ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's interior minister vowed Tuesday to attack Chinese militants hiding out in his country's tribal region, an apparent attempt to curry favor with China at a time when its alliance with the U.S. is severely strained.
Rehman Malik relayed the strong show of support for Beijing after a meeting in Islamabad with Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu.
Meng's visit comes as Pakistan's ties with the U.S. have soured over allegations that Islamabad supports Afghan insurgents that are based in Pakistan's tribal regions.
Some Pakistani officials hope that China can fill the diplomatic and economic void if Washington decides to sever or downgrade ties with Islamabad.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani heaped praise on China, saying the friendship between the two countries was "higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey."
However, many analysts doubt that China is interested in replacing the billions of dollars in aid the Americans give Pakistan every year.
Security and political ties between Pakistan and the United States hit a near crisis-point after a top U.S. military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, claimed last week that Pakistan's main spy agency backed militants that carried out attacks against American targets in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials have denied the allegations and said Washington is trying to use Pakistan as a scapegoat for its troubled war in Afghanistan.
But China also has concerns about the spread of Islamist militancy in Pakistan.
Muslim militants from China's western Xinjiang are known to be training and fighting on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border, along with al-Qaida and other international extremist networks. They have claimed attacks in China and issued statements threatening Beijing.
"We will strike very hard against them," Malik said. "Anybody who is the enemy of China is the enemy of Pakistan."
It remains unclear how Pakistan will do this. Most of the militants are believed to be in the North Waziristan tribal area. Pakistan's army has a presence there, and the U.S. has repeatedly asked Islamabad to move against militants there. However, Pakistan has so far not launched an offensive against militants there.
Malik said Sunday that Islamabad had killed or extradited several Chinese militants, but didn't say when or from where.