The security of Chinese citizens once again took centerstage in relations between China and Pakistan on Monday. This time China has asked Pakistan to ensure the security of its top diplomat in Islamabad. The threat, Beijing said, was from a terrorist who has sneaked into Pakistan to kill its newly appointed ambassador.
In a letter to Pakistan’s Interior Ministry, a Chinese embassy official identified the threat as Tuersuntuoheti Abuduwaili, an alleged member of the proscribed East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM). The letter included the passport details and the mobile phone number of the alleged terrorist.
The letter, dated October 19, claimed Abuduwaili was in Pakistan to assassinate Yao Jing, China’s Ambassador to Pakistan. It asked the Interior Ministry to increase security to Chinese companies and citizens in Pakistan.
Two points stand out as unusual in the letter, indicating that China might be sending a strong message to Pakistan over the security of its citizens. First, it was written by Peng Yunfei, the Chinese focal person for the troubled CPEC project, which was the target of an attack in Gwadar just last week.
Second, Peng asked the Interior Ministry to arrest the alleged terrorist quickly and requested that he be handed over to Chinese authorities. This is unusual considering Pakistan and China do not have an extradition treaty despite calling each other the best of friends.
ETIM has long been a pain point in China-Pakistan relationship. ETIM is a separatist organisation with al-Qaeda that aims to server the Muslim-majority Xinjiang region from China. It was among the organisations whose members had been trained on Pakistani soil and sent into Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s. After the end of the fighting in Afghanistan, these Pakistan-trained ETIM fighters turned their attention towards their separatist struggle.