While it blatantly betrayed America for almost a decade regarding Osama bin Laden, recent terrorist attacks by Islamists in western China reveal who Pakistan views as its true ally.
In the middle of July, “an organised terrorist attack” on a police station in western China’s restive, Muslim-majority Xinjiang region left 14 people dead. About 18 Uighurs, carrying a flag with the Arab words for “Holy War” written on it, were blamed for the deadly assault.
The Uighurs are a Muslim Turkic people, native to the region and numbering about ten million out of a population of about 22 million. Some want independence from China and have angrily opposed the influx of Han Chinese immigrants. Simmering tensions between the two ethnics groups exploded in violence in 2009 that saw about 200 people killed.
Last weekend, China experienced two more terrorist attacks in Xinjiang that left 19 dead, including five terrorists. On Saturday, an hour after two bombs exploded, a truck hijacked by two Islamic terrorists slammed into a group of people, after which they got out and stabbed innocent bystanders, causing eight deaths. The following day, after burning down a restaurant, a larger group of Uighur terrorists began to randomly stab passers-by, killing several.
Unlike with other terrorist attacks worldwide with connections to Pakistan, the Pakistani intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), reacted immediately to last weekend’s Chinese incidents. That’s because a captured Uighur terrorist confessed the leaders of Sunday’s Islamist attackers had received training in Pakistan in camps of the banned extremist East Turkistan Islamic Movement. So in contrast to its stonewalling behaviour regarding bin Laden, the ISI sent straightway Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the agency’s director general, to Beijing. The Pakistani government also stated it was extending its “full support” to China on this matter.
“We cannot allow Pakistani territory to be used for any activities against any neighbour, especially a close ally like China,” said the chairman of the Pakistan-China Institute. “There are strong ties between China and Pakistan, and we are cooperating closely on this issue.”
It’s unfortunate, however, that America does not get the same consideration and “full support,” especially when it comes to jihadists using Pakistani soil to launch attacks against NATO and Afghan troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
“The United States rarely gets that level of cooperation when it presses Pakistan on militants operating in its border regions,” wrote one analyst.
No kidding. Despite paying Pakistan $1 billion in aid annually for the last ten years to battle the terrorist groups operating on its soil, America still cannot persuade the Pakistani military to invade North Waziristan where the most hard-line Islamist organizations are located. Moreover, the Pakistanis have always prohibited the American military from going in there and doing the job itself.
The main reason for Pakistan’s preferential treatment of China over America is that the Pakistan military has always regarded India as its primary enemy rather than the Islamic terrorists on its territory. This attitude was evident only days after 9⁄11, when then-Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, said in a speech on television: “We are trying our very best to come out of this critical situation without any damage to them [Pakistan and the Taliban].” Musharraf never condemned either terrorist organization in his address.
Musharraf, who set the lackadaisical Pakistani policy in the War on Terror until he was replaced in 2008, was never a staunch ally of the United States, as the media portrayed him after he resigned in 2008. Unlike America and her allies, he never regarded the Taliban and al-Qaeda as enemies of civilization that had to be destroyed, but rather as tools to be used in Pakistan’s showdown with arch-enemy India, with whom it has fought three wars. In her book Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan, Mary Anne Weaver wrote Musharraf, whom she interviewed, spent his entire adult life “battling India.”
Many in Pakistan’s military also shared Musharraf’s view regarding India as their country’s main enemy – and still do. They have always envisioned using the jihadists in Pakistan’s tribal territories directly against the Hindu foe in the next war as well as in Afghanistan to expand their influence there. Pakistan had used Islamic fighters from its tribal regions in its 1947 war against India when, led by Pakistani army officers, they almost conquered Kashmir. For this reason, Pakistani authorities are only battling those jihadists, like the Pakistani Taliban, who are threatening the Pakistani state and leaving those who fight against NATO in Afghanstan, like the Haqqani organization in North Waziristan, in peace.
But to confront India’s military superiority, Pakistan requires more than just irregular tribal fighters; it needs China’s help. China, which has also fought one war in 1961 against India, has responded, seeing in India its biggest and most dangerous rival in Asia. The Chinese are currently Pakistan’s biggest weapons supplier and have invested tens of millions of dollars in its ally. One of those investments was the Karakoram highway, the highest paved road in the world, which connects the two countries. A large free trade deal also came into effect between China and Pakistan in 2007. China currently also has “several hundred” military engineers working in Pakistani Kashmir.
So it is no surprise that China was the first country the Pakistani leaders ran to after they were discovered harbouring bin Laden. In mid-May, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Gilani went to Beijing “to show it has another major power to turn to,” since relations were souring with the United States. While there, Gilani was promised “an urgent delivery” of 50 advanced Chinese fighters.
But this week is not the first time Pakistan has responded with unaccustomed speed to a terrorist incident involving China. The government attack in 2007 on the extremist Red Mosque in Islamabad, located only 400 meters from Musharraf’s offices, which resulted in the deaths of 80 people, was most likely also owed to Chinese influence.
While the world media praised Musharraf for cracking down on the extremist mosque, he had done nothing for years to shut down this “ideological heartland” of the Taliban until mosque Islamists kidnapped several Chinese women. The mosque’s sharia court intended to put them on trial as prostitutes. The Chinese government, apparently, was not amused and conveyed its unhappiness to Musharraf. Interestingly, three Chinese nationals, and no other foreigners, were murdered in Pakistan’s tribal territories in response to the Red Mosque attack.
The recent terrorist attacks in China may also be an attempt by the jihadists battling the Pakistani state to undermine its alliance with China. Since Pakistan cannot afford to harbour a too-strong extremist movement, as that would alienate its main ally, it will definitely move to eliminate the training camps of the Uighur Islamists.
But that is all. No Pakistani military steamroller will cross North Waziristan, ending the terrorist threat to the world once and for all. America has turned the money supply to Pakistan back on, and nothing has yet come of President Obama’s promise to investigate whether anyone in Pakistan had anything to do with protecting bin Laden. And no one is questioning whether America should withdraw financial support, or at least arms transfers, to Pakistan, since it is getting closer to China.
So with things back to normal, why would the Pakistani military destroy completely the jihadists who are bringing in so much American money? Such exertions, after all, are only made for Pakistan’s true ally.
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