Dark clouds gathering on the horizon of our ‘all weather’ friendship

Abdullah Monsour

By appearances, Pakistan China relations have always been beyond any doubt. When Chinese dignitaries have visited Pakistan, they have been welcomed like brothers returning home. China too has always supported Pakistan whether by supporting our interests in international forums like the UN, giving stern reminders to neighboring countries not to overstep boundaries, or the $50 billion investment in Pakistan’s economy. However same as brothers can have some buried issues between them, there has been a cloud hovering over our relations with China. At most times it is so small it can be missed as simply shade, but now and again it shows itself as a gathering storm. This storm has always broken before it hit, but once again the clouds are gathering and we should take note.

It will be no surprise that the darkness hanging over us is the cloud of militancy. China has given subtle warnings before that the menace of extremism must be cleaned up, and agencies have even put on a show of taking action against their most favoured militants. While there is no sign that China is displeased with our efforts till date, we could soon find ourselves in a familiar situation due to increasing threats of militants against China. According to reports, militants in Xinjiang have threatened to unleash ‘rivers of blood‘ in the country.

In the past, China has placed the blame for militancy on our doorstep and demanded that we take action against militant camps. In response, some actions have been taken, but the threat still remains. Statements by state officials including PM’s Advisor on National Security Sartaj Aziz suggest that certain militant groups have been spared if they did not pose a direct threat to Pakistan. Such sentiments were confirmed when DG ISPR admitted that agencies had been showing ‘restraint‘ for certain militant groups.

Now we once again find ourselves in a familiar place. Our greatest allies are facing threats from militants who get training and support from inside Pakistan. We can say that these groups do not threaten our interests, but we should have a better understanding of what our interests are. Already we are on the edge of losing America as an ally, if we have not already lost them. Our back up plan was China, but now they are facing the same threats also. Will we tell the Chinese, like we told the Americans, that these groups are not our enemies and taking action against all militants is against our national security? No. Our national security has been weakened and nearly destroyed by this backwards thinking. If we are to avoid total isolation in the world and becoming next North Korea, we need to give up the failed policies of the past and clear the dark clouds before we are hit with a storm we are unprepared to weather.

China’s warning to Pakistan: Are we willing to do the needful?

China

China is in many ways an ally that is the complete opposite of America. One way that has had great consequences for our relationship has been America’s insistence on doing business in the public spotlight whereas China has always been willing to speak about sensitive matters behind closed doors. Even though Chinese officials don’t give public statements the way Americans, do, it is still possible to understand how relations between our two countries are going if you’re willing to pay attention. Today, China sent us a very clear message: And it’s not good.

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Will COAS be summoned back to Beijing?

Gen Raheel Sharif in China

It was only two months ago that Beijing summoned Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif to Beijing to discuss the growing problem of jihadi terrorism seeping over the border into China. While meeting with China’s Secretary of Central Politics and Law Commission Meng Jianzhu, Gen Raheel assured the Chinese that Pakistan would ‘do more’ to crack down on militants that were training and supplying jihadis in China. His latest visit “came in the immediate backdrop of recent multiple bomb attacks in Xinjiang’s provincial capital Urumqi in which 43 people were killed 94 injured”.  COAS Gen Raheel may be summoned back to China, however, as jihadi terrorists continue to carry out attacks against Chinese innocents, the most recent occurring only days ago and killing over 100.

Masked militants attacked civilians, police and officials last week in China’s far western region of Xinjiang leading to almost 100 deaths, the government said on Sunday, giving fresh details on one of the worst incidents of unrest in years.

Despite official statements claiming that Zarb-i-Azb operation is Pakistan’s final blow to terrorists, Chairman Senate Defence Committee Mushahid Hussain recently suggested that military operations in North Waziristan are actually due to pressurisation from China.

ISPR can release all of the statements that it wants to claiming that terrorists are ‘on the run‘, but it is unlikely that China is interested in empty boxes of sweet meats. It is more likely that if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to root out jihadi militants, China will increase the pressure to levels that Pakistan is unable to withstand.

China’s Subtle Warning

Chinese soldiers

The latest terrorist attack in China has once again been traced to religious extremists in the Xinjiang province that borders Pakistan. This is the third major terrorist attack against Chinese civilians in recent months and China’s statements in the days following include subtle warnings that our own leaders in the government and military would be very wise to heed.

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Militants threaten Pakistan-China relations

Tehreek-e-Taliban PakistanTTP has claimed responsibility for the murder of a Chinese woman who was visiting a market in Peshawar. The reasoning given by Taliban spokesman Muhammad Afridi should send a wake up call.

“Our comrades carried out the attack in Peshawar which killed the Chinese tourist,” Muhammad Afridi, a spokesman for a faction of the Pakistani Taliban from the Darra Adam Khel area, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location…Afridi said the militants were also demanding that China halt what he called its support for the Pakistani government’s campaign against militants.

Fresh riots in Xinjiang have left at least 20 people dead as Chinese security forces crack down on Islamic militants in the province.

The Xinjiang province’s state-run website said nine assailants charged and slashed a crowd of civilians during Tuesday’s violence in the Xinjiang community of Yecheng, killing 13 and injuring many others. Police then fatally shot seven attackers and detained two others, the report said.

Earlier state media reports put the overall toll at 12, describing it as a terrorist attack and saying 10 civilians and two assailants were killed. However, an overseas Uighur group, the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, said local Muslims were lashing out over government oppression and that most victims were armed Chinese security personnel.

Last fall, China pointed to Pakistan as the source of militancy in Xinjiang province, a claim that was brushed aside by many as complete nonsense. Now, Pakistani Taliban are murdering Chinese nationals in the street as ‘revenge’ for China’s crack down militants in Xinjiang. What is our excuse this time?

We continue to hold out hope that we can turn our backs on the West by facing East and finding a new patron in China. We need to think again. No matter how inclined China is to build a close relationship with Pakistan, they are not going to do so at the expense of their own security.

With this recent attack by Pakistani Taliban against a Chinese national, I want to revisit what I wrote last year:

If we believe that this is an internal issues only and that ‘all weather friend’ China will simply keep to themselves and not interfere in our own situation, we should think again. After all, it was China that ordered Lal Masjid raid was it not? Of course, this only makes sense. Sharing a border with Pakistan, China is not going to allow a rebellion to organise next door.

As a neighbor and growing world power, we would be poorly advised to alienate ourselves from China. It is easy to say that ‘all weather friend’ China will be there if we turn our back on America. But the truth is that China is not going to sit quietly while militant extremists use Pakistan as a play ground.

If we choose to continue to turn a blind eye to the militant virus that is spreading in our society, we will find ourselves isolated not just from the West but the East as well. The recent militant attack against a Chinese national who was a guest in our country should wake us up from the slumber of denial that has allowed this menace to fester under our very noses. If we rid our nation of extremism and militancy, we will take our proper place among the respected world powers. If we do nothing, we will be a pariah. The choice is ours to make.