Pakistan pressured to bolster security measures

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China, worried about attacks on its citizens by Islamic militants in Pakistan, has warned that relations between the countries will suffer if Islamabad does not improve security for Chinese residents.

The warnings follow widespread reports in the region that it was pressure from China, a key strategic ally of Pakistan, that prompted President Pervez Musharraf to send troops into the capital’s storied Red Mosque earlier this month.

Luo Zhaohui, China’s ambassador to Islamabad, issued a statement on the embassy’s Web site last week saying billions of dollars in Chinese investments may be redirected to other parts of South Asia.

“If [the Chinese] continue to be targeted, the process of cooperation between the two countries could suffer and slow down considerably,” he said.

Gen. Musharraf, meanwhile, acknowledged having been contacted personally on the matter by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

“It was an embarrassing moment when the Chinese president telephoned me to seek protection for Chinese citizens working in Pakistan,” Gen. Musharraf said in a televised address defending the assault on the mosque, in which more than 75 militants were killed.

During a weeklong standoff at the mosque, militants held seven Chinese massage parlor employees hostage. Gen. Musharraf called it a “shameful act,” especially in light of Pakistan’s close friendship with China.

The assault was under way when militants in the Pakistani city of Peshawar killed three Chinese workers, possibly in retaliation for the attack on the mosque.

Then on Thursday, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle alongside a convoy escorting Chinese engineers. The engineers escaped injury, but 36 policemen and bystanders were killed.

Several Asian publications have suggested that Gen. Musharraf ordered the final assault on the mosque under pressure from China, rather than in deference to the United States.

The U.S. “was taken by surprise by the strong expression of Chinese concern and by the alacrity with which Musharraf responded to it,” said Bahukutumbi Raman, a former Indian Cabinet secretary and 26-year veteran of that country’s intelligence service.

Security, trade and investment are central to Pakistan’s relationship with China, a country that Gen. Musharraf described in the televised address as one of his country’s closest allies.

Two days before the mosque siege, a free-trade agreement between the countries went into effect.

China and Pakistan signed a memorandum last year to increase trade to $15 billion a year by 2011. That amount is only $1 billion less than U.S. trade with India last year, according to figures from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

The China-Pakistan security partnership, meanwhile, has endured, even when many nations shunned Pakistan for its 1998 nuclear test.

Pakistan’s air force plans to acquire more than 200 JF-17 fighters, which are being produced jointly by Pakistan and China. Chinese security forces conduct frequent counterinsurgency exercises with their Pakistani counterparts.

Beijing is particularly concerned about Uighur insurgents — ethnic Muslims opposed to Chinese rule in western Xinjiang province — who seek shelter and training in Pakistan. China frequently provides Pakistan with intelligence on militants it is seeking. In December 2003, Pakistani forces killed Uighur rebel Hasan Mahsum in a raid requested by China.

Concern also has been raised about the safety of thousands of Chinese working in Pakistan.

In 2004, three Chinese engineers were killed in a car bomb attack at the massive Gwadar port project in Baluchistan by militants resentful of purported exploitation of the region.

A few months later, insurgents in Waziristan, led by a man once held at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, kidnapped two Chinese engineers, one of whom was later killed in a rescue attempt. Three more Gwadar workers were fatally shot last year in an ambush.

These concerns were on the table last month when Pakistani Interior Minister Ahmad Khan Sherpao visited Beijing for talks with Chinese Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang.

It was during these talks that the Red Mosque’s students kidnapped the seven Chinese, whom they accused of “immoral activities.” Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that Mr. Zhou gave Mr. Sherpao “an earful” about the incident.

The Chinese role in the Red Mosque siege was widely noted in Asia but hardly noticed in the United States. Daniel Markey at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington attributed that to a simple lack of information.

“There are a lot of things that go on between China and Pakistan that we don’t really get a lot of reporting on or get a great sense about,” he said.

“The Chinese ask for a few big things and probably make it clear that they’d better get them. The United States asks for a lot of different things all the time and we don’t always get everything we want.”

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