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Unrest in Xinjiang: China Seeks Musharraf's Good Offices

The unrest against the Chinese Government has spread from Tibet to the Muslim majority Xinjiang province of China. Since the beginning of this year, there were already indications of the revival of the Uighur independence movement as seen from the discovery of an Uighur sleeper cell in Urumqi, the capital of the province, by local officials of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, which is the Chinese internal intelligence and security agency. This was followed on March 7,2008,by an aborted attempt by three Uighurs—one of them a woman— to blow up a civil aviation plane going from Urumqi to Beijing with the help of gasoline concealed inside a soft drink can, which had been smuggled into the plane. The attempt was thwarted by alert security guards on board the plane.

2. There was a fairly big demonstration against the Chinese authorities at Khotan in the Xinjiang province on March 23,2008. About 1,000 Uighurs, including many women, participated in the demonstration. The protest was triggered off by two events. Firstly, the alleged death in the custody of the Ministry of Public Security of Mutallip Hajim, a wealthy jade trader and popular philanthropist, who had been arrested on a charge of belonging to the sleeper cell discovered in January, 2008. Secondly, the anger of the local women over a long-standing order banning women from wearing scarves over their heads. Many of the Uighur women, who participated in the demonstration, defiantly covered their heads with scarves. The news of the demonstration was first broken by the US-run Radio Free Asia, which covered it on the basis of reports received from its sources in Xinjiang and Uighur political exiles in Turkey. The local authorities of Xinjiang initially denied and ridiculed the reports of the Radio, but they admitted on April 2,2008, that a demonstration did take place.According to a statement from the Khotan government in the Xinjiang region, “extremist forces” tried to incite an uprising in a local market place on March 23. “A small number of elements… tried to incite splittism, create disturbances in the market place and even trick the masses into an uprising,” an official statement issued by the authorities said. It added:”Our police immediately intervened to prevent this and are dealing with it in accordance with the law.”

3. The belated official confirmation of the incident has strengthened the credibility of the broadcasts of Radi Free Asia, which has now reported that the local authorities have undertaken house-to-house searches in the area looking for extremist suspects. Other independent reports from Tibetan sources also speak of a crack-down in Urumqi and other places, during the course of which over 100 Uighur Muslims have been detained for interrogation.

4. The continuing unrest in the Xinjiang province, which is attributed to pro-Western Uighur groups operating from Turkey and the Central Asian Republics as well as the pro-bin Laden groups operating from Pakistan, has unnerved the Chinese authorities, who are worried that the pro-Western Uighurs and the Tibetan youth might join hands to disrupt the Olympics. The pro-Western Uighur groups and the Tibetans have links with each other and with the intelligence agencies of the Baltic States through the Holland-based Unrepresented Nations’ and Peoples’ Organisation, allegedly funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Elements belonging to the organisation, which had played an active role in the anti-Moscow movement in the Baltic States, have now joined hands with the US-funded National Endowment For Democracy for supporting the anti-Beijing revolts in Tibet and Xinjiang and for encouraging a similar revolt in Hong Kong, with the help of Falun Gong elements. The Chinese are also worried about likely threats to the Olympic Torch from pro-Al Qaeda Uighur elements and from the students of the Lal Masjid of Islamabad, when it transits Islamabad on April 16 before being taken to New Delhi.

5. According to reliable Pakistani sources, in response to a request from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to visit Urumqi during a long-pending six-day state visit to China from April 10, to attend a meeting of the Boao Forum for Asia and appeal to the local Muslims to co-operate with the local authorities and not to let themselves be misled by the followers of the Dalai Lama. He is expected to visit a local mosque in Urumqi and address the local Muslim personalities there. Musharraf, who is keen to project himself as still enjoying the confidence of China, has welcomed the request of the Chinese Foreign Ministry and agreed to try to help the Chinese out.

6. Reports of continued peaceful demonstrations by Tibetan monks and students have been received from Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai, but there have been no fresh incidents of violence. Radio Free Asia has been disseminating detailed instructions to its listeners in Tibet and Xinjiang as to how to overcome the jamming of its broadcasts by the Chinese.

7. Pakistan and Nepal have been playing a double game in the recent events. Pakistan has been pretending to co-operate with the Chinese against the Uighur extremists. At the same time, it has allowed Radio Free Asia to produce many of its Uighur language programmes in Pakistani territory. Similarly, the Government of Nepal has been co-operating with the Chinese authorities for monitoring the activities of the Tibetan Youth Congress from Nepalese territory. At the same time. it has allowed Radio Free Asia to produce and transmit many of its Tibetan language programmes from the Nepalese soil. (3-4-08)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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