On February 28, the Xinjiang province of China abutting on Pakistan’s northern frontier of Gilgit-Baltistan, experienced yet another bout of violence. A group of assailants knifed 10 people to death on a street of Yecheng city. The local police shot and killed two of them as the Chinese foreign ministry announced that the attackers were terrorists and that they had “attacked innocent civilians, cruelly killing several of them in an appalling manner”.
The nationality original to Xinjiang is called Uighur and is Muslim by faith. Its exiled representatives in Germany had their own version of the incident, calling the assailants people made desperate because they “could no longer bear China’s systematic repression, and have been denied outlets for peaceful protest”. The problem is ethnic-religious and relates to the universal phenomenon of sub-identities inside a nation state, with some dubious input from the outside. The Chinese recipe for the problem’s solution is rapid economic growth, nation-building and prosperity of the common man. Some of the elements are familiar to us. The Uighur community feels overwhelmed by the movement of the majority Han Chinese into the province; and there are clear ethnic-linguistic markers that the resulting contrast of talents throws up as contributors to intra-state conflict. The Chinese solution is also well accepted.
In fact, one reason we give for the unrest in our own province of Balochistan is long periods of neglect and lack of economic progress. While it is questionable that India and the US have and are fomenting trouble in Balochistan, China is clear that the Xinjiang violence despite high growth has been fanned by religious-****** movements percolating in two neighbouring states: Pakistan and Kazakhstan. Both states have joined the Shanghai Forum organised by China to prevent the rise of terrorism in the region. Pakistan has taken effective action against al Qaeda-linked elements in our Tribal Areas attracting Uighur recruits from Xinjiang. The Chinese authorities have recognised this and have been very understanding, despite capturing local terrorists who confessed to receiving training in Waziristan. Like Balochistan, Xinjiang is mineral-rich and is strategically crucial to the security of China. Like India (Assam) and Pakistan, movements of separatism have been based on the collective awareness — or illusion — about the minerals as pillars of a new sustainable state. The truth, however, is that such states are not viable for other reasons, as Sardar Ataullah Mengal recently tried to tell the Baloch rebels. What is viable is economic development mixed liberally with autonomy. And this is what Pakistan seems to aim at in this late hour. However, in China, despite development and autonomy the nature of terrorism, because of its religious base, refuses to accept the modern state.