Pakistan seeks closer links with Xinjiang

ANANTH KRISHNAN

Pakistan has sought closer economic links with China’s far-western Xinjiang region and has pledged to assuage the country’s security fears in the wake of recent attacks which Chinese officials have blamed on Pakistan-based terror groups.

Pakistan was working towards “integrated border management” with China and in creating a trans-regional economic zone with rail linkages between the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and neighbouring Xinjiang, said its Ambassador to China Masood Khan here on Friday.

Mr. Khan said China’s plans to build a Special Economic Zone in the border city of Kashgar would bring the two countries closer by strengthening trade links, and pledged support to addressing security concerns that some Chinese analysts fear may impact cross-border trade ties. While Chinese officials hope Kashgar’s development into an SEZ will raise incomes in Xinjiang’s south, a region seen as the source of unrest, authorities have also expressed increasing concern over growing cross-border terror linkages, blaming recent tensions on local Uighurs in southern Xinjiang who had reportedly travelled to terror camps in Pakistan.

Chinese authorities have since announced plans to boost security in border towns, deploying elite commando forces in Kashgar and Hotan. Mr. Khan, however, sought to address these concerns in an address to the China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank affiliated to the Foreign Ministry, on Friday.

He said the two countries were “entwined so closely that any move to hurt China’s security in Xinjiang hurts us simultaneously”, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Both countries would continue to fight the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group that China has blamed for recent attacks in Xinjiang and is reported to have camps near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. “Our solidarity in this regard is rock solid,” he said.

“No country or force can drive a wedge between us.” The two countries were also working on upgrading the Karakoram Highway, which was a “priority”. “Ground work has been done for a fiber optic link, a railroad and more frequent connections by air,” he said. “This route would then be used for transportation of oil and gas or laying pipelines.”

A pipeline from Kashgar to the port of Gwadar in Pakistan would “drastically shorten the distances for China’s trade that now takes place through the Indian Ocean and the Malacca Straits,” he said, adding that a rail network from Gwadar to Iran and Afghanistan would also boost regional trade.

With enhanced connectivity, he said, Pakistan “will be a bridge between China, Middle East, Africa and Europe”.

In his address, Mr. Khan also said Pakistan was grateful for China’s role in defusing tensions with New Delhi following the Mumbai attacks, when China sent a special envoy to India and Pakistan.

China had also urged the U.S. “to understand Pakistan’s strategic perspective and to fully acknowledge its contribution in the war against terrorism”, he said.

Hinting at recent tensions with the U.S., Mr. Khan said the China-Pakistan relationship was “not at the mercy of variations in other relationships”.

Source: The HINDU

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