The US is not the only country, which has been pressing President General Pervez Musharraf 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 could also pose a threat to next year’s Beijing Olympics.
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 during the last four 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 about 20 Uighur terrorists belonging to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) who, according to the Chinese, have taken sanctuary in Pakistan. The Chinese authorities are greatly worried that these Uighurs might organise a major terrorist strike in the Xinjiang region next year, coinciding with the Beijing Olympics in order to divert attention away from the Olympics. In its issue of August 11,2007, the “Daily Times” of Lahore quoted Mr.Liu Guchang, the Chinese Ambassador in Moscow, as stating as follows while briefing the media on the current six-nation counter-terrorism exercise of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), which started in Xinjiang on August 9,2007: “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.”
4. While there is equal pressure from the US and China to do more against jihadi terrorists operating from Pakistani territory, the Government of Musharraf 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 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.
5. 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.
6. 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 Gomal Zam Dam project in the South Waziristan-Tank area. In a rescue mission mounted by Pakistani commandos , five of the kidnappers and one of the Chinese engineers were killed. The other engineer was rescued.
7. 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.”
8. 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.
9. Despite this, the Chinese concerns remain high because the Pakistani intelligence agencies and security forces have not been able to trace and neutralise the 20 Uighur members of the ETIM, who have been operating from Mir Ali in North Waziristan along with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). While the ETIM and the IMU do not have any known capability for a terrorist strike in Beijing during next year’s Olympics, they do have a capability for a spectacular act of terrorism in Xinjiang at the time of the Olympics in order to divert world attention away from the Olympics. The Chinese are, therefore, pressing Pakistan to trace and neutralise them before the Olympics.
10.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 have been alleging that unidentified foreign elements were instigating these attacks. Even Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz alleged while talking to journalists on August 8,2007 at Kalla Kahar, near Chakwal, that there was an “international conspiracy” behind the attacks on the Chinese nationals.
11.It has been reported that the security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan and action against the Uighur terrorists was the main subject discussed by Mr.Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister, during a visit to Pakistan from August 6 to 8,2007. Among others, he called on Gen.Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. The local media reported that Musharraf condemned the recent 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 a recent 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.
12.On August 6,2007,Syed Kamal Shah, the Pakistani Interior Secretary, and Mr.Luo Zhaohui, the Chinese Ambassador, signed an MOU to form a joint task force for improving security for Chinese nationals in Pakistan, and for reviewing investigations made so far into the past attacks. After the signing ceremony, Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao 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 will consist of senior officials from the Interior and Foreign ministries, the National Crisis Management Cell and top Chinese diplomats in Pakistan.
13. Since the US started its operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in October,2001, and invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, there have been two Olympics- the Athens Olympics of 2004 and the Turin winter Olympics of 2006. Fears that Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorists might try to disrupt them were belied.Despite this, the Chinese are taking no chances and are taking appropriate security measures to prevent any disruptions during next year’s Beijing Olympics. There is so far no information to indicate any plans of Al Qaeda and its associates to stage any spectacular incident at Beijing. If at all there is any danger, it is likely to be more from individual, self-motivated jihadi elements, which could infiltrate into national teams and create an incident, involving either violence or anti-US and anti-Israeli propaganda. However, there is a greater danger of the Uighurs staging a diversionary attack in Xinjiang.
(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 also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)