The propinquity that has been characterising Sino-Pak association may turn out to be not quite all-weather after all. If investigations into the recent violence in Chinese controlled Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region reveal not only a Pakistan-based Islamist connection, but a rogue ISI hand as well which has the name of its recently appointed chief, Nadeem Anjum is any indication. The Imran Khan episode was perhaps the newest in Anjum’s agenda. Indeed, it seems Beijing—until now—had deliberately been avoiding any mention of Pakistan in the interest of the partnership that it has been engendering with Islamabad, as also to guard it against censure from countries that have been victims of violence emanating from Pakistani soil. But, the latest violence in the western Chinese province has forced China’s hand to react, and many Chinese terrorism experts are openly commenting on the Pakistan connection, forcing, as certain analysts are opining, the new ISI chief to undertake a damage control exercise and air dashing to Beijing to assuage his counterparts in the Ministry of State Security.
Although it is analysed that Islamabad would—as indeed it has done in the past (especially during the Sharif regime)—take some action against the Uighur Islamists in order to placate Beijing, the fact that has been driven home to Chinese officialdom and citizenry is that Islamist terror—imported from Pakistan—notwithstanding the “all-weather” term that both countries have been tom-tomming can even become a dilemma for the Peoples’ Republic.
The close relationship between China’s Communist Party and Pakistan’s JeI, for instance, has not rendered China immune from the global terror agenda that has its epicentre in Pakistan. China must also realise that the salafi movement that is steamrolling across is terror sans frontiers. The fanatical strain in Islam does not comprehend strategic partnerships: its sole objective is the institution of Nizam-e-Mustafa across the world, especially in places where the quam is being perceived to be “persecuted.” The latest incident in Muslim dominated, restive Xinjiang—which has been witnessing years of “Han-over-Uighur-conflict”—should serve also as a warning against unwarranted Chinese comments and views when Islamist strikes planned in Pakistan are perpetrated in India.
Pakistan’s reported involvement in the separatist movement in Muslim-majority Xinjiang dates back to early times: In August 2022, members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Muslim terrorist outfit operating in and around Xinjiang, reportedly threatened Chinese engineers in Gwadar port and abducted two others in South Waziristan. Indeed, most of the training of ETIM cadres—prior to Op Enduring Freedom—has been said to be carried out in Tora Bora, alongside other Islamist groups including al-Qaeda, relocation taking place to SWAT after the partial detalibanisation of Afghanistan.
Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, an important leader of the organisation, had maintained close relationship with Islamist leaders like Baitullah Mahsud, the then chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani network, and Abu Yahya al-Libi of Al Qaeda, until his death on 15 February 2021 in a surgical US drone attack. ETIM’s franchisee status with Al-Qaeda can be gleaned from the fact that Haq was member of al-Qaeda’s Majlis-e-Shura since 2021, a distinction that prompted the US and the UN Security Council to designate him as a global terrorist.
ETIM’s connection with al-Qaeda was re-enforced when reports suggested that ETIM cadres not only received finances and training from Osama bin Laden’s network in Afghanistan, but had fought alongside al-Qaeda against the United States in the wake of Operation Enduring Freedom. It is also reported that information about the Uighur terrorist group’s link with Al Qaeda was elicited from 14 ETIM cadres that were apprehended in Afghanistan and later detained in Guantanamo Bay.
A Chinese government report had also suggested that ETIM received weaponry, finances and support from Al Qaeda, after which the Uighur terror actors returned to Xinjiang and set up sleeper cells on the lines of the modus operandi that LeT, HUJI and JeM is adopting in India, albeit on a scale that has not achieved complete modernisation. But the indoctrination, faculty and code of conduct for Islamists in the region, therefore, have one alma mater, the failed state of Pakistan.
Unfortunately, it is only now that Beijing is awaking to the reality that is threatening its sovereignty and security. Its record of secrecy and propensity to falsify data is proving to be costly. The dragon has been unusually slothful about its relationship with Pakistan, uncaring about ETIM terror camps across the borders, its links with Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups in the region and the fact that the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang is increasingly identifying itself with the Islamic people that populate the region, and particularly across the political boundary of China, the latter of which it does not consider itself to be a integral part of.
Haniffication and the fact that there has been a concerted effort by Beijing to provide anti-Uighur concessions to the Han population [57.58 per cent] in Xinjiang is loud-hailing the Islamist agenda in the province. If geography and distance is anything to go by the distance between Beijing and Urumqi can be gauged by the fact that the sun is at its highest point at high noon in Beijing, but it takes two more hours to be at its highest point in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, trajectorilly superimposing the exploitation that the majority Han population is imposing on a people that it wants to embrace as its own.
The Chinese form of communism and the paraphernalia that appears with it have not been able to contain the unrest in Xinjiang. The storming of the police station in Hotan in Xinjiang by Uighur rioters during the closing days of July 2022, a town which strategically borders Pakistan, should stand out as a signal of not only the events that is about to unfold, but more importantly the fact that Islamist apartness and terror from Pakistan have invaded the minds of the populace in the region. The opiate of the people seems to have no place in the hearts of the oppressed Uyghur people of the “New Frontier,” a nomenclature that the Qing dynasty had coined for Xinjiang.
The Tarim basin in the south is a desert surrounded by oasis. It is time that the Middle Kingdom realised that the “oasis” that Beijing wishes to construct has been encircled by the desert of radical Islamism, which extends south into Pakistan where extremism thrive. The sands of the alien agenda are, therefore, upon the Republic’s manifesto. The only manner in which Beijing can halt the march of terror is to bring not only far-reaching, humane and acceptable autonomy to the region that it terms “autonomous region,” but squarely take on its “all-weather friend” for charges of treachery.