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India Supports East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM)

By Sadaf Sultana & Saman Choudary

As it is duly noted by the realist paradigm that every state in the international system works only to secure its own interests and on the very basis of the national interests, alliances are formed in the international order. The mutually shared interest of two states or groups back the very foundation of cooperation and joint ventures. India as a striving regional power is working to foresee its own national goals and interests. In order to become a regional power, India has outlined a set of hegemonic designs and policies, which it wants to realize through diversified means. Within the South Asia region, India recognizes Pakistan as its key rival and China as its strategic competitor.

From the lens of history, the past events very clearly illustrate that India has longstanding territorial issues with China. India has always felt that it is one step behind China as it can be seen by the picture, portrayed by the Sino-Indian War in 1962. As in the 21st century, states cannot be directly engaged in the territorial wars, subsequently states have developed a strategy of engagement with the rival states in form of proxy wars.

In this aspect, if the South Asian picture is analyzed then it can be seen very clearly that India has always intervened in the neighboring states, by supporting different non-state actors without directly involving itself in the violence. China strongly feels that India is directly involved in creating unrest in its Xinjiang province, also known as East Turkestan. Xinjiang is an autonomous region of china and shares its borders with Mangolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. This region holds a very conflicting dynamics and is a territory marked for Xinjiang dispute.

The dispute holds its ground on a separatist movement as Uyghur separatists and independence movements claim that the region is not a part of China and is illegally under Chinese occupation. The region holds a strategic importance for China as it is closely linked to China’s security equation. Uyghur militants have founded the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and have a very clear agenda of the independence of East Turkestan. ETIM has been designated as a terrorist organization and holds a record of 200 terrorist acts.

China has claimed that India is actively involved in the terror attacks committed by ETIM in the Xinjiang Province. Ironically as always India is playing a blame game in case of China as well. In the month of July, two major terrorist incidents happened in the short time span of two weeks, on 18th July in Hotan and in Kashgar on 30th July 2015. These two incidents created instability in the region and attributively shaking the foundation of Xinjiang Province. Consequently, in the Hotan and Kashgar turmoil, India very openly blamed Pakistan for its involvement in those incidents and tried to play its cards in order to hide its own role in causing those incidents. The evidence suggests that India always adopts a policy of accusation and interestingly the Chinese government categorically stated that Pakistan has no role in the occurrence of these incidents.

Pakistan is actively working stabilize the region, by eliminating terrorist groups, operating in the Pakistani state, through various conventional operations. The government of China has accepted the productive role of Pakistan in catering these elements through Zarb-e-Azab. While on the other hand, India does not come clean and the threat looms on Chinese’s territory in form of Indian involvement.

The international reports suggest that China raised this issue during its ministerial meetings with Indian counterparts in this week starting from 3rd November, 2015. China has got very strong indications that India is financing and training the militant group (ETIM) and is actively involved in creating unrest in Xinjiang province. Moreover, China also got evidence of Indian involvement in Afghanistan by funding Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to counter China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. China is taking this issue very seriously, because these incidents are potential threat to CPEC and has decided to talk with the Indian leadership with concrete proofs. In this respect, China will seek guarantee from Indian government and will compel India to withdraw its support of ETIM and TTP.

In order to become a regional power and to pursue its hegemonic designs, India is actively engaged in all of its neighboring countries. Its chief aim is to create unrest in the neighboring states that could benefit India by not only providing India a functional operating space, in those states behind the scene but also to achieve limited gains. This is clearly indicated in the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan and now in China India is following the similar strategy of exploiting Chinese space through supporting the prevailing non-state actors in its territory. It should be understood by China that India will not restraint from supporting ETIM until and unless this group is serving Indian interests of creating instability and unrest for its important competitor. Being the important strategic partner and influence in the region, China needs to foresee the picture in the broader terms that how India could inflict damage to China’s security interests and should adopt a policy of constraining Indian involvement within Chinese territory through practical means of encountering India and eliminating its presence.

The authors are Visiting Research Fellows at a Copenhagen-based think tank.