By Amir Mir
LAHORE: Pakistan has extradited 10 arrested terrorists belonging to the pro-independence Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) to China, an Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed to The News on Friday.
The spokesman in Islamabad, confirming the extradition, said the ETIM militants had actually been arrested after they attacked Pakistani security forces in the tribal areas. Ten of the over two-dozen arrested Chinese were handed over to Beijing after it was established that they belonged to the ETIM, which Beijing describes as an armed secessionist group with bases in Xingjian-Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in the northwest of China, and in Pakistan.
The extradition of the Chinese militants came as a result of three agreements signed between Pakistan and China to curb militancy and extremism. During interrogations by the Pakistani authorities, most of the ETIM militants had refuted terrorism charges, saying they were members of a Chinese separatist movement founded by Turkish speaking ethnic majority of over eight million people whose traditional homeland lies in Xingjian Uighur Autonomous Region in northwest China.
According to interior ministry sources in Islamabad, the 10 Chinese militants, who had been arrested from the country’s tribal areas, were extradited following the Chinese President Hu Jintao’s request to Islamabad for taking stern action against the fugitive Chinese militants hiding in Pakistani tribal areas and running terrorist activities in China.
While using diplomatic channels to approach President Zardari, sources said, President Hu had expressed his concerns over the presence of the ETIM in the Pakistani tribal areas, saying they might threaten the security of over 5,000 Chinese nationals working on different development projects in Pakistan.
East Turkistan had maintained a measure of independence until early 1950s when Mao’s victorious rebel armies turned to the peripheries and began securing Chinese borders, capturing Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet and East Turkistan. The native Uighurs resisted the Chinese occupation until the 1960s, but failed to win support from neighbouring Muslim states due to their fractured tribal nature.
Since the mid-1980s, however, an active pan-Islamic movement has been trying to cement the opposing groups together against the Chinese occupation of their homeland, pressing for an independent East Turkistan state. Yet Beijing, which views Xingjian as an invaluable asset due to its crucial strategic location near Central Asia and its large oil and gas reserves, is adopting all possible measures to quell the separatist movement.
The Chinese authorities had been blaming the Uighur separatists for sporadic bombings and shootouts in the past, causing an atmosphere of insecurity and fear in China. Due to intense Chinese lobbying against the ETIM, it was listed a terrorist organisation by the United States as well as the United Nations in 2002.
But a subsequent 2003 report by the Amnesty International had observed the evidence that formed the basis for the UN decision remains unclear. The report further said China continues to make little distinction between the Uighurs involved in peaceful or violent nationalist activities, branding them as ‘separatists’ or ëterrorists’.
According to some sources in Islamabad, the Chinese militants were extradited despite opposition by the Amnesty International. In March 2009, Tim Parritt, Deputy Director of the Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme, had observed that whatever these EMIT militants were accused of, the risks posed to them were extremely grave, if forcibly returned to China.
He had maintained that under the international law, states were obliged not to expel, return or extradite any person to a country where they risk torture or other ill-treatment. However, the Pakistani authorities insist that all those who had been extradited to Beijing were involved in terrorist activities both in China and in Pakistan and had also developed links with al-Qaeda network in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
They said the fact that the ETIM militants had extended their network of terrorist activities to Pakistan was evident from a threat they had conveyed to the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, saying they intended to kidnap Chinese diplomats and consular officers stationed in the Pakistani federal capital with a view to highlighting their cause.
The Chinese mission subsequently informed the Pakistani authorities in a letter that some members of the ETIM had already reached Islamabad and planned to kidnap their staffers from the federal capital.
The letter reportedly pointed out that terrorist groups located in Pakistan, including al-Qaeda, had been providing support to the ETIM activists for the likely kidnappings. Subsequent investigations had established that the anonymous threat was issued by none other than the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and that the would-be kidnappers had first travelled to Jalalabad in Afghanistan to finalise their plans. (The News, 6 June 2009)