China begins crack down on terror in areas bordering PoK

Security deployments to be increased in Xinjiang region

China has launched a “strike hard” campaign to crack down on terrorism in its far-western Xinjiang region, officials have said, outlining new plans to boost security deployments in remote areas and towns near the border with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to combat “growing” and “imported” extremism.

Zhang Chunxian, Communist Party secretary of the Muslim-majority Xinjiang-Uighur “autonomous region,” recently addressed a high-level government meeting in Urumqi to outline new anti-terror measures, State-run Xinhua news agency said in a report.

Mr. Zhang issued an order for police to “strike down hard and fast on attackers” and for officials to “work more closely with the masses to detect terrorist activity.” The measures include a “tougher stance” to incidents of violence, monitoring religious activities and boosting deployments of law enforcement personnel in remote border towns in southern Xinjiang, according to Chinese analysts.

Xinhua quoted an unnamed security expert as saying the government was concerned by “growing religious extremism” that was “imported from neighbouring volatile central and southwest Asian regions.”

One Chinese analyst said it was clear that China's main concern was directed at Pakistan, although the government is reluctant to name directly its “all-weather” ally.

The launch of the “strike hard” campaign comes less than a month after the Ministry of Public Security released a “wanted” terror list of six alleged members of the extremist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), some of whom were earlier reported by Chinese authorities as being based in Pakistan.

The Ministry called on “foreign governments” to hand them over to Chinese authorities, in a statement seen by analysts as reflecting increasing Chinese concerns over the spread of cross-border terrorism and Pakistan's failure to close ETIM camps.

An official told Xinhua that the police needed to reach “key areas” faster and “determinedly use force to end [incidents] as fast as possible.”

The Xinjiang government has blamed recent violence, mostly occurring in the towns of Kashgar and Hotan near the PoK border, on overseas-trained terrorists. Officials said ETIM member Memtieli Tiliwaldi, who was reportedly trained by ETIM leader Nurmemet Memetmin — one of the six named on the terror list — at a camp in Pakistan, was behind bombings and knife attacks that killed at least 20 people last year in Kashgar.

Pakistani links

Following violence in February in Yecheng, near Kashgar, that left 15 people dead, Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri in unusual public remarks said extremists in Xinjiang had “a thousand and one links” to Pakistan. The Chinese Foreign Ministry later sought to play down both his remarks and the Public Security Ministry's statement, praising Pakistan's efforts at the “forefront” of the battle against terrorism.

Many Uighur scholars have, however, raised concerns over the government's “strike hard” campaigns, accusing authorities of inflating the threat from groups such as the ETIM and pinning all incidents of unrest on “terrorists.”

Scholars like economist Ilham Tohti have argued that the unrest is sourced in Uighur concerns over rising Han Chinese migration, rising inequalities and religious restrictions. Government campaigns to crack down on “illegal religious activities” have also stirred concerns, enforcing tighter controls over mosques and banning religious activities among students and government servants.

Ma Dezheng, a scholar with the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), acknowledged to Xinhua that the ETIM had been weakened after its leader Hasan Mahsum was killed by Pakistani forces in 2003. However, he warned that terror groups in Xinjiang were still active but “increasingly family-based and showed fewer signs of being part of a large terrorist network.” Attackers, he said, “tend to be younger and include more women.”

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 8:30:53 PM |

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