Page 2 of 2 Beijing keeps Islamabad
honest By Tarique Niazi
immense untapped natural-gas and oil resources of
Xinjiang. Pakistan is expanding the highway with
about $1.66 billion to make it traffic-worthy for
heavy freight of energy and trade goods.
Seven days after Mahsum was killed,
militants kidnapped two Chinese engineers on
October 9, 2004, in South Waziristan, which is
endowed with the rare natural wealth of uranium
that serves as fuel for nuclear power generation.
One of them was
killed in a botched rescue
attempt and the other seriously wounded.
Pakistan has since ordered 80,000 troops
into its tribal belt and along the 2,640-kilometer
Durand Line that divides Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This year, Musharraf ordered a deadly military
attack against 300 Uzbek and Uighur militants in
South Waziristan, who were suspected of carrying
out subversion in Xinjiang. Only a handful of them
survived by relocating to neighboring North
Waziristan, where they have allied themselves with
the Taliban to fight Western troops across the
border in Afghanistan.
The United States,
meanwhile, has paid the Musharraf government $1
billion a year for military operations against the
Taliban, especially in North and South Waziristan
and Bajaur Agency, where bin Laden and his deputy
Ayman al-Zawahiri are suspected to be hiding.
Musharraf kept the money and practically ceded the
area to the Taliban after a string of agreements.
Like the northwest, southwestern Pakistan
is also becoming inhospitable for the Chinese. On
May 3, 2004, three Chinese engineers were killed
in Gwadar, where China and Pakistan are jointly
investing $1.16 billion in building the port.
Pakistan blamed the killing on a shadowy
armed group, the Balochistan Liberation Army,
which is fighting for autonomy and control over
the region's natural resources and strategic
coast. Musharraf has since ordered almost
one-third of the Pakistan Army to put down the
resistance. Three years into the military
operation, Balochistan is still far from being
safe for Chinese nationals. As recently as
February 15, 2006, unidentified gunmen killed
three Chinese workers in Hub, an industrial town
So despite Pakistan's best
efforts, militants continue to target the Chinese.
Yet the Sino-Pakistani friendship is too solid for
militants' attacks, however regrettable, to sour
it. Instead, relations have rapidly grown from the
monolithic defense sector into broad-based
economic, energy, trade and investment
Since the September 11, 2001,
attacks on the US, a major thrust has been made
toward promoting educational, cultural, language,
travel and tourism cooperation between China and
Pakistan. After an unprecedented free-trade
agreement that went into effect this year,
Sino-Pakistani trade is projected to grow to $15
billion a year, which would put it just behind the
current India-US trade of $20 billion. In the
changing regional situation since September 11,
China needs Pakistan as much as Pakistan
previously needed China.
China-US-Pakistan Although the
United States is concerned about the resurgent
militancy in the region, its key focus remains on
defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and
dismantling their operational bases in
northwestern and southwestern Pakistan.
Islamabad, however, has a different view
of the Taliban, which it views as a potential
government-in-waiting for Afghanistan. Such a
Taliban government could help balance Indian
influence in Afghanistan, which has grown since
the US invasion.
To complicate the
situation further, India has built its first ever
foreign military base, in Tajikistan, which makes
both Beijing and Islamabad uneasy. Nor does China
welcome the US presence in Afghanistan and its key
military base at Bagram near Kabul. Sino-US
interests may converge around counter-terrorism,
but their strategic objectives in the region do
not significantly overlap.
more watchful of the strategic aims of regional
powers than counter-terrorism. The Lal Masjid
incident, however, has increased the threat of
reactive terror in northwestern Pakistan, where an
overwhelming majority of students are Pashtuns,
the Taliban's ethnic community.
Saturday, 40 people were killed, including 14
soldiers, in suicide bombings in the northwestern
region of Swat and Dera Ismail Khan. Moreover, the
crackdown on the Red Mosque, despite widespread
public support, is being widely seen as
spectacular failure because of massive casualties
that were neither necessary nor justified.
US pressure on Pakistan to clear the
region of the Taliban and al-Qaeda has forced
Pakistan into an ever tighter embrace of China.
Musharraf's action against the Lal Masjid, a
potent symbol of this strategic Sino-Pakistani
alignment, also sent a blood-soaked message to
religious militants that Chinese interests will
remain off-limits. Musharraf is not apologetic
about defending Chinese interests in Pakistan and
punishing those who dared to harm them.
Tarique Niazi is an
environmental sociologist at the University of
Wisconsin at Eau Claire ([email protected])
and a contributor to Foreign Policy in