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Xinjiang riots: Timing is the key factor: op-ed in The Frontier Post, July 13

13 July 2009 2 Comments

By Irfan Shahzad

The deadly unprecedented riots in, Urumqi, capital of China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region come at a very peculiar time. There is enough evidence to say that the riots were certainly not a result simply of what can be termed as a quite controllable dispute between the co-workers in a toy factory. The events of last few weeks in the countries bordering Xinjiang, seemingly well choreographed, clearly appear linked with what happened this past weekend in the energy rich but ethnically and geographically “vulnerable” autonomous region of China. US and Afghan forces have recently started one of the biggest land offensives against the militants in Afghanistan’s Helmand province bordering Pakistan. One the other side of the Durand Line, Pakistan intensified and expanded its own operation against the militants. As was feared, there are indications that militants are finding their way – rather being pushed as a result of these two and past offensives – towards Central Asia and may be heading, possibly, towards Xinjiang itself. Richard Holbrook, special representative of US President for Pakistan and Afghanistan, was recently reported as saying that more US troops in Afghanistan that Obama has committed will mean more of the militants crossing over into Pakistan. He carefully skipped Afghanistan’s others neighbours, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. But was a mention really needed? During last few weeks or so, there have been a series of militant attacks and counter measures by local authorities in Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The latter two share Ferghana Valley, where the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is believed to be regrouping, reorganising and reemerging. IMU’s linkage with separatists of Xinjiang is not unknown. International media outlets such as The Economist have started equating the Ferghana Valley to Pakistan’s FATA. Importantly, Central Asian Republics are drawing the militants’ anger by signing deals with the US giving it logistic support, bases and transit routes facilitating its war in Afghanistan. Record from Pakistan shows that supporting US by any means in its so called War on Terror makes the country involved a target of those against whom the US is fighting this war. The million dollar question is what really made the US based leadership of Xinjiang Uygurs issuing calls, as has been revealed from the telephonic conversations intercepted by Chinese authorities, for protests on this scale? The strings of deadly events in Urumqi and other parts of Xinjiang were, no doubt, being controlled and moved from outside this part of the world. Good that calm seems to be returning. The seeds of a long-term unrest, however, have been sown, unfortunately. It needs no mention that any prolonged turmoil in the vast Xinjiang, sharing porous borders with militancy hit and turbulence-prone Central Asian Republics will provide a good chance to the militants to sneak into this fast developing western region of China. If it so happens, and of course it not be ruled out, this will undoubtedly mean a greater trouble in the days to come. China has proved that it is capable of controlling such unrests. Nobody, however, should and will support any violations of basics rights in the attempt to control the unrest. Besides, one fails to understand why China is not talking clearly to those countries of the world which host the dissident leadership of its minorities – to avoid rather control – what happened in Tibet in March 2008 and has now been repeated in Xinjiang a year later. As far as the militants’ activities spreading out of Afghanistan is concerned, the trend has the answer about the motive in itself. All such activities are taking place in the areas where China has just started to develop its long-term strategic interests – from Pakisatn’s Balochistan and North Western provinces to Turkmenistan and beyond in energy rich Central Asia. The question that can be asked is whether it is time for the next big move of the extra regional forces present in this region? http://www.thefrontierpost.com/News.aspx?ncat=ar&nid=388

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