Editorial: Lal Masjid’s damage to Pak-China relations
The federal interior minister, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, during his visit to Beijing, got an earful from the Chinese minister of public security, Zhou Yongkang Zhou, who asked Pakistan for the umpteenth time to protect Chinese nationals working in Pakistan. The reference was to the assault and kidnapping of Chinese citizens in Islamabad by the Lal Masjid vigilantes. The Chinese minister called the Lal Masjid mob “terrorists” who targeted the Chinese, and asked Pakistan to punish the “criminals”. Mr Sherpao, who must have regretted being in Beijing, lamely rejoined that “Pakistan would take more rigorous action to safeguard the security of Chinese people and organisations in Pakistan”.
Of course, our interior minister knew that he would not be able to do much in this regard. The government has not been able to punish the Waziristan warlord Abdullah Mehsud for abducting the Chinese engineers in FATA. In fact given today’s political environment, Abdullah Mehsud may be more popular in certain areas of Pakistan than President Musharraf. The Chinese engineers killed in Balochistan too were taken by the Pakistanis — who normally boast about China as an all-weather friend — as forgivable collateral damage in Pakistan’s ideological excesses. While President Musharraf has confessed that Pakistan’s FATA seminaries have been sheltering Uighur terrorists from China’s Western province, Sinkiang, opposition politicians in Pakistan heatedly deny that there are any foreigners in the tribal areas.
Out of all the relationships Pakistan has with other states, the one with China is the most mundane because it is not based on any intellectual or cultural affinity. It has been a materialistic connection propelled by Pakistan’s hunger for nuclear weapons and delivery systems. The trouble started with China when the Chinese were building the Karakoram Highway in the 1970s. Mr Z A Bhutto, the then Pakistani prime minister who sported a Mao cap on his foreign tours, had a hard time cooling down the ideological passions aroused against the Chinese among regional officials of the state of Pakistan. But during the Afghan jihad under General Zia ul Haq, China first began to feel the heat from our religious parties engaged in plans of “reconquering” Muslim areas under Communism.
Trouble arose for President Musharraf too when Pakistan’s seminaries began to shelter rebels from the Muslim community of Uighurs from China. According to reports published in the international press, he eliminated 19 Uighurs at a terrorist training camp in Pakistan in 2001, at the behest of Beijing. The Uighur American Organisation in its 2002 letter to the then-Pakistani ambassador to the United States, protested Pakistan’s deportation of the Uighurs. In May 2002, meanwhile, the Chinese authorities announced that Pakistan had detained Ismail Kader, a major Uighur separatist leader, at a secret meeting in Kashmir. In December 2003, Pakistani authorities stated that Hasan Mahsum, leader of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, was shot dead on October 2 during a military operation to flush out Al Qaeda elements in South Waziristan.
President Musharraf, during his visits to China in 2001 and 2003, pledged to the Chinese leaders that Pakistan would never allow anyone, including the terrorist forces of East Turkestan, to use Pakistani territory to carry out anti-China activities. The Lal Masjid affair has now put the president on the spot. The rangers have been called out in Islamabad, but when the mullahs gave warning that they would soon declare jihad against the state of Pakistan, the routine disclaimer has once again been issued: that the government has no intention of attacking the armed acolytes of the seminary. One of the clerics has appeared in the national press in a photograph showing him surrounded by armed guards. The Chinese have been dumped again.
Pakistan has always got into bed with the wrong states. As a warrior state intellectually wedded through the clerics to jihad and through some vaunted retired military minds to war with India and the United States, Pakistan has shown no inclination to look at China as a model for effective statecraft. Pakistan interprets its “strategic geopolitical location” as a disruptive opportunity blocking other nations’ access to neighbouring regions. Despite President Musharraf’s assertions, Pakistan still regards trade as an obstacle to war instead of the other way round. But China’s pragmatism goes against the grain of Pakistani nationalism; and there is no desire in Pakistan to embark on any cultural connection with a country admired only because it has supported Pakistan’s not so noble military adventures in the region.
It is easy to predict what Islamabad will do. It will shove China in the box called collateral damage and “protect” the outlaws of Lal Masjid because there are too many people “inside” the establishment who want the clerics to win the “battle of pieties”. The government has so far done more to “complete” the Lal Masjid crusade against video shops than it has protected the inhabitants of Islamabad against violence and kidnapping. *
Second Editorial: Comedy of the Burqa Bill
Six female Jamaat Islami (JI) members of the NWFP Assembly have submitted to the house a draft bill aiming “to protect veiled or fully covered women against discrimination on the basis of dress”. The bill is expected to be debated in the current session. According to the movers, veiled women had complained that they were being discriminated against for their “choice of dress”. The remedy is one month in jail or Rs 15000 as fine or both.
Apart from the fact that the bill is redundant in the presence of laws protecting women against all kinds of discrimination, it can encourage citizens to go for another bill asking the state to protect them against the aggression of the burqa-clad women. Thus the citizens of Islamabad would be within their rights to seek legislation to force the state to protect them against the assault and battery of the burqa-clad inmates of Jamia Hafsa. On the other hand, armed with a new pro-burqa law, the burqa-brigade may attack anyone and then send them in for a month for “discrimination”.
The burqa-clad ladies of the Peshawar assembly must learn to tell “fear” apart from “discrimination”. Meanwhile, in Islamabad, when you see a burqa-clad group converging on your house, run for your life! *