Washington, Aug. 3 (ANI): China's decision to publicly blame militants trained in Pakistan for the violence in Kashgar is a rare but firm message, one that has panicked Islamabad into a flurry of placatory statements and gestures.
The Chinese accusations are striking since Pakistan, locked in a crisis-ridden relationship with the United States, has tried to portray Beijing as its alternate mentor. But China, faced with reality, was forced to echo other victims of Pakistan's terrorist factories-India, Afghanistan and the US.
The state-run Xinhua news agency said initial investigations by Kashgar municipal authorities had found that "the heads of the group had learned skills of making explosives and firearms in overseas camps of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Pakistan before entering Xinjiang to organize terrorist activities."
Islamabad must be thinking "et tu, China" while experiencing the equivalent of a diplomatic jolt. But unrest in Xinjiang, home to Uighur Muslims, is something China wants to quell at any cost. The northwest province was racked by violence over the weekend, resulting in at least 20 deaths, including five militants.
US experts say that the current visit by Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, chief of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency or ISI, to Beijing is aimed at assuaging China with a quick response.
"Pasha's visit shows this is an urgent problem," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and a South Asia expert with The Brookings Institution. "The ISI will take steps to appease Beijing and round up and turn over dissidents and militants," he said.
Much more than Pakistan has done for India despite evidence, dossiers and lists being handed over to Islamabad. But then India is seen as an "existential threat" by Pakistan, while China is an "all-weather friend," willing to slip nuclear designs and missiles to Islamabad to bolster it against New Delhi.
"While Pakistani leaders may have hoped they could count on unconditional support from China, Beijing's reaction demonstrates that terrorism can become just as much a stumbling block in building Pakistan's ties with China as it has with the US," according to Lisa Curtis, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Satu Limaye, director of the East-West Center in Washington, echoes the sentiment. "I think Beijing can tolerate an awful lot from Pakistan as they can from North Korea. What they absolutely cannot tolerate from either are spillovers into domestic stability. China will pull no punches to make sure Pakistan takes action to stem the infiltration," he said.
Curtis said that China has developed "broader concerns" about rising extremism in Pakistan. Tensions erupted into the open in 2007 when madrassa girls from Islamabad's Lal Masjid kidnapped six Chinese women and accused them of running a brothel. Incensed by the incident and a few other cases, China demanded action, forcing former president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to storm the mosque, a decision he had been avoiding for months to flush out militants holed up there.
China's growing worries about extremism "will also limit the degree to which China will bail Pakistan out financially and otherwise," Curtis added. It doled out only 500 million dollars when Pakistan needed 7.5 billion dollars to avert a major economic crisis in 2008. In the end, Islamabad had to accept an International Monetary Fund loan with stringent conditions.
But China remains Pakistan's best bet in all battles real and imaginary. Given Pakistan military's visceral opposition to India, its incredibly inept handling of relations with Washington and the growing anti-Americanism at home, China is the lone godfather under whose shadow Islamabad hopes to recover a modicum of respect in the international community over time.
Islamabad's extreme responsiveness to China is understandable. Sample the breathless statement from Pakistan's foreign office: "Pakistan is fully confident that the patriotic people of Xinjiang autonomous region and in particular, Kashgar....will succeed in frustrating evil designs of the terrorists, extremists and separatists who constitute an evil force." It vowed continued and "full cooperation" to the Chinese authorities.
The training camps will be shut down soon and the "normal" rhythm of the all-weather friendship may resume because as Limaye says, there are "simply too many stakes, connections and utilities on both sides" to fundamentally alter the Sino-Pakistan relations. Don't expect China to suddenly clasp hands with India and the US to pressure Pakistan on training camps, he added. By Seema Sirohi (ANI)
Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are that of Seema Sirohi, a Washington D.C.-based foreign affairs analyst.