Our forces have already taken action againstthe IMET, as we treat it not only as the enemies of China but of Pakistan too.”

16.He said that in 2002, the gang leader of the IMET Masoom was killed, while the other so-called gang leader Haq had also been killed recently by “our law enforcing agencies. I confirm that.” He said that he assured “his Chinese brothers and sisters” that if any activity of the IMET came to his knowledge, the Pakistani Government would act with heavy hands. “We will take strict action, rather very strict action against them.”

17.Malik said that there was a small pocket near the Pak-Afghan border, which was highly inaccessible as it was surrounded by rough mountains where these elements had been operating in connivance with Uzbeks, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Al-Qaeda, etc. “When we launched the operation against terrorists, the priority was to eliminate them.” He claimed that the back of the IMET had been broken and weakened.

18.Replying to a debate on the budgetary demands of the Ministry of the Interior in the National Assembly on June 24, 2009, Malik said: “Due to the efforts of the President and the Prime Minister, the Chinese Government has provided $290 million for capacity building of our security forces.”

19. The decision of the Chinese authorities to assist Pakistani capacity-building in counter-terrorism was officially conveyed to Malik when he visited Beijing and Shanghai from June 9 to 12, 2009. The visit was preceded by the Pakistan Government’s handing over to the Chinese of 10 members of the Uighur diaspora in Pakistan despite objections from the Amnesty International, which feared that these Uighurs might be executed by China without proper trial. The Pakistani authorities, who officially revealed the handing-over on June 5, 2009, as reported by the "News" of June 6, claimed that these Uighurs, who were rounded up during the Pakistan Army's counter-insurgency operations in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), belonged to the IMET.

20.The "News" of June,6, 2009, reported as follows: "According to some sources in Islamabad, the Chinese militants were extradited despite opposition by the Amnesty International. In March 2009, Tim Parritt, Deputy Director of the Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme, had observed that whatever these militants were accused of, the risks posed to them were extremely grave, if forcibly returned to China. He had maintained that under the international law, states were obliged not to expel, return or extradite any person to a country where they risk torture or other ill-treatment. However, the Pakistani authorities insist that all those who had been extradited to Beijing were involved in terrorist activities both in China and in Pakistan and had also developed links with al-Qaeda network in the tribal areas of Pakistan. They said the fact that the IMET militants had extended their network of terrorist activities to Pakistan was evident from a threat they had conveyed to the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, saying they intended to kidnap Chinese diplomats and consular officers stationed in the Pakistani federal capital with a view to highlighting their cause. The Chinese mission subsequently informed the Pakistani authorities in a letter that some members of the IMET had already reached Islamabad and planned to kidnap their staffers from the federal capital. The letter reportedly pointed out that terrorist groups located in Pakistan, including al-Qaeda, had been providing support to the IMET activists for the likely kidnappings. Subsequent investigations had established that the anonymous threat was issued by none other than the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and that the would-be kidnappers had first travelled to Jalalabad in Afghanistan to finalise their plans."

21. During his stay in Beijing, Malik had met State Councillor and Minister for Public Security MengJianzhu, the Communist Party of China Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkong and the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, who hosted a dinner for him. There were no reports of any meeting with President Hu Jintao or Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

22.Talking to pressmen at Beijing, Malik said: "We have signed a number of agreements to build the capacity of our law enforcing agencies. We have signed agreements worth $ 300 million to acquire state of the art equipment to combat terrorism. The first consignment of these most needed equipment would be reaching Pakistan within three weeks. We want to ensure that our law enforcing agencies are well equipped, so that they could thwart with full force militancy. The equipment Pakistan needed included most modern mobile scanners that can detect hidden explosives and drugs. Initially, we would start employing these equipment in the metropolitan cities under threat of terrorism, like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi and then gradually we plan to cover the entire country. "

23.After the US raid on the hide-out of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad on May 2,2011, the Chinese had strongly defended Pakistan against US suspicions of possible complicity with OBL, which enabled him to stay in his hide-out for over five years and praised its contribution to the war against terrorism. Past Chinese concerns over Pakistan’s perceived inaction against the terrorists of the IMET operating from sanctuaries in North Waziristan, which had remained unexpressed for some months after the visit of Rehman Malik to Beijing in 2009, have been revived after the recent incidents of violence during July in the interior areas of the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang province.

24. Initially, these revived concerns found expression in the comments of Chinese counter-terrorism experts working for well-known Chinese think tanks, but now the expression of these concerns is finding its way into the columns of party-controlled media such as the “Global Times”. After the two incidents in Kashgar near the Pakistan border on July 30 and 31,2011, the “Global Times” wrote as follows on August 1: “A group of religious extremists led by militants trained in overseas terrorist camps was behind the weekend attack on civilians in China's far-western Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region that left 6 dead and 15 others wounded, the local government said Monday.The initial probe found that the group's leaders had learned how to make explosives and firearms in overseas camps of the terrorist group "East Turkistan Islamic Movement" (ETIM) in Pakistan before entering Xinjiang to organize terrorist activities, the government of Kashgar City said in an online statement.”

25.It added: “Pan Zhiping, a researcher with the Central Asia Studies Institute under the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, called the IMET"the most violent and dangerous" among the "East Turkistan" separatist forces. He said the organization is based somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

26.“The IMET traditionally trains its members for suicide bombings and car bombings before sending them to Xinjiang. But today more are using the Internet to penetrate the border to spread bomb-making techniques, Pan and other long-time Xinjiang observers said.

27.“The Sunday attack was the second violent case in Kashgar over the weekend. On Saturday night, two people hijacked a truck after killing the driver and drove it into crowded street. The suspects then jumped out of the truck and hacked bystanders randomly.Eight civilians were killed while 27 others were injured. One of the suspects was killed in the clash while the other was apprehended.The local government did not specifically label Saturday's attack as an act of terrorism,” the “Global Times” further added.

28.According to well-informed Pakistani Police sources, after a phone call from President Hu Jintao to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Lt.Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Director-General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has been rushed to Beijing to address the Chinese concerns regarding the revival in the activities of the IMET from Pakistani sanctuaries in the weeks before an international Expo to be held in Urumqi from September 1 to 5.

29.The IMET operates in close co-ordination with Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union from hide-outs in North Waziristan. Despite pressure from the US, the Pakistani Army and the ISI have till now been disinclined to act against the terrorist sanctuaries in North Waziristan. It remains to be seen whether the Chinese pressure will make them act.

30.The Chinese have never been responsive to India’s concerns over the anti-India terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory. For many years, till the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, China prevented the anti-terrorism Monitoring Committee of the UN Security Council from declaring the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) as terrorist organisations. It used to support Pakistan’s contention that the JUD was a humanitarian organisation. It changed its stance only after 26/11.

31.Despite China’s insensitivity to India’s concerns over the anti- Indian terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory, India should utilise the recent Chinese concerns to underline to the Chinese the threat which they face as a result of their double-standards on the question of the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani territory. ( 2-8-11)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com . Twitter: @SORBONNE75)

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