|History and Biodata
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is a Muslim separatist group founded by militant Uighurs, members of the Turkic-speaking ethnic majority in northwest China’s Xinjiang province. Experts say reliable information about ETIM is hard to come by, and they disagree about the extent of ETIM’s terrorist activities and ties to global terrorism. Xinjiang province, where the group is based, is a vast, sparsely populated area that shares borders with eight countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. The first mention of ETIM surfaced around 2000, when a Russian newspaper reported that Osama bin Laden had pledged funds to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and ETIM during a 1999 meeting in Afghanistan. Reportedly founded by Hasan Mahsum, a Uighur from Xinjiang’s Kashgar region, ETIM has been listed by the State Department as one of the more extreme separatist groups. It seeks an independent state called East Turkestan that would cover an area including parts of Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). After Mahsum’s assassination by Pakistani troops in 2003 during a raid on a suspected al-Qaeda hideout near the Afghanistan border, the group was led by Abdul Haq, who was reportedly killed in Pakistan in 2010. In August 2014, Chinese state media released a report stating that Memetuhut Memetrozi, a co-founder of ETIM who is serving a life sentence in China for his involvement in terrorist attacks, had been indoctrinated in a madrassa in Pakistan. The report, which said Memetuhut had met Mahsum in 1997 and launched ETIM later that year, marked a rare public admission of Pakistani ties to Uighur militancy.
According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, China faces a significant terrorist threat from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, which the Pentagon has repeatedly stressed is home to the “highest concentration” of U.S.-designated terrorist groups.
Gandhara reports that the Taliban is increasingly conquering territory in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan, home to Uighur jihadists from neighboring China’s Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang.
Chinese Uighur terrorists from ETIM, a jihadist organization linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, is known to operate in Badakhshan.
“The number of Uighurs is now over 50, but they are aiming high,” Gul Mohammad Baidar, the deputy provincial governor of Badakhshan, said. “They want to increase their number and then move into China through the Wakhan Corridor.” Baidar noted that terrorists are also crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan.(20180215)
Jurm, Warduj, Yamgan, Tagab, Kuran wa Munjan, Argo, Shuhada, Shahr-e Bezorg, Arghanjkhwah, Yaftal, Ragh and Keshem districts have also become a safe place for insurgents from Central Asia who have been stepping up their activities. Fighters from Central Asia have frequently participated in local battles supporting the Taleban. It is hard to estimate their exact number though and there is a tradition of blaming ‘foreigners’ for security failures and of exaggerating numbers. 50 to 70 foreign families have settled in Jurm, 15 to 20 families in Tagab and around 20 families in Warduj district.(20150914)
A Russian news outlet covering Central Asia, reported that a new Afghan military base would be built in Badakhshan with Chinese funding. General Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said that the Chinese would cover “all material and technical expenses for this base — weaponry, uniforms for soldiers, military equipment and everything else necessary for its functioning.”
Another source from the Afghan Defense Ministry indicated that Beijing’s motivation was the involvement of Uyghur fighters in the Islamic State affiliate operating in Afghanistan. Chinese funding of an Afghan military base in Badakhshan could arguably be seen as part of ensuring regional stability around its projects in Pakistan. If the Chinese are as involved as Waziri suggests, we can expect rumors of actual Chinese military involvement in the region to spike again. Beijing has been cautious to not become militarily involved in conflicts outside its borders, but as China’s interests grow and expand into insecure places, the leadership in Beijing run the risk of being pulled in, even unwillingly.(20180105)