Uyghur militants threaten Sino-Pak
ties By Amir Mir
ISLAMABAD - The much-trumpeted all-weather
Pakistan-China friendship has received a major
setback following Beijing's August 1 allegation
that Uyghur militants involved in two bomb blasts
in July in Kashgar city of Xinjiang province were
trained in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Since the blasts, which killed 18, Chinese
officials have publicly claimed for the first time
in recent years that the attackers were trained in
explosives in camps run by the al-Qaeda-linked
East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
Though the ETIM network on the AfPak
border was significantly weakened in recent years
in the wake of the deaths of many of its top
leaders in United States drone attacks, hardcore Uyghur
militants are still shuttling
between China and Pakistan since Xinjiang province
shares a border with Pakistan.
which is run by natives of Xinjiang province, a
Muslim-dominated region three times the size of
France, is fighting against the settlement of
China's majority Han ethnic group in the western
province, describing its struggle as a freedom
There is a history of seperatism
in Xinjiang stretching back some 50 years, and
more than 200 civilians were killed in deadly
ethnic violence between the Han and Uyghur
communities in 2009. However, that China's
accusations were directed towards Pakistan should
merit concern in Islamabad.
claim about the involvement of a terrorist group
in the recent attacks was made on the basis of a
confession by a captured Uyghur militant. The
Pakistan government, for its part, was quick to
extend all possible cooperation to China against
the ETIM, which is also described as the
Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP).
"Terrorists, extremists and separatists in
Xinjiang constitute an evil force," said an August
1 statement issued by Pakistan's Foreign Ministry.
The statement came after Chinese President Hu
Jintao rang President Asif Ali Zardari to express
concern over the growing terror activities of the
ETIM in Xinjiang province, a month before the
holding of an international expo in Urumqi, the
capital of Xinjiang, from September 1 to 5.
Subsequently, Lieutenant General Ahmed
Shuja Pasha, director general of Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), rushed to
Beijing to address the Chinese concerns.
According to well-informed intelligence
circles in the garrison city of Rawalpindi,
Pakistani military authorities are under mounting
pressure from Beijing to establish military bases
in the tribal areas of Pakistan to counter the
anti-Chinese rebels purportedly operating from its
The Pakistan-based Chinese
separatist movement is evidently such a matter of
serious concern for Beijing that it has even asked
Islamabad to allow it a military presence either
in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province or in the
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of
Pakistan. Similar to the American presence in the
country, this would enable Beijing to effectively
counter Chinese separatists it believes are
operating in the area.
added that the Chinese desire to have a military
presence in the tribal areas should not be painted
as an attempt to set up permanent military bases
there. "China does not have any military bases
outside its land unlike the United States and the
prime concern of Beijing is the spread of violence
from the Pakistani tribal belt to the
trouble-stricken Chinese region of Xinjiang, which
is the main Muslim majority province," one envoy
That the ETIM militants had extended
their network of terrorist activities to Pakistan
became abundantly clear in 2009 when they
threatened the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad
through a letter, expressing their intention to
kidnap Chinese diplomats and consular officers to
highlight their cause.
The Chinese mission
subsequently informed the Pakistani authorities
that some members of the ETIM had already reached
Islamabad and were planning to kidnap Chinese
staffers from the federal capital. Pakistani
law-enforcement agencies consequently arrested 10
ETIM militants and extradited them to China
despite apprehensions expressed by Amnesty
International that they could be at risk of
serious human-rights violations there, including
unfair trial, torture and execution.
extradition of the ETIM militants came about as
the result of three agreements between Pakistan
and China to curb militancy and extremism. In a
video posted on an Islamist website on August 1,
2009, Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, the leader of the
ETIM, urged Muslims to attack Chinese interests to
punish Beijing for what he described as massacres
against Uyghur Muslims.
Haq said: "The
Chinese must be targeted both at home and abroad.
Their embassies, consulates, centers and gathering
places should be targeted. Their men should be
killed and captured to seek the release of our
brothers who are jailed in Eastern Turkistan."
Abdul Haq used to run a training camp for
in Tora Bora in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province
prior to the US invasion in October 2001. He then
relocated his camps to Pakistan's lawless
Waziristan tribal region. Since he begun operating
from the South Waziristan tribal agency he has
accused China of committing "barbaric massacres"
against Muslims in East Turkistan.
video he spoke with an assault rifle to his right
and what appeared to be a pistol pouch strapped to
his shoulder. In June 2009, Haq was reported to
have attended a high-level meeting in South
Waziristan with Baitullah Mehsud, the then chief
of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban
- TTP), Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani militant
network, and Abu Yahya al-Libi of al-Qaeda to
discuss Pakistani military operations against the
TTP in the area. Baitullah subsequently died
following a missile attack by a US drone on the
house of his father-in-law which he was visiting
in August, 2009.
Almost six months later,
Abdul Haq was killed in yet another US drone
strike on February 15, 2010, in Miramshah, North
Waziristan, while traveling in a vehicle. The
Chinese separatist commander was closely linked to
al-Qaeda and was the second consecutive chief of
Turkisatni Islamic Party to be killed in the
Pakistani tribal areas.
Abdul Haq, also
known as Maimaitiming Maimaiti, became the TIP
chief after the killing of Hassan Mahsum, the
group's previous head, by the Pakistani security
forces in South Waziristan on October 2, 2004. His
importance can be gauged from the fact that the US
Treasury Department had designated him a global
terrorist in April 2009, stating that he has
already been appointed a member of al-Qaeda's
majlis-e-shura or executive council, in
2005. Soon afterwards, the United Nations Security
Council too designated him a terrorist leader.
The Turkistani Islamic Party or the East
Turkistan Islamic Movement seeks the creation of
an independent Islamic state of East Turkistan in
the Muslim-dominated Xinjiang province of China.
East Turkistan had maintained a measure of
independence until the early 1950s, when Mao
Zedong's victorious rebel armies turned to the
peripheries and began securing Chinese borders,
capturing Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet and East
The native Uyghur resisted
Chinese occupation until the 1960s, but failed to
win support from neighboring Muslim states because
of their fractured tribal nature. Since the
mid-1980s, however, an active pan-Islamic movement
has been trying to cement the opposing groups
together against the alleged Chinese occupation of
their homeland, pressing for an independent East
Yet Beijing, which views
Xingjiang as an invaluable asset due to its
crucial strategic location near Central Asia and
its large oil and gas reserves, has been using all
possible means to quell the separatist movement.
Amir Mir is a senior Pakistani
journalist and the author of several books on the
subject of militant Islam and terrorism, the
latest being The Bhutto murder trail: From
Waziristan to GHQ.
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