East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is going to cause serious security concern to China.
With the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, it is well anticipated that the country will soon into the grips of Taliban and other radical Islamic terrorist groups. It may be mentioned here that, ever-since Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, while Pakistan succeeded in establishing its massive interactions with the mujahidin including Taliban, India too has been successful in establishing its own influence in the country.
It may be mentioned here that, on July 6, the Pentagon announced that US withdrawal from Afghanistan is more than 90 percent complete – two months before the September 11 deadline. United States has vacated Bagram Airbase near Kabul city, which was a primary military base for launching what was called America’s war on terror.
According to Afghan affairs experts, this development comes amid the Taliban’s persistent efforts to capture a key city in western Afghanistan. Reports suggest militants now control almost a third of the country with making new gains every day.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s once again going under Taliban control poses gravest threat to a number of nations, including China. The international community is concerned about the Taliban making a rapid advance before western troops leave Afghanistan, which will then become a breeding ground for other terrorist groups and organizations like Daesh (commonly known as Islamic State) and Al-Qaeda.
Sharing similar concerns, China views the deteriorating situation as a catalyst to strengthen the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Uyghur separatist organization, fearing security implications of a Taliban regime.
ETIM, also known as Turkistan Islamic Party, is an extremist group founded by Uyghur jihadists in Western China that seeks to create an independent East Turkestan state to replace China’s Xinjiang.
The UN Security Council designated ETIM as a terrorist organization in 2002 for its links with Al-Qaeda. But in 2020, the US removed the group from its list of foreign terrorist organizations, a move vehemently condemned by China.
According to the Asia Times, ETIM may have increased its logistical and financial resources, manpower, and weaponry since the removal of the terrorist tag by Washington in 2020.
A recent UNSC report confirms the presence of more than 500 ETIM fighters in different parts of northern Afghanistan, including Badakhshan, Kunduz, and Takhar provinces that connect China’s Xinjiang province via a narrow Wakhan Corridor.
The report also names Abdul Haq (Memet Amin Memet) as the group’s leader and highlights the outfit’s transnational agenda to target Xinjiang in China, Chitral in Pakistan as well as the vital China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
According to media reports, the top officials of CPEC are even mulling to shift to a safer location in Pakistan given the political instability and security of the area.
China also fears the possibility of other jihadist organizations supporting ETIM’s “Uyghur -cause” to carry forward their “Islamic” agenda.
In 2017, the Islamic State released a video of Chinese Uyghur Muslims threatening to return home and “shed blood like rivers”, as reported by Asia Times.
East Turkestan is a term of Russian origin referring to the territorial region of Xinjiang province in China.
Historically, the region was under the Chinese empire but regularly faced opposition from secessionist movements and local rebellions from different groups like Uyghurs, Tajiks and Kazaks who ethnically relate more to the Turkic population of other Central Asian republics than the Han Chinese.
After the fall of China’s Qing dynasty in 1912, local separatists continued to fight for an independent state. In 1933, the Uyghurs managed to establish an East Turkestan Republic (ETR) but were defeated by China’s Kuomintang forces.
After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, communist leader Mao Zedong designated Xinjiang as the “Uyghur Autonomous Region” as a bargain for separatists to surrender.
Political violence and independence movement again picked up in the region in the wake of Soviet disintegration and more than 160 people were killed between 1990 and 2001, reportedly carried out by ETIM, an Islamic fundamentalist organization.
At present, an East Turkestan government-in-exile is based out of Washington, formed under the leadership of Anwar Yusuf Turani in 2001.
To mark the 12th anniversary, the Chinese President Xi Jinping conferred an honorary counter-terrorism title on a special operations squadron of the armed police forces in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, state-run daily Global Times reported.
India has been at the forefront in giving instigation to radical Islamic jihadists in China’s Xinjiang province. It is likely that Indian authorities may now use their decade-old interactions with Taliban and other jihadist groups inside Afghanistan, while it may also secretly join hands with East Turkestan Islamic Movement with the agenda of increasing jihadist activities in China’s Xinjiang province.
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