Pakistan Islamists in a deal with China communists : a sign of the times?

February 19, 2009

A reader has pointed to an agreement that Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami, the main Islamist political group, signed with the Chinese communist party during its trip to Beijing a few days ago.

The two sides, according to reports in the domestic and foreign media, agreed to collaborate in the fields of justice, development, security and solidarity.

They also promised not to get involved in each other’s internal affairs which according to the report on CBS News was effectively an undertaking that Pakistan’s Islamists will stay away from activities of separatist Muslims in China’s northern Xinjiang region.

While China’s concerns about the Islamist fervour sweeping northwest Pakistan spilling over into Xinjiang have been known before, it does seem a bit unusual for the communist party to strike a deal with a religion-based foreign political party.

Or is this the new reality and which China has been quick to realise?

The CBS  story quotes an official from a European NATO member country as saying that the agreement “forces us to think the Chinese are much more sophisticated than what we know”.

“We are still not absolutely certain how far to go in negotiating with people like the Taliban, and China may already be moving in that direction.”

It may not be related to that agreement, but only last Saturday Taliban militants in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley freed a Chinese engineer kidnapped five months ago. Soon after, the provincial government and Islamists reached an agreement to allow Islamic law in the valley to stem a Taliban uprising.

The release of the engineer and the deal with the communist party comes just as President Asif Ali Zardari heads to China on Friday, his second trip to the country in less than five months.

Zardari’s trip is largely economic but assuaging Chinese concerns over an Islamist resurgence will further build ties between the all-weather friends. It may also perhaps strengthen Zardari’s case for financial assistance at a time of comtinuing turmoil.      

Beijing had rebuffed Pakistan’s request for concessional loans in October, forcing it to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a $7.6 billion loan to stave off a balance of payments crisis.

[Photos of a peace march in Pakistan's Swat region and Chinese police in Xinjiang]

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