China worry of Taliban commitments on ETIM

The Afghan Taliban spokesperson said in an exclusive interview with the Chinese English
daily the Global Times, that many ETIM members had been told to leave Afghanistan. The
statement drew immediate attention from China, with Chinese authorities raising concerns
over the fate of the so called Uyghur separatist militant group after Taliban took control of
China has consistently exaggerated threats from ETIM claiming that there might be several
hundreds of ETIM members staying in Afghanistan. The Taliban statement has raised
doubts over sincerity of Taliban regime, with China now wary on whether the Afghan
Taliban will keep its promise to crack down on the ETIM remains uncertain.
According to Chinese media reports, in an exclusive interview with the Global Times on
September 9, the Afghan Taliban’s spokesperson Suhail Shaheen claimed that ETIM
members had left Afghanistan because the Taliban had categorically told them that
Afghanistan can’t be used to launch attacks against other countries. However, Shaheen did
not mention the exact number of ETIM members that had left and number of those who
are still in the country.
Since the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul, Chinese propaganda machinery has gone in the
overdrive to highlight its perceived threat from ETIM, and branded it as “the most
dangerous and extremist terrorist groups that aim to split the Xinjiang region from China,
the ETIM has been accountable for hundreds of terror attacks in China, especially in
Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region”.
Chinese authorities have long accused the ETIM of developing close ties with international
terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda but have offered little proof of their activities.
China has over the past few decades, claimed that ETIM militants have scattered across
Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and other countries in the Middle East, Central Asia and
Southeast Asia, however the elements of ETIM has not been involved in any major terrorist
strike in the recent past.
China claims quoting Pakistan sources that there may be around 200 to 300 ETIM members
in Afghanistan. Since Pakistan and China were the first countries to recognize the Taliban
regime, the ETIM fighters are reportedly relocated out of Afghanistan, to Pakistan,
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, China is wary that Taliban which supported the ETIM at the
border has provided safe passage to these fighters instead of handing them over to China.
Shaheen’s remarks have come to haunt the Chinese diplomats and security experts. China
being at the forefront of engaging with Taliban appears to be in shock at Afghan Taliban
backtracking in its commitments to China at the very beginning of the newly found
relationship, that too on the issue at the core of the so called Chinese security interests.
Despite Afghan Taliban aware of location of ETIM members and are constantly in contact,
the Chinese authorities have been kept in the dark.
In response to Shaheen’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian took
serious note of this issue, when he told a press conference on September 10 that China has
raised issue related to ETIM with the Afghan Taliban on multiple occasions, and hoped
that Afghan Taliban will honor their commitments, seize ties with ETIM, and take effective
measures to resolutely crack down on these terrorist organizations within its territory.
China is now wary on whether the Afghan Taliban will cut its ties with the ETIM remains
to be seen, given their complicated relations. This may cast obstacles for future relations
between China and the Afghan Taliban.
Despite Chinese concerns on Taliban’s relations with ETIM, the facts on the ground show
that the so called threat from Turkic militant group comprising of Uyghur minorities from
Xinjiang to China is exaggerated. The Chinese authorities are completely in control of the
security situation in the restive region of Xinjiang. Chinese oppressive policies such as
forced persecutions, mass arrests, indoctrination of communist values, sinicization of
religion, banning Islamic rituals, imposing cultural and linguistic restrictions and making
demographic changes, resulting in ethnic Uyghurs being scuttled to minority has
considerably improved security situation in China’s favour. The scope of militant attack
has vanished, with no significant violent incident taking place since 2014.
Meanwhile, the gamble China took to bring Afghan Taliban on its side may be failing at
least in terms of finding favours on ETIM issue, as Taliban checkmated China over its
ETIM ‘brothers in arms’.

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