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More on Chinese Alert in Xinjiang

According to reliable sources in the Uighur diaspora in Pakistan, the authorities in some of the towns of the Xinjiang province have made it mandatory for all religious sermons to be approved in advance by the local officials of the Ministry of Public Security, which is responsible for internal intelligence and security. Prior permission of the Ministry is also required for holding any religious gathering. Members of the Communist Party of China have been banned from attending religious congregations.

2.Earlier, a directive issued by the Religious Affairs Department of Shayar county in the Aksu Prefecture of the Xinjinag province in April had stated as follows: ” All religious groups must register with the village branch of the Religious Affairs Department, allow monthly inspections of religious sites and special meetings by authorities, and obtain prior approval of the content of any religious services. Before village members gather for worship, the Religious Affairs Department must review the content of the texts in question. An information officer for religious activities will verify the content of the texts and must be advised of the specific situation in which the texts will be used in worship.”

3.According to the same sources in the Uighur diaspora of Pakistan, due to pressure from the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior has ordered the closure of the Omer Uighur Language School in Rawalpindi. The Chinese authorities have accused the school of having links with the Munich-based World Uighur Congress (WUC). The Chinese Embassy has advised the members of the Uighur diaspora in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area that in future they should send their children to a school at Rawalpindi set up earlier this year by the Chinese Embassy.

4. In July 2007, the Chinese authorities had exercised pressure on the Government of Gen.Pervez Musharraf to organise a commando raid into the Lal Masjid and its two madrasas in the Islamabad area following the kidnapping of some Chinese employees of beauty parlours by the students of the madrasas. It was anger over this raid which led to the formation of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the wave of terrorist strikes by the TTP and other jihadi organisations. There were also attacks on some Chinese working in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa province and Balochistan.

5. In the past, the Chinese Embassy was insisting on action only against Uighurs in Pakistan suspected of supporting the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan (IMET), an associate of Al Qaeda.Now, they are insisting on action against Uighur supporters of the WUC too.

6.The Chinese Ministry of National Defence announced on June 24 that the third joint counter-terrorism exercise between the Chinese and Pakistani Armies will be held at Qingtongxia in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region from July 1 to 11. The first exercise was held in 2004, in Xinjiang’s Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County bordering Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. About 200 soldiers from both countries participated. The second exercise was held in 2006 in the Abbottabad area of Pakistan. About 400 soldiers from both sides participated. The third exercise was to have been held in China in 2008, but was postponed for unexplained reasons. According to the Uighur sources, the authorities of the two countries were probably concerned that a joint exercise in the wake of the anger over the Chinese role in the Lal Masjid raid could lead to fresh attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan.

7.Though no joint exercise has been held since 2006, the close co-operation in counter-terrorism continues at two levels—between the two armies and between the Interior Ministry of Pakistan and the Ministry of Public Security of China. Mr.Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, had visited China in 2009 and again earlier this year to discuss counter-terrorism co-operation, including exchange of intelligence. China is reported to have pledged assistance amounting to more than US $ 300 million to enable Pakistan strengthen its counter-terrorism capacity.

8.The “Los Angeles Times” reported on May 25,2009, that the Obama Administration had appealed to China to provide training and even military equipment to help Pakistan counter a growing militant threat and that Mr.Richard C Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, had visited Beijing in this connection for talks with the Chinese authorities. According to unconfirmed reports, Abdul Haq Turkestani, the Amir of the IMET, was reported to have been killed in a US Drone (pilotless plane) strike in the North Waziristan area in February last. During his visit to China earlier this year, Mr.Rehman Malik claimed that this information was correct, but neither the US nor the IMET nor the Chinese have confirmed his reported death so far.

8. In December last, a mixed group of 20 Muslim and Christian Uighurs, helped by a Macau-based Christian organisation, had managed to reach Phnom-Penh in Cambodia from Xinjiang and sought political asylum from the local office of the UN High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR). Before the UNHCR office could intervene, the Cambodian authorities had them arrested and deported to China. Three Muslim members of this group have since been projected by the Chinese authorities as terrorists, who were members of the IMET.

9.Mr.Wu Heping, a spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, told a press conference at Beijing on June 24 that the authorities of the Ministry had arrested a group of over 10 Uighurs belonging to the IMET. The details of the arrested persons given at the press conference indicated that the terrorist cell which the Chinese claimed to have broken up included three Muslim members of the group which had sought political asylum from the UNHCR office in Phnom-Penh in December 2009. It is not known what happened to the other 17 handed over by the Cambodian authorities.

10. Two persons were killed in an explosion in an oil storage tank in the Midong area of Urumqi on June 22,2010. According to the local authorities, the explosion took place when some welding work was going on. However, they have stated that it has not yet been established whether the welding caused the explosion.

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

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