Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The knife attacks in (Chinese) Kashmir

Time flies so fast that most of us have now forgotten that when MH-370 vanished into thin air one of the first questions raised was about the possible role of Uighur militants (there had been a vicious knife attack in Kunming in March, also an Iranian passenger was found to be traveling on a false passport). Well, the knife attacks in China are not stopping, so how will the Chicoms respond? Yes, with overwhelming force, but that does not seem to deter the Islamists.

It is understandable that China does not attract much criticism from Islamic nations on the Uighur problem. This is primarily because Pakistan which benefits significantly from China in all spheres- economic and military in particular- would not like to annoy Big Brother.

The problem now is that Big Brother expects Pakistan to patrol its jihadists so they are not attacking Chinese assets in China and Pakistan (and now in Afghanistan). That is an almost impossible task, since as far as the Islamists are concerned there is no difference between Kashmir and Xinjiang, the infidel rule needs to be replaced with Sharia rule.

If anything the repression in Xinjiang is at a higher level, Chicoms are forcing Uighurs to abandon islamic customs. Even more worrisome is the fact that China has flooded the province with Han migrants to the point where there is actually a Han majority. Here we have  to thank the infamous Article 370, which protects the rights of the Kashmiris against migrant invasions from Bihar and UP.
The knife attack in which six people were injured in southern China is the third high-profile incident at a Chinese train station in a little more than two months. It seems that China is in the grip of a mounting terrorist campaign, with militants apparently able to strike when and where they want.

Last week a railway station in Urumqi was attacked with suicide bombs and knives, with at least three killed and dozens injured. The authorities quickly attributed that attack to Uighur separatists. More jarring, the attack came at the end of President Xi Jinping's trip to that city for the explicit purpose of announcing a "get tough" policy on terrorism.
That incident followed close on the heels of an eerily similar March attack in Kunming. Details are sketchy, but in that brutal episode approximately nine militants wielding knives stormed the city's railway station, killing at least 28 and wounding about a hundred.
Only a few months before, that there was a high-profile attack on the most visible symbol of Chinese political authority – Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In that case, aggrieved Uighurs apparently drove across the country and mowed down tourists at the edge of the square with their Jeep before setting it on fire.

While these incidents have set China on edge, they have received relatively little attention from the outside world. Western analysts tend to draw on the "low-tech" weaponry and comparatively low death tolls to conclude that these are minor incidents. Even specialists often miss the potential for broader international implications, seeing only an internal separatist struggle.

Both of these instincts are wrong. Attacks like those in Urumqi, Kunming and Beijing are serious, and their increasing sophistication indicates a growing threat. If they continue to escalate, there is potential for far-reaching consequences for China and the world.

Despite their reliance on relatively unsophisticated weapons, Uighur militants seem to have already mastered some of the most challenging problems that extremist organisations face. The ability to conduct complex, co-ordinated attacks like those in Urumqi and Kunming are hallmarks of organisational strength.

Timing an attack to coincide with Xi's visit to Xinjiang, explicitly to demonstrate his toughness on the separatist question, is a clear act of defiance and it set Chinese social media ablaze before the censors stepped in. The attackers dramatically undermined any remaining confidence that the authorities have this situation under control.

Indiscriminate attacks on civilians always warrant attention, but the evolving violence in China has under-appreciated potential to develop into global concern. When al-Qaida struck the United States on 9/11, it reshaped global politics, culminating in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

More troubling still, some of the most militant among the Uighurs have been active at high levels with jihadi organisations fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the west winds down its presence in Afghanistan, it would be prudent to anticipate that these militants will return their attention to China.