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Obama And Counter-Insurgency In Chinese Colours

Nothing illustrates more starkingly the helplessness and confusion that prevails in the corridors of the Obama Administration over its Af-Pak policy than a report carried by the “Los Angeles Times” on May 25,2009, regarding a recent visit which Richard C.Holbrooke, the Administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is reported to have made to China and Saudi Arabia in pursuance of his mandate.

2. To quote a news agency message based on the report carried by the “LA Times” : “The Obama Administration has appealed to China to provide training and even military equipment to help Pakistan counter a growing militant threat, US officials said. …..Richard C Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, has visited China and Saudi Arabia, another key ally, in recent weeks as part of the effort, says Paul Richter of LAT. The American appeal to China underscores the country’s importance in security issues. The United States considers China to be the most influential country for dealing with militaristic North Korea. China also plays a crucial role in the international effort to pressure Iran over its nuclear ambitions……A senior US official, while acknowledging China’s hesitation to become more deeply involved, said, “You can see that they’re thinking about it.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the subject. US officials believe China is skilled at counterinsurgency, a holdover of the knowledge gained during the country’s lengthy civil war that ended with a Communist victory in 1949. And with China’s strong military ties with Pakistan, US officials hope Beijing could help craft a more sophisticated strategy than Pakistan’s current heavy-handed approach.”

3. I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read that the Obama Administration believed that “China is skilled in counter-insurgency”, that it acquired its skills during its “war of liberation” against the KMT troops and that it can teach Pakistan “a more sophisticated strategy than Pakistan’s current heavy-handed approach.”

4.What do the Chinese regard as terrorism or insurgency? Which are the terrorist/insurgent organisations in their perception? Anyone, who has been following Chinese methods of internal security management would know that in the Chinese assessment there are two “terrorist/insurgent” organisations posing a threat to China’s internal security—– the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), which they project as no different from Al Qaeda in its modus operandi and the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (IMET) of the Uighurs. Since the pro-Dalai Lama uprising in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of China in March, 2008, the Chinese have been repeatedly and consistently condemning the TYC as a terrorist organisation. They have arrested a large number of Tibetan monks and youth and mass trials have been going on. If Obama and his advisers want to have details of what the Chinese have been doing in Tibet since March,2008, under the pretext of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, all they have to do is to read the transcripts of the broadcasts of Radio Free Asia funded by the US State Department and to read the various statements issued by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his followers. Does the Obama Administration consider this as skilful and sophisticated counter-insurgency techniques?

5. What the Chinese have been doing against the Uighurs in the Xinjiang Province? Indiscriminate arrests, trials and executions. To get details, Obama and his advisers should read the periodic reports of the Human Rights Watch, which is a reputed non-Governmental organisation of the US, and the annual reports of the US State Department on human rights in China. The Chinese counter-insurgency strategy against the Uighurs is based on the principle “catch and kill”. That was why the George Bush Administration refused to hand over to China the Uighur jihadis arrested in Afghanistan. The entire community of the human rights organisations of the West was against their being handed over to China since they apprehended that the Chinese would execute them. That was why Albania was persuaded to give sanctuary to these Uighurs.

6.There are two components to the Chinese counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy in Xinjiang—- “catch and kill” and impose restrictions on the practice of Islam. Under this policy of restrictions, construction of new mosques is not allowed, many old mosques have been forced to close down under the pretext that they were constructed illegally and the people are forced to observe their holy fast inside their houses and not to congregate in public places. This is China’s “skilful and sophisticated” counter-insurgency.

7.IF Pakistan follows even some of these methods, the day will not be far off when Pakistan will become a State ruled by a combine of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. As it is, there is considerable anti-US and anti-Army anger in Pakistan. Instead of finding ways of containing and reducing this anger, the Obama Administration is coming out with shocking ideas such as “Counter-insurgency in Chinese colours”, which could make an already difficult situation even more difficult to handle.

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is alaso associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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