The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is a militant organisation, which seeks to fight against Chinese excesses and abuse of human rights in the Xinjiang province. The ETIM comprises of Uighur fighters, who have one goal in their lives – to liberate Xinjiang from the clutches of the Chinese Communist Party. Over 1 million Uighur Muslims have been dumped like cattle by China in what it calls “internment camps”, but which really bear an eerie resemblance to Hitler’s concentration camps. The CCP knows very well that the ETIM is not dead, and that with the growth of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the growth of ETIM is slated to follow a similar trajectory.
Here’s where the equations begin changing. The Taliban was supposed to help the ETIM in its cause of liberating Xinjiang. Instead, the Taliban has turned itself into a lapdog of China. Beijing has bought the Taliban, and now, the CCP controls a puppet regime in Afghanistan. The Taliban is very committed to winning international recognition. The gun-wielding monkeys suddenly find themselves in possession of an entire country. The West will not be granting recognition to the Taliban anytime soon. However, the organisation is in dire need of some friends who can help it run Afghanistan. China has, therefore, flown in for the Taliban’s rescue.
Meanwhile, the ETIM feel betrayed. Intelligence reports from Afghanistan and Turkey are indicating that the ETIM is taking a very big step, and is negotiating an alliance with the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, which is the South Asian equivalent of ISIS. The ETIM is also beginning to fear a crackdown coming its way, effectuated by the Taliban at the behest of China. Conservative figures indicate at least 500 ETIM fighters are currently in Afghanistan and its border, with most of them being concentrated in Badakshan province in north Afghanistan which links with Xinjiang in China via the Wakhan corridor.
The ETIM fear that the Taliban will act against them and hand them over to the MSS, which is the Chinese secret service. The ETIM has been estimated by the UN Security Council to have up to 3,500 fighters. However, the ETIM’s goal to liberate Xinjiang and carve out a separate East Turkestan is not what entirely worries China. The more concerning factor is the impact a strong ETIM can have on China’s BRI projects not just within China, but all across the region.
Four of China’s six so-called Silk Road networks, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), emanate from or pass through Xinjiang. These roads aim to connect China with Russia, Central, Southern, and Western Asia, reaching the Mediterranean Sea. In what comes as very worrying news for China, a United Nations Security Council report confirmed that ETIM, apart from basing itself out of Afghanistan, is also pursuing a “transnational agenda.”
It must be remembered that the Islamic State-KP recently attacked Kabul, which resulted in the deaths of 13 US military servicemen. A series of bomb blasts rocked Kabul and its airport only recently, and the world was horrified to see visuals of the aftermath of such attacks, in which over 100 people were killed. Needless to say, the Islamic State-KP is stronger than many would have thought, and if the ETIM is negotiating an alliance with it to take on China, Beijing is in for quite some trouble.
What is important to mention here is the fact that while the Taliban’s top leadership might be giving China the impression of cooperation, the ground-level leadership and commanders of the jihadist organisation do not really share the sentiment of breaking ties with groups like ETIM, as they share a broader religious camaraderie with each other. Xinjiang could therefore witness an upsurge in attacks against the CCP and its forces really soon, as the ETIM and the Islamic State-KP join hands to liberate Uighur Muslims.