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- Saturday, April 27, 2013 - From Print Edition


ISLAMABAD: In a worrisome development for Islamabad, which could strain Pak-China relations, the al-Qaeda-linked Chinese rebels have released a videotape showing young children being trained to use weapons at a camp of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in North Waziristan tribal agency on the Pak-Afghan border.


Islami Awazi, the propaganda wing of ETIM, which is also called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) and seeks the establishment of an independent Muslim state of East Turkistan, has released the training video.


The ETIM operates from its sanctuaries in North Waziristan with the help of al-Qaeda. The group, largely dominated by the Uighurs, claims that the Chinese are a colonial force in the Muslim majority Xinjiang province of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region which many Uighurs prefer to call East Turkestan.


The Uighurs are Turkic Central Asian people who live primarily in the western Chinese province. Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, is home to an estimated eight million Uighurs who are opposed to the increasing presence and economic grip of the Han Chinese in the region. A key source of tension between Beijing and Islamabad that has surfaced in recent years is China’s rising concern over the Uighur separatists receiving shelter and training in the largely lawless Waziristan region.


To pacify China’s concerns, Pakistan has already clamped down on Uighur settlements besides proceedings against the religious schools in Waziristan which are being used as training grounds for the Chinese militants.


When 20 people were killed in a terrorist attack in the Xinjiang province in July 2011, the Chinese authorities had criticised Pakistan’s failure to crack down on the Uighur rebels as well as their training camps. The Chinese media alleged that those who conducted the 2011 attacks in the Kashgar city had received training in the Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan.


Well placed diplomatic circles in Islamabad say the release of the video by the Chinese separatists would exert further pressure on Islamabad to uproot the ETIM/TIP network from Waziristan, as had been repeatedly promised in the past, especially after the July 2011 terror attack in Kashgar. In the training video, the children, some of whom appear to be no older than six, are shown firing handguns, AK-47 assault rifles and a machine-gun from various positions.


At one point, 13 Uighur children are seen firing AK-47s while standing and lying down. As the children fire their weapons, the black flag of the Taliban and a light blue banner used by the Turkistan Islamic Party can be seen flying in the background.


The video is similar to others released by the al-Qaeda-linked jehadi groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic Jehad Group (IJG) and the Fidayeen-e-Islam (FI). These groups are running training camps in North and South Waziristan for the youngsters as well as the children are first indoctrinated and then trained in terrorism.


The Waziristan-based ETIM/TIP leaders also hold senior positions in al-Qaeda, just like Abdul Haq Turkistani, the slain chief of the Turkistan Islamic Party, who was a member of al-Qaeda’s Majlis-e-Shura and was killed in a military raid on his compound in Mir Ali, North Waziristan in February 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 al-Qaeda chief for the Fata of Pakistan.


To be continued