Skip to comments.China card could yet trump Musharraf
Posted on 05/27/2002 7:30:05 PM PDT by Enemy Of The State
China card could yet trump Musharraf
By Ahmad Faruqui
By reversing the policy of supporting the Taliban last October, President General Pervez Musharraf eliminated a major irritant in Pakistan's relations not only with the United States but also with China. To the world at large, Islamabad sent a signal that it had stopped its policy of using the mujahideen to promote Islamic causes in Kashmir and elsewhere. Once the Soviets left Afghanistan in the early 1990s, China became concerned that mujahideen fighters trained by the Pakistani army for fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Indians in Kashmir were turning their attention to China's northwestern province of Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is home to a large Muslim population, several of whom are believed to be waging a struggle for an independent homeland known as Eastern Turkestan. They live in an area where two short-lived independent Uyghur republics were set up in 1933 and 1944. At one point during the 1990s, China closed off the Karakorum Highway between Xinjiang and Pakistan's Northern Areas. The highway terminates at the town of Kashgar in China, which along with Khotan is known as the hotbed of Uyghur nationalism in the southern part of Xinjiang province. The Chinese closed the highway because they suspected that it had become an easy conduit for the mujahideen. They also wanted to send a strong signal to the government of Pakistan that China would not hesitate to freeze the close ties between the two neighbors if Pakistan did not stop its backing for Islamic militants.
As they entered the 21st century, the aging rulers in Beijing identified "separatism, extremism and splitism" as three great evils that had the potential of unraveling China more forcefully than any overseas threat from Washington or Moscow. The areas formerly known as Eastern Turkestan were identified as a key priority area for containing these three evils because they are largely inhabited by ethnic minorities with unclear allegiances to Beijing. A program to transplant large numbers of Han Chinese into these areas was initiated, seeking to change the ethnic balance of power in the province, just as they had changed the ethnic balance in Tibet in prior decades. Han immigrants now form some 40 percent of the region's 18 million people, up from a mere 6 percent in 1949. In the mid-1990s, China joined Russia and three Central Asian republics in creating the Shanghai Five grouping designed to stop ethnic movements from fomenting rebellions and gaining independence.
Beijing had finally concluded that Islamabad's policy of fighting a proxy war in Kashmir was a danger to China's security, not just India's. Deng Xiaoping, who chose to implement a program of "four modernizations", stated bluntly that China wanted peace and stability along all its borders to ensure their achievement. He invited then Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi to Beijing and began a process of normalizing relations between the two Asian giants. Deng signaled to Islamabad that China could not afford to experience the spillover effects of a major war along its southern borders between India and Pakistan.
During a landmark speech to the Pakistani Senate in 1996, Chinese President Jiang Zemin counseled the Pakistanis to seek a peaceful resolution of their conflict with India. Jiang's speech represented a significant softening in the policy of supporting the Pakistani position in Kashmir. Much to Islamabad's chagrin, it was billed as a major policy speech dealing with South Asia. To this day, it continues to be posted on the Chinese government's official website dealing with Pakistan.
The Kargil incursion of spring 1999, under which Pakistani irregulars, regulars and jihad-seeking mujahideen fighters were injected into Indian-held Kashmir, was a low water mark in the ties between the two countries. By putting the Indian garrison in Kargil on the defensive, Pakistan sought to present a fait accompli to the world community, one it hoped that would restore the topic of Kashmir to the global front burner. The Pakistani army, which has always made Pakistan's national security policy regardless of who is in power in Islamabad, had hoped that the incursion would be viewed as an indigenous uprising in Kashmir. It would lead to United Nations intervention, and be followed by the injection of a peacekeeping force a la Kosovo. The ultimate goal was to force a plebiscite in Indian-held Kashmir. The generals in Rawalpindi saw the UN-sponsored plebiscite in East Timor as a good omen.
Much to Islamabad's surprise, China not only refused to back the Pakistani position, but joined with the United States to call for the withdrawal of the fighters. The Pakistani forces were subsequently withdrawn in July, on the urging of then US president Bill Clinton. This act of military humiliation triggered a power struggle between then premier Nawaz Shariff and the army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, resulting in the latter's coup d'etat in October 1999.
China and Pakistan have often been called "all-weather friends". However, the friendship has gone through significant ups and downs over the past half-century. During the 1950s, relations between the two countries were marked by open hostility. Pakistan was a member of several Cold War alliances created by then US secretary of state John Foster Dulles, which aimed at containing the spread of Soviet and Chinese communism.
In 1959, Field Marshal Ayub Khan offered a joint defense pact to India that premier Jawaharlal Nehru spurned by asking, "Joint defense against whom?" During China's border war with India in 1962, Pakistan accepted US appeals not to open a second front against India in Kashmir. However, after Ayub's foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto signed a border agreement in March 1963 with China, delineating the respective territories in Kashmir, relations took a very positive turn. Pakistan International Airlines became the first non-communist airline to fly into Beijing. Pakistan, then the world's largest Muslim country, provided China with an opening to the Muslim world, something that China had lacked for years.
During its 1965 war with India, Pakistan took much comfort in strong statements emanating from Chinese foreign minister Chen Yi condemning Indian aggression and threatening to send the People's Liberation Army against Indian border positions. Premier Zhou Enlai sent Chinese weapon shipments to Pakistan, but these arrived too late to alter the course of the war. The United States and Britain slapped an arms embargo against both belligerents and this in effect crippled Pakistan's chances to carry on the war against an enemy that was not only three times as big militarily but also had a significant domestic defense industry. The war ended in a Soviet-brokered ceasefire in Tashkent, in present-day Uzbekistan.
After the war, Pakistan sought to diversify its arms supplies by going to France and China. French equipment was very expensive, and had to be confined to a few squadrons of Mirage III and V fighter-bombers and three Daphne-class submarines. Beijing became Pakistan's arms supplier of first resort, with its bulk supplies of more than 100 F-6 (Soviet MiG-19 derivative) supersonic fighter-bombers and almost 1,000 T-59 (Soviet T-54 derivative) main battle tanks. Pakistan upgraded the F-6s to carry US-made Sidewinder missiles and equipped them with advanced European radar. More important, China offered to set up a defense production complex near Islamabad.
In addition, it proceeded to bankroll the engineering and construction of an all-weather highway through the Karakorum mountains, along the site of the southern branch of the ancient Silk Road. Sappers from the Pakistani army corps of engineers worked side by side with their Chinese counterparts to construct this highway, whose significance was entirely symbolic since not much trade took place by land.
At that time, China saw Pakistan as a key element in its South Asian policy of pinning down Indian forces away from the border with China. In an unguarded moment, a Chinese general is believed to have called Pakistan "China's Israel". During the waning years of the Vietnam War, Pakistan provided a diplomatic bridge to the US as it sought a rapprochement with China. Both Washington and Beijing were anxious to create a counterweight to Moscow, and in General Yahya Khan's Pakistan they found a willing marriage broker. Henry Kissinger visited Beijing in secret, while suffering from a mystery ailment in Islamabad.
During the 1971 war with India, Beijing did not provide any overt military help to Pakistan's beleaguered garrison in East Pakistan, leading to the creation of Bangladesh. Not only were the Himalayan passes snowed in, but India's strong ties with Moscow had brought about the movement of several heavy Soviet divisions to the Soviet-China border in Manchuria. China felt powerless to help the generals in Rawalpindi, who had ignored its advice to find a political solution to the civil war in East Pakistan. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the architect of Pakistan's China policy, soon replaced the generals. Bhutto began a nuclear-weapons program in Pakistan with covert Chinese assistance, and even though he was removed from power by the army in 1977 and hanged in 1979, China continued to support the Pakistani drive to acquire the bomb.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1989 was another positive milestone in the ties between Islamabad and Beijing. Both countries had a common enemy in Moscow. So did Washington, which initiated a major proxy war against the puppet regime that the Soviets installed in Kabul. Under General Zia ul-Haq's watchful eye, mujahideen fighters were recruited, trained and equipped by the Pakistani army, with support not only from Washington but also from Beijing.
China continued to shower Pakistan with military hardware at subsidized prices. Shipments coming into the port of Karachi now included F-7 (Soviet MiG-21 derivative) air-superiority fighters and A-5 ground attack warplanes for the Pakistani air force; T-69 and T-85 main battle tanks for the army; and fast attack missile boats for its navy. A heavy mechanical complex and a heavy foundry and forge complex had become operational in the areas around Taxila (near Islamabad), as did an aircraft rebuilding factory in Kamra, giving the Pakistani military much needed domestic production capability. In the early 1990s, China went a step further and provided M-11 short-range ballistic missiles. Under the open eye of US satellite cameras, they were placed in storage bunkers in Pakistan's strategic air base in Sargodha. On the civilian front, China built a medium-sized nuclear power plant at Chasma.
Sino-Pakistani ties began to ebb as Pakistan stepped up its support for Islamic militants, culminating in the establishment of the Taliban government in Kabul in 1996. China stopped supplying arms to the Taliban, and urged Islamabad to rein them in. The Taliban, in their zeal to restore the ancient glory of Islam, remained focused on exporting an Islamic revolution throughout Central Asia. Pakistan was reluctant to curb them since it was anxious to acquire strategic depth vis-a-vis India by having a pro-Islamabad regime in Kabul.
The events of September 11 and US President George W Bush's clarion call to Islamabad to decide which side it was on brought about a completely unexpected reversal in Pakistan's pro-Taliban policy. New strength was injected into the ties between Islamabad and Beijing.
On a state visit to China, Musharraf visited the historic city of Xi'an in December 2001. At the request of the Chinese leadership, he held an unprecedented meeting with the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Xi'an. Musharraf said, "Islam is a religion of peace and we don't believe in any violence and therefore you, being a part of China, have to be very patriotic and for the good of China, all Muslims in China should work for the good of China." In a meeting with leading parliamentarian Li Peng, he said, "Pakistan will make full efforts to support China to fight against East Turkestan terrorism forces." Many Chinese human-rights group assailed his statement.
They expressed their concern that China would use every opportunity it could to repress the human rights of minority Chinese. Amnesty International accused China of stepping up repression and executions of its Uyghur Muslim minorities in the name of fighting the global war on terrorism. UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson warned that there had been a significant increase in complaints of extrajudicial killings, torture and ill-treatment of Uyghurs since September 11.
In a letter to Pakistan's US ambassador, the president of the Uyghur American Association challenged Musharraf's moral authority to call on the Uyghurs to shun violence. He said that in sharp contrast to the television images coming out of Muslim Pakistan, riots, public disorders and other violence were a rarity among Uyghurs, even though they were being provoked and violated constantly by an atheistic regime. Stating that Pakistan fights with India over land that is not even part of Pakistan, he argued that the Uyghurs were fighting to regain an occupied land from foreign occupation. He asserted that the Uyghur struggle for freedom from Han tyranny was at least as legitimate as Pakistan's struggle for Kashmir, where the Muslims at least have some common history and culture with India. His points were not lost on many Muslims living in Pakistan, who had found Musharraf's statements gratuitous.
Musharraf decided to go the extra mile for China, knowing how sensitive the topic of Muslim separatism had become to Beijing. He was right because in a visit to Turkey in April, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji noted, "East Turkestan forces, including some who received military training in Afghanistan, are trying to protect their strength and escape military hits by trying to move to some countries, including Turkey."
When terrorists struck the Indian parliament in New Delhi on December 13, India mobilized half of its army and moved it within striking distance of the Pakistani border. China, while saying that there was no connection with the Indian mobilization, rushed 20 F-7 fighters to Pakistan. While small in number, the gesture had symbolic significance that was not lost on the leaders in New Delhi. The chairman of the Pakistani joint chiefs of staff committee, General Muhammad Aziz, visited Beijing in January at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart. A joint communique, issued at the conclusion of his visit, stated that no country would be allowed to use the war against terrorism to further its national interests, a clear reference to India.
China has rewarded Musharraf by agreeing to build a modern seaport at the town of Gwadar, along the Makran coast. Chinese aid to build the seaport is estimated as being close to US$1 billion, spread over several years. Gwadar, strategically located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, can serve as a naval base for submarines of the Chinese navy, giving China unusual leverage over world supplies. China will also be able to exercise considerable control over the Indian navy, which is seeking to develop a blue water force projection capability and to venture as far eastward as the South China Sea. Pakistan appears to have granted full docking rights to the Chinese navy, even though Beijing has been anxious to not mention the military aspects of the Gwadar port construction project.
The recent terror attacks in Kashmir occurred as the Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan arrived in Islamabad on May 15. Tang congratulated Musharraf on his victory in the referendum (giving him another five years in power), and once again repeated the "all-weather friends" mantra. As India stepped up its rhetoric about pursuing the militants across the border, a low-ranking Chinese official issued a cautiously worded statement saying that China would back Pakistan in any conflict with India.
It is clear that China wants to interject itself back into the regional politics of South Asia. It is very apprehensive about an increasing US military presence not only in Afghanistan but in several Central Asian republics and now in Pakistan. It is simply not prepared to cede political and diplomatic leadership to Washington, with whom relations continue to be tense because of continuing US support for Taiwan. And it wants to keep Pakistan as a strong military counterweight to India, while pursing closer economic ties with India. Sino-Indian trade exceeds Sino-Pakistani trade by a wide margin, when it was practically non-existent until Rajiv Gandhi's visit to Beijing.
China remains wary of India's nascent military ties with the United States, and India's support for the US missile defense program. Thus, it will continue to be Pakistan's major arms supplier. At the same time, it will not support Pakistan's proxy war in Kashmir. It continues to urge Pakistan to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict with India, through bilateral negotiations. That is tantamount to accepting the Line of Control that divides Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir as an international border.
Thus far, Musharraf has been able to solidify Islamabad's traditional friendship with China, and strengthen his position against an Indian attack. But, like his newfound relationship with the US, friendship with China has been being regained at great personal cost. The events of the past several months have shown that his domestic crackdown against the militants will never be enough for India, or possibly even for the US. Yet, at some point, it will become simply too much for the religious parties to countenance. They have already united into a single platform with each other, and are exploring links with several mainstream political parties to make common cause against Musharraf's extension of military rule via the April 30 referendum.
Having successfully expanded his space for maneuver internationally, Musharraf has now found that he has shrunk his space for maneuver domestically. Ultimately, since all foreign policy is domestic, he may find himself pinned into a corner from which the only exit strategy would be to hand over power to someone else, before that someone else takes it from him.
At that point, he may well feel betrayed by Beijing. The Chinese have shown no hesitancy in according legitimacy to new rulers in Islamabad. Their "all weather" interest in Pakistan is not enshrined in personalities - it is driven by their own national interests.
Informative article. Pakistan is an interesting place that I hope never to visit.
Same thing and more happend in West China.
Who wants to see their country broken apart?
"China"="Communist Party" and they don't want anyone second guessing that. I for one want the CCP OUT and a new form of government to take its place.
Wherever there is a Muslim population, unrest breaks out against the ruling non-Muslim government.
There are over 30 million muslims in China spanning several ethnicities.
China's case is special, in that the nature of the regime is the root of its problem, not the religion.
Tibetains are not muslims, and neither are Taiwanese. Most of the 'splittists' aren't muslim at all.
In Western China they have been fighting an ethnic (not a religious) war for several hundred years. The nature of the despotic and expansionist Qing emperor kicked the whole thing off.
Too many people make an issue about those people being muslim, when in reality, most dont even want a 'muslim state' in that sense of the word. "Islamic uprising" is a wrong characterization. They want to get rid of Beijing in their native homelands, and thats about it. No more, no less. They want autonomy, and most would even lean towards a democratic government.
On occasion they print somethings that are good, but some of their regular writers are slanted.
Yes. Key being appear.
They don't try hard to be ballanced, but try hard to appear to be balanced.
It is unfortunately worth read or checking out because there is such a paucity of knowledgeable or informed articles. These guys are all pro ChiCom spineless wonders, but they are familiar with the subject.