Note: I have written this piece in response to a question from my friend Asif Mall, regarding a news item published in Wall Street Journal with title ‘China Points to Pakistan in Attack’
The links of separatist Uighur Muslim group ETIM with Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Uzbek militant groups is no secret. Authorities in Pakistan and China have this knowledge since the beginning of these ties. I learnt of it while I was a computer science student at International Islamic University, Islamabad, back in 2001, after NATO launched its attacks in Afghanistan. The university in those days was a hub of jihadi groups and served as a launching pad for the militants wishing to join war against the West.
Among others there were Muslim students from Xingjian, most of whom had come to join fight in Afghanistan. Pakistan and China had no problem with them as long as they fought in Afghanistan, but they had fears that some day the same people could return to China and launch militant activities there. This is why the agencies of both countries kept a close watch on them and kept sharing intelligence.
The problem arose when certain groups of Taliban and Al Qaeda turned against Pakistan and sought their own state within the state, and some Chinese Muslim fighters either happened to be on their side or joined them. These groups have been training militants in camps situated in tribal areas, where the state writ is either weak or non-existent, to use them against Pakistan. And the Chinese trained at these camps are returning to China and fighting against the Han people to achieve separation from China. As you can read in the news item you referred to me that Pakistan handed over some militants to China.
When Xingjian officials said that the militants involved in recent attacks in the state were possibly trained inside Pakistan, they were just telling their people a truth. It was not meant to blame Pakistan government for something, rather assure their citizens that they know about their origins, and can handle them.
As for Pakistan, it has been extending full information its agencies have about these people and carrying out crackdowns on them whenever possible. If anyone suggests that the Chinese confidence in Pakistan has been shaken, it is simply untrue; this is what I can tell you from my experience.
I would suggest you to check out follow up coverage of the incident by the Chinese media. Also, note that ISI chief was in China when the Xingjian attacks took place.
Pak-China relations are so deep rooted and well-established that such small incidents cannot have any significant impact on these ties, which to my understanding are based on vital strategic needs. As these needs are to remain there, so is the warmth in relationship.
--By Mahmood Sadiq