Geopolitics

With Venomous Terrorist Threat in its Backyard: Can China Remain Cocooned from Terrorism?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 27 Jul , 2016

Threat from terrorism is a global affliction today. This threat is originating not only from the misguided youth of one particular religious denomination who have no idea of the teachings of their religion but only what a fiery mullah espouses. In majority of the cases, its roots can be traced back to very few nations, Pakistan being prominent amongst them.

Pakistan has been playing smartly on both sides in the fight against terror, on the one hand, pretending to help curtail terrorist activities while on the other, stoking it.

Today when almost all countries in the world have more or less recognized Pakistan as a hub of terrorism, one wonders as to why a country like China which itself has a looming threat in its Xinjiang region due to Islamic terrorism is not undertaking meaningful steps to curb it. On the contrary, it has been propping Pakistan.

In fact, Pakistan has been playing smartly on both sides in the fight against terror, on the one hand, pretending to help curtail terrorist activities while on the other, stoking it.

Threat to China from Terrorism

China’s problem with its Islamic population in Xinjiang is too well known. Its social insensitivity to the population in terms of banning fasting during the holy month of Ramzan and ordering the change of pattern of head scarves for women is very common.

Terrorist attacks have been spreading out of Xinjiang in recent years. From the 1990s to the late 2000s, the vast majority of terrorist acts were limited to Xinjiang, while the Chinese Uyghur terrorists were known to be based in Xinjiang and in relatively unstable neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in Central Asia. Recently, however, China has suffered attacks in several cities all over its territory. [1]

The geographical expansion of Chinese terrorism can also be observed outside of China’s borders, e.g. in Central Asia and the Hindu Kush region. Militant Uyghur’s fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan against the Soviets in the 1980s and then against the international coalition (ISAF) in the early 2000s. However, more recently, in May 2014 the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan urged all Taliban groups to target Chinese interests in the region, especially embassies, companies, and Chinese nationals. [2]

ISIS has released a new piece of propaganda specifically aimed at Chinese, which urges Muslims to “wake up” and take up weapons to “rebel” in accordance with Allah’s commands.

Moreover, it is believed that since 2012 hundreds of Chinese Uyghur’s have fled to Syria and Iraq via Turkey to fight against the Assad regime and had later joined ISIS. According to Chinese officials, several terrorists returning from ISIS war zones were arrested in Xinjiang in March 15. At the same time, the Xinjiang party chief officially stated that China had become an ISIS target after several appeals from ISIS leaders for Chinese Muslims to pledge allegiance to the organization.

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri released a statement supporting Jihad in Xinjiang against Chinese, in the Caucasus against the Russians and naming Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan as places of warfare.

ISIS has released a new piece of propaganda specifically aimed at Chinese, which urges Muslims to “wake up” and take up weapons to “rebel” in accordance with Allah’s commands. The video comes on the heels of the first confirmed Chinese casualty at the hands of ISIS – hostage Fan Jinghui, who was executed by the group.

It’s unusual for ISIS to print recruiting materials in Mandarin Chinese, but this isn’t the first time it has mentioned China. China was one of 60 countries identified as part of a “coalition of devils” in a recent ISIS propaganda video.

Chinese territory in Xinjiang was also included on a map of ISIS’s territorial ambitions. In 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi mentioned China first in a list of states where Muslim rights are forcibly seized.

However, the fact that ISIS is intentionally reaching out to a Chinese audience should be an indicator of the group’s ambitions and the policymakers in China should worry about this grave threat lurking round the corner.

For years, China has exported sensitive military technology to countries that have been sponsors of terrorism.

Recent Instances of China’s Support to Pakistan

China has been maintaining its warm ties with Pakistan, calling the relationship “higher than the mountains and deeper than the ocean,” despite the fact that Pakistan’s tribal areas have been home to groups Beijing deems unfriendly to its interests.

India took unkindly to the Chinese action in this April of blocking United Nations investigation against the release of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi on bail by a Pakistan court, for supposed lack of evidence. China cited insufficient information provided by India for its action while all other permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council supported the investigation under UN Resolution 1287.

Well, China’s action is not surprising to the expert on the subject given its past record of saving Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin from similar investigation. What surprises observers is its lack of realisation of the negative impact it may have on its own problems of home grown terror in Xinjiang.

A nation such as China, which is on fast track growth, mindful of its international status, internal security compulsions usually won’t undertake such negative steps which would surely be harmful to its future interests.

Nevertheless, Beijing’s actions raise serious questions about whether its professed commitment to the campaign against international terrorism is genuine. For years, China has exported sensitive military technology to countries that have been sponsors of terrorism. Recipients of such sales include Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Hafiz Saeed is the first Pakistani national to express concern about the plight of Muslims in China.

It is likely that the CPEC will facilitate the passage of radical Islamist elements, including that of returning battle-hardened Uyghurs, into China’s sensitive and restive Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Underscoring the steadily increasing radicalisation of Pakistan, the Chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Hafiz Saeed told the Nawaz Sharif government in late May 2016, to “show some courage and direct China to stay away from hurting Islamic sentiments”. A high-powered delegation of Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs subsequently left for China on June 28, 2016 to check the veracity of reports that Chinese authorities have banned fasting in the holy month of Ramzan in the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region. Hafiz Saeed is the first Pakistani national to express concern about the plight of Muslims in China.

Can China Trust Pakistan

The Pak duplicity with regard to terrorism was amply exposed recently when during NATO summit on 09 July 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the peace initiatives taken by Afghanistan with Pakistan are not successful as Pakistan differentiates between good and bad terrorists “in practice”. “Our regional initiatives with neighbours are beginning to yield significant cooperative dividends. However, the exception is with Pakistan. “Pakistan’s dangerous distinction between good and bad terrorists is being maintained in practice. [3]

Haqqani plainly admits the truth: that his government, through its army and intelligence agencies, aids and abets the murder of civilians by terrorist organizations.

Another evidence of Pak involvement in terrorism came from Saudi Arabia where in Nineteen people, including twelve Pakistani nationals , have been arrested following suicide attacks in July this year, including one near Islam’s second-holiest site in the city of Medina.

European Parliament’s Vice-President Ryszard Czarneck, in a scathing editorial titled ‘Wake up call to Anti-terrorism Ayatollahs’, has said that the recent Ramzan terror attacks in Saudi Arabia have signalled the arrival of the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s “humanitarian” NGO Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) as being the source for terror attack on Medina. [4]

Czarneck mentions in his article that ever since the ISIS’s exponential proliferation in the Middle East, the activities of Pakistani-linked Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its sister concern Falah-e-Insaniyat (FIF) have also picked up. Earlier, Lashkar and Falah-e-Insaniyat’s activities were dismissed as being primarily focused on India. However, the recent terror attacks in Medina have changed that opinion.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S, Husain Haqqani , In his book, “Magnificent Delusions,” says: “My countrymen will someday have to come to terms with global realities. Pakistan cannot become a regional leader in South Asia while it supports terrorism.” Haqqani plainly admits the truth: that his government, through its army and intelligence agencies, aids and abets the murder of civilians by terrorist organizations. The world (and officials of numerous foreign intelligence agencies) has long believed that Pakistani intelligence provides material support to terrorist groups, but Haqqani may be the most prominent Pakistani to publicly agree with them.

The dubious game of playing ‘good terrorist-bad terrorist’ on the lines of its ally Pakistan is actually surprising because China is known to be much more pragmatic and should recognise the fallout.

Soon after the raid targeting Bin Laden, the U.S. made an effort to test Pakistan’s willingness to combat terrorism. Haqqani writes that two senior American officials visited Islamabad to propose a series of steps Pakistan could take to build confidence. They provided Pakistan with information about a bomb-making factory run by the Haqqani Network. Pakistan’s military leaders “promised that the Pakistan army would send in troops to shut down the illicit factory that was manufacturing the IEDs,” Haqqani writes. “A few days later the CIA sent time-stamped photographs showing the facility being dismantled hours before the army’s arrival. The dismantling began after a man on a motorcycle went into the factory, thus leading to speculation that he had come to tip off the terrorists about the impending army operation.”

It is no state secret that former Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf admitted that his forces trained militant groups to fight India in Jammu and Kashmir. He also said Pakistani ISI cultivated the Taliban after 2001 because Karzai’s government was dominated by non-Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, and officials who were thought to favour India.

Conclusion

The dubious game of playing ‘good terrorist-bad terrorist’ on the lines of its ally Pakistan is actually surprising because China is known to be much more pragmatic and should recognise the fallout.

The compulsions of supporting Pakistan from a strategic view point are well understood. Pakistan’s geostrategic location gives it an out of proportion significance; Yet, China has to weigh its interests in supporting a radical Wahabbi terrorist organisation against its interests in other parts of the Islamic world which are virulently anti-Wahabbi;

Untill now, Pakistan has played its US-China and Islamic card well. How long can it keep on fooling the world community is yet to be seen…

China needs to understand that by extending its support to assist a declared terrorist organisation such as the LeT, it is not helping the cause of containment and eventual destruction of radicalism and terror.

China should not forget that it was Pakistan which backstabbed its longtime ally US by giving a safe haven to Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad near Islamabad. Even today, it is Pak based terror groups which are operating not only in Afghanistan but also in China.

Untill now, Pakistan has played its US-China and Islamic card well. How long can it keep on fooling the world community is yet to be seen but It is sure that sooner or later China will have to pay a very heavy price of supporting Pakistan in terms of facing terrorism or its trade being affected by the threat of terror across the world.

What will be China’s response if the dirty bomb falls in hand of terror group operating in Xinjiang? These may seem to be hypothesis but may become a reality if the menace of terrorism is not contained now of which Pakistan is the kingpin.

China and Pakistan may not continue with this deniability game for an indefinite period and the chances are that China and Pakistan will be face to face sooner or later.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Adarsh Singh

likes writing on Concurrent Issues. He can be reached on adarshsingh476@gmail.com

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6 thoughts on “With Venomous Terrorist Threat in its Backyard: Can China Remain Cocooned from Terrorism?

  1. China is pragmatic…as is mentioned by the author. It has not taken any action as yet against Pakistan as there have not been any major strikes on its assets/interests within China…..till such time that happens, it will be status quo…or rather…wait and watch strategy for China.
    Let us not forget that China has invested money in Pakistan…to develop Gwadar…till it gets its returns, the show will go on for China.
    The recent reports of banning the fasting during Ramzan and the banning of hijab are another indicator of The country controlling the spread of Islam. Let us not forget, China is a single party autocratic country….who really does not bother much about world opinion. Any drastic action against its local terrorists may be very harsh, and which really the world may not even come to know about.
    Lastly….even the US and its allies know that Pakistan is a sponsor of terrorism and yet continue to supply it with arms/financial aid. The money supplied to it is used to buy arms if the pipeline gets blocked for some reason…as it happened recently for the F-16ac.
    So why will China stop its aid to Pakistan…..yes…it is a matter of time…when the Chinese suffer a major terrorist attack…then it will…in all probability retaliate.

    • I completely agree with your views sir.
      Up till now the cooperation amongst China and Pak has been primarily at higher echelons with little connect at the grass route level thereby China not realising the negatives of Pakistan society and its groups aiding and abetting terrorism which is likely to change with greater connectivity provided by CPEC.
      With greater connectivity, Pak terror factory would try to spread its sick mindset amongst its Islamic population in Xinjiang.

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