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    South Asia
     Jul 18, 2007
Page 2 of 2
Beijing keeps Islamabad honest
By Tarique Niazi

the 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 in Balochistan.

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 cooperation.

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.

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.

Pakistan is 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.

On 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 Focus.

(Posted with permission from Foreign Policy in Focus)

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