Friday, September 5, 2008




The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has not forgotten the role of China in exercising pressure on the then President Pervez Musharraf to order commando action inside the Lal Masjid of Islamabad from July10 to 13,2007. The commando action led to the death of Abdul Rashid, a cleric popular with the Pashtun tribals, and of a large number of tribal girls from the Pashtun tribal belt studying in a girls' madrasa attached to the Masjid. The madrasa was destroyed during the commando action.

2. Before the commando action, there was an incident in Islamabad in which students studying in the girls' madrasa attached to the Lal Masjid---some of them Uighurs--- kidnapped six Chinese women working in a massage parlour of Islamabad and accused them of working as prostitutes. They were subsequently released. It was after this incident that the Chinese authorities strongly took up with Musharraf the question of taking action against the madrasa students who were responsible for the kidnapping. Unnerved by the strong Chinese reaction, Musharraf ordered the commando action, which resulted in a huge tragedy.

3. The commando action led to a wave of suicide terrorism by tribals from the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in tribal as well as non-tribal areas, including in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Two of the retaliatory attacks after the commando action were directed against Chinese nationals working in Pakistan. In the first attack in Peshawar, three Chinese working for a company importing meat, skin and hide from Pakistan were killed. Chinese engineers travelling to work in a bus in Hub in Balochistan escaped unhurt when a suicide bomber blew himself up near their bus, killing a large number of policemen and civilians. Following these incidents, the Pakistan Government tightened physical security for Chinese nationals working in Pakistan. A Joint Task Force consisting of representatives of the Pakistani security agencies and the Chinese Embassy was set up to co-ordinate the physical security measures.

4. There are different estimates of the total number of Chinese living and working in Pakistan----varying between 3,500 and 5,000. They consist of three categories. In the first category are the Chinese engineers and technicians working in Chinese State-aided projects such as the Gwadar port construction and the Saindak copper-gold extraction projects in Balochistan, the construction of a hydel power station in the FATA and the expansion of the reservoir capacity of the Mangla dam in Mirpur in POK. All these Chinese are well-protected by the Pakistani security forces, but despite this, some of the engineers working in Gwadar and FATA were killed in terrorist attacks in recent years, some allegedly by the Uighurs and one by the late Abdullah Mehsud of South Waziristan, a former detenu in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

5. The second category consists of independent Chinese businessmen running small-scale business enterprises employing not more than half a dozen Chinese per enterprise like the one in Peshawar, which came under attack. The third category consists largely of single Chinese women in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi working in massage and beauty parlours, dental and native Chinese medicine clinics etc. These two categories do not enjoy any special protection. They are dependent on the local police of the area, where they are living and working, for their protection.

6. There was a campaign of slander against these single Chinese women by the clerics of the Lal Masjid and their Uighur students, which led to the kidnapping of some of them working in Islamabad. While the clerics were describing them as prostitutes corrupting the morals of Muslims, the Uighur students studying in the madrasas attached to the Lal Masjid were accusing them of being agents of the Chinese intelligence agencies sent to Pakistan to monitor the activities of the Uighurs in Pakistan before the Beijing Olympics.

7.Taken aback by the Pashtun anger against the Chinese, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad tried to reassure the Pakistani religious elements that China had nothing against the Lal Masjid. It denied reports that Beijing forced Musharraf to act against the Masjid following the kidnapping of some Chinese women by the madrasa students.

8. The "China Daily" reported as follows on July 18, 2007: "China did not push Pakistan for operations against the Red Mosque, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Luo Zhaohui said. It is the consistent policy of China not to meddle in the domestic affairs of other countries, he told The News, a major Pakistani daily. Luo said he was considering an invitation to visit the mosque but it was made impossible due to the unstable security situation. "We enjoy very cordial relations with the ruling party here and likewise we maintain friendly ties with other segments of the society including the political parties of the opposition," he said. "I had no knowledge as to why Chinese nationals are being targeted and were the victims in five recent incidents", Luo said, referring to several Chinese who were killed in that country. He said if Chinese continued to be targeted, cooperation between the two countries could suffer. To protect the 3,000 Chinese working in Pakistan, China and Pakistan have decided to set up a Joint Task Force (JTF), the Ambassador revealed."

9. Following these initiatives by the Chinese Embassy, the anger against the Chinese seemed to have subsided. The fact that this was really not so became evident on August 29,2008, when two Chinese engineers, Zhanggua and Lung, along with their security guard Imranullah and driver Khalil, went missing in the Khall area of the Dir Lower district in the NWFP.They were working for the Zong mobile company, which was running mobile phone services in Dir Upper and Lower districts. They were kidnapped while they were being drven in a car. Following this incident, the Chinese Embassy advised 15 other Chinese engineers working in the area to leave the area. They did so.

10. Subsequently, Muslim Khan, who described himself as a spokesman of the TTP in the Swat Valley, claimed that the Chinese engineers were in the custody of the TTP, which wuld be shortly announcing its demands for their release. Initially he said: “Our aim is to hit the government’s interests wherever they are. We kidnap everyone irrespective of whether he’s Pakistani or Chinese and we’ll continue to do this until they stop killing our people.” But the daily newspaper "The News" reported on September 4,2008, as follows: " The militants' spokesman was critical of the 'Chinese role' in pressurising the Pakistani Government to launch Operation Silence on the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad. The Lal Masjid administration had taken hostage Chinese women who were running a massage centre in Islamabad last year who were later released unharmed. He said the US also played a role in forcing Pakistan to attack the mosque and seminary in which hundreds of students and their teachers were reportedly killed." (5-9-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat. Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies,Chennai. E-mail: )