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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2648

Why Chinese workers are under attack?

Dr Shabir Choudhry

China is perhaps the most reliable and friendly country of Pakistan on earth. Despite some unfriendly acts of Pakistani secret agencies – supporting 'jihad' in parts of China, especially in Xinjiang, and forging too close alliance with America, China has continued to be friendly and helping Pakistan in various mega projects.

This relationship is called 'all weather friendship', and Chinese President Hu Jintao called it "sweeter than honey". But over the past few weeks this relationship has become under sever pressure, and China had to express its unhappiness in public. China's ambassador to Islamabad, Luo Zhaohui, demanded Pakistan government to "round up the culprits, properly handle the follow-up issues, and take effective measures to protect the Chinese in Pakistan". Normal practice is that Chinese diplomats in Pakistan do not express their concern in public, even when there are serious issues.

When Chinese workers were abducted by Red Mosque students from a parlor in Islamabad, accusing them of prostitution, for the first time Chinese government publicly demanded that government of Pakistan must ensure safety of Chinese citizens. Within hours of this public demand Chinese workers were released; and many thought that the government will have to bring this 'drama' to an end.

The government ended this matter in most bizarre way which could have only resulted in more problems and chaos. In view of many observers this situation suits government agenda of diverting attention from other pressing matters and perhaps paves way for other measures which will help to prolong the tenure of this government.

General Musharaf has more than 80 thousand troops fighting along the tribal belt - 2,640-kilometer Durand Line that divides Afghanistan and Pakistan; and he gets handsome rewards for this from the Americans, which is $1 billion a year. Apart from the Americans, General Musharaf is also getting some pressure from the Chinese to take military action against 'Islamic militants', who are suspected of carrying out subversive actions in Xinjiang. Earlier this year Musharaf government ordered a military attack against Uzbek and Uighur militants who were thought to be hiding in South Waziristan.

History of this pressure and Pakistan's military actions to please the Chinese go much further than that. In October 2004, General Musharaf hunted and killed China's most wanted man, Hasan Mahsum, who had taken refuge in South Wazirstan. Hasan Mahsum was the leader of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement of Xinjiang, and was considered as China's Osama Bin Laden. Within days of death of Hasan Mahsum militants kidnapped two Chinese engineers on 9 October 2004, in South Waziristan, which believes to have deposits of rare natural wealth of uranium. One Chinese captive was killed and the other seriously wounded in a badly planned rescue operation.

Out of around 500 foreign companies which operate in Pakistan, sixty are Chinese, and Chinese investment in Pakistan has grown to all time high to $4 billion US dollars. At present there are more than 8,000 Chinese workers in Pakistan carrying out various duties in various parts of Pakistan. It is believed that around 3,500 are engineers and technicians who are associated with variety of Sino-Pakistani projects, and which are crucial for Pakistan’s economy. The remaining around 5,000 Chinese are part of private businesses.

So Pakistani authorities know what is at stake and they will make every effort to safeguard Chinese workers and China's interest in Pakistan. One can associate anti American feelings because of the USA foreign policy, especially invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. But one wonders why, despite so friendly relationship and so much Chinese investment; Pakistani land is becoming inhospitable for the Chinese?

Is there some 'foreign hand', which Pakistani authorities often refer to in order to divert attention from its inefficiency blunders, and rally support in presence of assumed foreign conspiracy? Or there are other factors which are resulting in this anti China wave? Is there a wrong policy of government that has annoyed certain parties, and they want to punish Islamabad for that? Or there is another game plan in which some agencies are also active that the government can achieve some other targets in guise of this uncertainty?

At one time Pakistani authorities blamed the Balochistan Liberation Army for carrying out certain actions, but at the same time some officials even refuse very existence of BLA. Balochi people have a number of grievances against Islamabad, and after cold-blooded murder of Nawab Akbar Bughti by the army, aged Tribal leader of Balochistan, movement for an independent Balochistan has intensified. The bare minimum that could satisfy the nationalists of Balochistan is regional autonomy and control over region's natural resources.

If BLA is behind some of the tragic actions then question is why they are doing this? Who has forced them to take this position, did murder of Akbar Bughti and subsequent actions taken by the government of Pakistan helped the matters or pushed them in the corner? If they want to break away from Pakistan, as it seems to be their aim, then of course they would do every thing to harm Pakistan's national interest.

But finger of allegation is also pointed against the Islamic militants, and pro Taliban groups in Pakistan. America wants the government of Pakistan to crush Islamic militants and Talibans from Pakistan and Tribal areas, as this is in America's interest and history of US Pakistan relations tell us that Pakistani governments are keen to serve US interests even at the cost of Pakistani interests. This fact is even acknowledged by a former CIA officer Michael Schafer, who says:

'The truth is that virtually none of the many things Musharaf has done to assist the US in Afghanistan has been in Pakistan's national interest; indeed, by sending the Pakistan Army into Pashtun regions, he brought his country to the brink of civil war'.

CIA officer said this in December 2006, and many important things have happened since that day. When, after losing more than 700 soldiers, Pakistan made a compromise in Wazirstan, America expressed its unhappiness. Pakistani government realized that it was not in a position to win that war, so it was prudent to make a truce with them.

However there is another view that Pakistan didn't want to eliminate them as these people – Taliban are potential government-in-waiting for Afghanistan, who could help balance Indian influence in Afghanistan that has grown over the past few years.

After the tragic events at the Red Mosque the tribal leaders, in protest, ended their 10 months old ceasefire, and this surely will please America and the NATO because they thought the cease - fire has helped the al-Qaeda leaders to regroup inside Pakistan, hence resulting in more cross border actions in Afghanistan. But this situation- resumption of hostilities- will have serious consequences for stability and future of Pakistan.

One needs to see that a powerful 'ally' of Pakistan can twist its hand to take certain actions which are clearly not in Pakistan's national interest; is it not possible that some militant groups could be persuaded or pressurized to take actions against Chinese workers in order to sour the friendship which is 'sweeter than honey'.

Apart from that events like Bajour and Red Mosque had a very negative impact on the thinking of the Islamic militants groups. Rightly and wrongly they have come to this conclusion that Musharaf government is implementing anti Islam agenda, and they have to weaken this government by every available means. In view of this lobby, since China is a country which is helping Pakistan to become strong economically and militarily, Chinese workers are justifiable targets to create a rift between them.

It should be noted that insurgency in Balochistan is fundamentally a nationalist one in character, and had no Islamic extremists among their ranks. Also they did not resort to suicide attacks in their struggle, but the event of Hub clearly indicates that tragedy of Red Mosque has perhaps added element of Islamic extremism in their struggle. It is possible that Islamic groups are coordinating their activities or showing solidarity with groups fighting 'jihad' in other countries.

Most of General Musharaf's present problems are his own creation. He can tell his nation that he is fighting on so many fronts, this is like one JKLF leader who doesn't have a clear agenda about freedom of Kashmir, and who, like General Musharaf, has dictatorial attitude tells his naïve followers that he is fighting on fifteen fronts, but he doesn't tell them that most of these fronst are his own creation.

Like this Kashmiri leaders General Musharaf has also opened too many fronts; and now situation has forced him to make some tough choices. He can no longer travel on two boats - fighting war on terrorism on one hand and encourage Islamic extremism and be ally to them on the other hand, which he has successfully done so far. He has to abandon his extremist allies and strike deals with moderate forces to eradicate extremism and return the country to genuine democracy by taking the army out of politics.

Dr Shabir Choudhry is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir.

- Asian Tribune -

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