Pakistan pressured to bolster security measures

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.

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