Thursday, 19 June 2014

Karachi airport attack’s implications for China, by Agha Iqrar Haroon

By Agha Iqrar Haroon    JUNE 19, 2014    
Spokesperson of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Shahidullah Shahid confirmed that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) provided the manpower for the attack at the Karachi Airport on Sunday night, and it was a joint action of the Taliban and IMU. TTP and IMU statements give the impression that militants living in the tribal areas of Pakistan have enough potential to strike anywhere they wish within Pakistan or even abroad, because they have links with other militant groups in Central Asia, China, and the Middle East. Pakistan-based jihadists of Central Asian origin are causing increasing concern to countries including China, Russia, and Turkey.
The Chinese in particular are worried about Turkic militants carrying out attacks in western China, which has a large Muslim population. Security observers in Pakistan feel that a successful attack on the Karachi airport has given the militants enough confidence and experience that they could plan to strike any small airport in the northwestern province of Xinjiang where they are trying to establish Islamic rule for the Uighur ethnic group.
From 1995 to 1997, the struggle in Xinjiang was at its peak, with increasingly frequent attacks by militants. This was happening at the time when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. China formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and enlisted Central Asian countries’ assistance in cracking down on Uighur militants. Many of them fled China and developed contacts with Central Asian militants with the alleged support of Afghan Taliban leadership that was assisting them in conducting militant activities in the Muslims areas of China. Some of them reached the tribal areas of Pakistan. Afghanistan under the Taliban rule became part of a global militancy school supported by al Qaeda. So the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) also moved it base to Afghanistan when it was pushed out by the Uzbekistan government. Meanwhile, a popular leader of the Uighur militants, Hasan Mahsum established Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in 1998 in Kabul and began recruiting and training Uighur militants while expanding ties with the emerging jihadist movement in the region. It dropped “Eastern” from its name to reflect these deepening ties.
With the US attack on Afghanistan in October 2001, TIM was routed, and its remnants fled to Central Asia and Pakistan. In 2005, a new Uighur Islamist militant group, the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) established a robust presence on the Internet, posting histories of the Uighur/Turkistan people in western China and Central Asia and inspirational videos featuring Hasan Mahsum. In 2006, a new video surfaced calling for jihad in Xinjiang, and later that year there were reports that remnants of ETIM had begun regrouping and moving back into far western Xinjiang from Pakistan after getting training and resources from the Pakistani Taliban.
Security observers believe that Chinese militants get support, training, and inspiration from TTP and have a base in the tribal areas of Pakistan. They have transnational linkages in Turkistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Observers claim that Chinese intelligence agencies had credible information in the past that Afghan, Middle Eastern and Central Asian migrants and tourists were spotted carrying out surveillance of schools, hotels, and government buildings in Beijing and Shanghai which indicates that global jihadis are supporting jihad against China. The alleged activities seem to fit a pattern within the international jihadist movement of paying more attention to China.
Islamists are now giving special attention to destabilising China which spearheaded the launch of the SCO. This organisation is harming China’s interests in the entire Central Asian region. China has raised the issue of the presence of anti-China militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan with the Pakistan government in the past, but no action was taken to eliminate these militants. The United States, European Union, and now Russia have been crying that the tribal areas of Pakistan are safe havens for top world terrorist groups that are directly or indirectly linked with al Qaeda. Iran has been claiming that militants are going to Syria, Iraq, and Egypt from Pakistan to fight along with Salafis (Tafrikis) but successive governments of Pakistan have denied these allegations. Political observers claim that this denial was due to intense pressure of religious groups, religio-political parties, and civil and military bureaucracy, or the so-called establishment, because these militants have served as strategic assets of the Pakistani establishment.
Direct confrontation of TTP with the Pakistan Army provided a chance for the government to eliminate these militants by taking ground action against them in the tribal areas of Pakistan, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is known for his tilt towards right-wing elements and his close relations with the Saudi Arabian royal family that is allegedly supporting Salafis in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan against Shia elements.

hub. Political observers claim that TTP helped PTI to win the 2013 elections because its chief Imran Khan is a TTP sympathiser and a strong criticiser of the US. Imran Khan virtually stopped NATO supplies from entering Pakistan, because he believes that the US drone strikes are killing innocent people in the tribal areas. Whenever the Pakistan Army decided to initiate action against militants in tribal areas, Imran Khan strongly objected, forcing the government to consider the option of dialogue with TTP. He believes that militants are sons of the soil, and they should not be killed. Rather the government should provide them with the chance to leave militancy and join the mainstream. He never accepted allegations that Uzbeks, Chechens, Chinese, and Arabs are living in and operating from tribal areas with the support of TTP. Peace talks were initiated with TTP on his demand, but talks failed to bring any meaningful results.
Now it looks like the morale of militants is very high, but the Pakistan Air force is striking their hideouts, and the US drones are following them. There are fears that they may move out of the tribal areas to avoid losses, and then move to Xinjiang or to Tajikistan by crossing through the Nooristan/Kunar route, as Nooristan is under the virtual control of TTP chief, Mullah Fazlullah, who is living in Kunar Afghanistan. There are fears among security analysts that they will try something big if they reach Xinjiang, because IMU is dead set against China for SCO formation that is stopping it from wreaking havoc in the Central Asia. It wants to establish a Turkman Islamic region covering the entire Central Asia and ending at the Indus River in Pakistan. -Uyghur Joint Information Center

The writer is ETN US correspondent in Pakistan and Chief Editor, Dispatch News Desk

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