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Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan and China – Analysis


By Dr. Br. Deepak

The most-wanted fugitive and dreaded terrorist, Osama bin Laden was killed on the May Day 2011 by the elite US Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, a stone’s throw from the Pakistan Military Academy, and over 100 kilometers away from Pakistani capital city Islamabad. The very presence of bin Laden in the heart and most secured place in Pakistan has greatly strained its ties with the United States; the latter has lost some if not all the trust it has reposed on Pakistan in fight against global terrorism.

In an interview to CBS’s “60 Minutes” a week after bin Laden’s killing, the US president Barrack Obama said, “We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don’t know who or what that support network was.” Furthermore, he said “We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.”

Fingers are being pointed out to the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is known for its contacts with various terror outfits including the al Qaeda and Haqqani network. Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, has admitted in ABC’s “This Week” program that Pakistan had “many Jihadi has-beens from the 1980s who are still alive and well and kicking, and some of them could have been helping them, but they are not in the state or government of Pakistan today.” Congressman Dana Rohrabacher even introduced the “Defund US Assistance to Pakistan Act of 2011” in the House of Representative and said that the US “can no longer afford this foolishness….The time has come for us to stop subsidizing those who actively oppose us. Pakistan has shown itself not to be America’s ally.”

Pakistan Turns to China:

Pakistan has turned to China in every crisis, and this time again Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani will also rush to China next week on a four-day visit starting from 17th May. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokeswoman Jiang Yu confirmed this and described China and Pakistan as “good neighbors, friends, partners and brothers.” On 9th May 2011 during an address to the Pakistan parliament, Gilani hailed China as Pakistan’s “all weather friend” and also absolved the ISI from sheltering the al Qaeda fugitive. He praised China as a “source of inspiration” and warned the United States that Pakistan reserves the right to “retaliate with full force” in case of a similar US operation in the future. China is perhaps the only country that has supported the Pakistani ignorance about the whereabouts of bin Laden albeit hailed the Laden killing as a “major event and a positive development in the international struggle against terrorism.” Jiang Yu further said that “Pakistan stands at the forefront of the international struggle against terrorism….Pakistani government’s determination to fight terrorism are staunch and its actions have been vigorous. Pakistan has made important contributions to the international struggle against terror.” She also said that China will continue to support Pakistan staunchly in developing and implementing its own anti-terror strategy based on its own national conditions.

Experts of international relations in China also toed the government line as usual. Guo Xiangang, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies stated that Laden’s death and any rift between the United States and Pakistan will not affect Beijing’s policies toward Islamabad. And why not, when Pakistan has been secretly sharing some of the advanced military technology to China, be it the 1998 transfer of an unexploded American Tomahawk missile or the F-16s. It has been reported that China has once again shown interest in the debris of the crashed SEAL helicopter in Abbottabad raid.

Response of Netizens:

Not only the Chinese government has rendered support to the Pakistan in the aftermath of bin Laden’s killing but the netizens across China have also toed the government line. Shen Weihuang quoted a survey in an article published in the Global Times on May 10, 2011 which revealed that 60% of the 500,000 people who took an online survey conducted by Hong Kong based Phoenix television, agreed with the statement that bin Laden’s death was a sad event because “he was an anti-US warrior.” More than 75% of the 17,000 respondents thought the US would get tougher on China after Bin Laden’s death.

Global Times wrote on May 5, 2011 in one of the commentaries that “the counter-terrorism war, mainly in the Arab world, has served to prevent the US from ‘disturbing’ China during the past decade…. In the near future, the US may pour more money and resources in handling the rise of China.” Some netizens in various forums also expressed their views on Laden issue. To quote a few from posted in Chinese: “We believe that there is some support within the United States for bin Laden network, though we do not know who is supporting the network, we do not know if any US government official is supporting the network or not, otherwise 9.11 would not have happened at all.” Another wrote, “Pakistan helped the US in counter-terrorism, but after finishing the task, it has been blaming Pakistan for sheltering [terrorists], disgusting! Yet another wrote, “The US sending forces inside Pakistan territory to kill people is an act of a terrorist, gangster and a thug combined!” American logic is the logic of a gangster, Pakistan! You hold on, China is behind you. It is useless to shed tears in international arena, there is no justice to talk of, national interests are supreme, and if you do not wield power you have no right to speech” wrote another. “The US politics of power and hegemony demonstrates that in order to serve its own interests, the US will achieve these by hook or crook showing utter disregards for others” announced another. There are others who expressed their fears about Pakistan being used by the US for battering China. “Pakistan has allowed the foreign troops to operate in its own territory freely; this is surrendering one’s sovereign rights under humiliating terms! China must be vigilant, or else one day, the U.S. forces in Pakistan could attack China as well without the knowledge of Pakistan, it would be a grave problem” jotted another netizen.

China and 26/11 in India:

As far as India is concerned, India has always maintained that like bin Laden, other dreaded terrorists have also found sanctuary in Pakistan. Some of the most wanted terrorist such the mastermind of the 26.11 Mumbai attack and LeT founder Hafiz Saeed, Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar, the principal accused in the 2001 Parliament attack who was released in exchange of hostages in the Kandahar hijack episode in 1999, and the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, responsible for the 1991 Bombay bomb blasts have all found shelter in Pakistan. These have been used by Pakistan as assets against India and have rendered them protection. When asked if China would ask Pakistan to transfer the killers involved in Mumbai attack by a reporter to Jiang Yu, she said, “We uphold principles of non-interference in other’s internal affairs. Chinese government will continue to support Pakistan in formulating and implementing anti-terrorist activities based on its national conditions.” We have seen that how the Chinese press absolved Pakistan from 26.11 Mumbai attacks and blamed it on some Hindu fundamentalists as Kasab and others were supporting the Hindu sacred thread on their wrists. If we analyze the Chinese news for domestic consumption, we would see that it has always supported the stand of Pakistan irrespective of its brazen involvement whether it was the reportage of the Kargil, attack on the Indian parliament or the Mumbai attacks in Chinese media.

This is primarily because China does not recognize the thesis of cross-border terrorism, especially in south Asian context. China must not forget that it has equal and diverse nationalities that account for 8.49% of the population and inhabit 64% of the total land area of China, particularly, Xinjiang that borders 8 countries including India. The stability in the region according to the Chinese government has been endangered by the forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism as well as narcotic smuggling. China is aware of the Trans border nationalism and its effects in Xinjiang. According to Chinese sources, there are over 50 East Turkestan separatist organizations in Xinjiang; and between 1990 and 2001 there have been 360 terror incidents causing 162 causalities and injuring over 440 people. The activities of Eastern Turkestan Movement before and after the Olympics are well known, especially the July 5th 2009 Urmuqi violence that rendered 197 dead and 1700 injured. As far as extremism or religious fundamentalism is concerned, China so far has blamed the pan Islamic religious fundamentalism emanating from Uzbekistan, Kirghizstan, and Tajikistan for armed smuggling, supporting East Turkestan Liberation Organization and creating instability and extremism in Xinjiang. It is mum on Pakistan albeit has admitted since 2001 that al Qaeda was in hand and glove with the Xinjiang ‘terrorists’.

China and the Uighur separatist Movement:

The recent wikiLeaks Gitmo files also show that China’s “all weather friend” indeed provided training grounds to Uighur separatists. Amongst the hundreds of Taliban, there were 22 Uighurs detainees at Guantanamo, many of whom were captured in Pakistan. Hasan Mahsum, the founder of “East Turkistan Islamic Movement” was killed in Pakistan in 2003. It was reported in Pakistani press recently that a few weeks before Osama’s death, al Qaida appointed a new commander of its Pakistan forces and training camps, Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, the chief of the Turkistani Islamic Party created in 2008 with an aim to carry out Jihad in Xinjiang. Another problem that China has faced in Xinjiang is that of narcotic smuggling from Afghanistan. In 2004 during the “The Struggle for Banning Narcotics in the Silk Route Countries” conference, a UN official revealed that almost 60%-70% of the Afghanistan narcotics are exported and transported through the Silk route countries, and Xinjiang was one of the very important transit points. It has been revealed by China that between 2000 and 2005 China captured 6284 Xinjiang drug peddlers from Beijing, Shanghai, Yunnan, Guangdong etc. 13 provinces and cities.

China should stop looking at Terrorism through Pakistani Prism:

Therefore, China must stop looking terrorism with Pakistani prism not only inside Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also must be cautious in supporting Pakistan playing a dominant role in Afghanistan in the wake of prospective hasty American withdrawal from this war ravaged country after bin laden’s death, for it is obvious that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have been blamed for encouraging and funding the extremism in India as well as in Afghanistan. No one denies Pakistan’s stakes in Afghanistan, but so has India, China and many other countries. All the stakeholders have vested interests in Afghanistan’s stability, not to encircle Pakistan. Instability both in Pakistan and Afghanistan will have disastrous effects not only in South Asia, but also in China, especially Xinjiang. Therefore, it is pertinent that we have a regional approach to Afghanistan involving all the stakeholders such as China, Russia, Iran, India and Pakistan as well as the Central Asian countries. Moreover, it is for Afghanistan to decide what sort of alignment it would like to have in place, so as the stability is maintained and guaranteed.


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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