By Zia Ur Rehman

May 23, 2014

Militants from the Taliban and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), as well as Sindhi insurgents may separately target Chinese interests in Pakistan, security analysts and governmental officials fear.

According to a source in the Pakistani Taliban’s media cell, influential Uzbek-speaking militant leader Mufti Abu Zar al-Burmi has recently released a video message directing all Taliban groups to target Chinese interests in the region. “The pullout of US forces from Afghanistan is a victory of the Taliban movement in the region, and our next target will be China,” al-Burmi said in the video, directing all Taliban groups to carry out attacks on Chinese embassies and companies and kidnap or kill Chinese nationals.

Pakistani and Chinese national flags flying at the Khunjerab Pass –

Several major Chinese investing groups are involved in large projects in Pakistan, including the economic corridor between Pakistan and China including the port at Gwadar, the largest nuclear power plant in Karachi, and a China-based cellphone company’s 4G operations, a Karachi-based business analyst said.

A May 2 report in Dawn newspaper cites intelligence officials saying the TTP and Al Qaeda had planned to kidnap foreigners, especially Chinese nationals, working at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC)’s project at Chashma in the Mianwali district of Punjab.

On May 19, a Chinese tourist was abducted in the Garah Mehmood area of Dera Ismail Khan

On May 19, a Chinese tourist, Hong Xu Dong, was abducted in the Garah Mehmood area of Dera Ismail Khan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. No one has claimed responsibility so far.

The ETIM, which is also described as the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP), is an Islamist militant group based in China’s Xinjiang province. Reports suggest that ETIM-linked militants have been operating in the Pakistani tribal areas since 2009. China has asked Pakistani authorities several times to do more to end the presence of Uighur Islamic militants in its tribal areas. Several videos released by the ETIM included strong evidence for claims that the group is running training camps in Pakistani territory.

Security officials and analysts fear that the Uighur militants of the ETIM, who are working closely with the TTP and other local and foreign militants, could make security problems for Chinese investors in the region. “The ETIM is working very closely with the TTP and other Taliban groups in Pakistani tribal areas and their cooperation could target Chinese interests in the country especially in Karachi,” said a Peshawar-based security analyst who monitors activities of foreign militants in the region.

In an interview with Reuters conducted in Pakistani tribal areas in March, Uighur leader Abdullah Mansour vowed to carry out more attacks on Chinese interests. A report citing Pakistani intelligence officials said that there were around 400 Uighur militants based around the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, sharing sanctuaries with other foreign militants, especially Uzbek fighters belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

China has asked Pakistan several times to do more to end the presence of Uighur Islamic militants in its
tribal areas

A number of ETIM leaders have been killed in US drone strikes or attacks by Pakistani security forces in North Waziristan. The group’s head Hassan Mashom was killed by Pakistani troops in 2003 while his successor, Abdul Haq Turkistani, was killed in a drone attack in Mir Ali in May 2010. Abdul Shakoor Turkistani, who had replaced Abdul Haq and was killed in a US drone attack on his training camp in Shawal Valley of North Waziristan in August 2012, was also the Al Qaeda chief for the FATA region of Pakistan.

But the threats to Chinese interests in the country are not only from Islamic militants.

Sindhi nationalist parties are also concerned about the Chinese government’s large-scale investment in the proposed city of Zulfiqarabad in the Thatta district. The Pakistan People’s Party-led Sindh government says that it is a futuristic project which will transform the area into an economic hub creating jobs for the locals, and would have all the facilities of a modern city. However, Sindhi nationalist parties and civil society organizations who are opposing the project are of view that it would turn Sindhis into a numeric minority in their own province. “The PPP may be saying that it would be a global project and there will be employment, but not for Sindhis, only for Mohajirs, Punjabis and Pashtuns,” said Munir Khaskheli, a Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) leader in Karachi.

Analysts fear that Sindhu Desh Liberation Army (SDLA), a banned Sindhi separatist group led by Shafi Burfat and involved in a number of bomb attacks on government installations, could target Chinese interests.

In 2012, JSQM, the province’s leading nationalist party, ran a campaign to boycott Chinese products, and later planned a protest rally outside the Chinese consulate in Karachi which was stopped by the police as it cordoned off the area and blocked all roads leading to the consultate.

“We are expressing our concerns against China for its investment in the controversial Zulfiqarabad project, but in peaceful and democratic ways,” said Khaskheli. “But there are some rebels who believe in an armed struggle and could target Chinese interests in the province.”

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