There is a potent mix of Islamic extremism, cultural isolation, political instability and crime in Thailand’s Southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala that have led to over 6,000 murders and double as many injuries from various terrorist acts over the last 11 years.
Many have pointed the finger at radicalization in the Islamic schools (pondoks) as part of the problem because of the increasing influence of the intolerant Wahhabi sect that funds these institutions.
‘The war in southern Thailand is long-running and threatens to spread.’ “On May 16 this year, a bomber walked unnoticed into a toy store in the main street of Yala, a town in southern Thailand only a few hours’ drive from the country’s main tourist beaches, and left a shopping bag packed with explosives. Minutes later, a mobile telephone in the bag detonated the bomb that ripped through the store, one of three dozen blasts over three days in May that injured 22 people and terrified the town’s population of 65,000…More than 180 teachers have been killed (and government schools burned down) mostly because they are seen as a symbol of Thai rule…Don Pathan, the independent consultant who lives in Yala town and has been following the conflict for 20 years, says he has been told a council of about a dozen Muslim clerics presides over the insurgency.The clandestine cell structure appears to be deliberately set up in such a way that members may not be personally acquainted with others under the overall command and operate on a need-to-know basis. The insurgents have no political wing, leaving them with no forum to publicly air their goals… Militants have recruited children as young as 14, according to Child Soldiers International….Eighty-three year-old Buddhist Klean Sangam-pai says for decades Buddhists and Muslims lived happily side by side in her village in Pattani. But in 2004 militants shot her son dead and three years later beheaded her husband and torched his body and their family house.”
It is no coincidence that the rising lawlessness and violence along the Malaysian border are committed by radicalized Malay speaking Muslims who form the majority of the population and seek independence from Thai laws and authority. As the majority of the populations in these provinces are Muslim, terror does not take the form of indiscriminate bombings and attacks against civilian targets but rather against government institutions such as police, army and schools and also targeted assassinations of Non-Muslims by black clad terrorists. The violent Southern Malay speaking (Pattani Malay/Jawi) Muslims of Thailand (44% of the total Muslim population of 7 million out of a total Thai population of 65 million) are to be contrasted with the Northern Thai Muslims (56%) who are Thai speaking, moderate and integrated into Thai society.
The worry for the Thai authorities is that the Southern insurgents are now getting training and support from the global Wahhabi Salafi petro dollar ‘Islamic awakening’ terrorists through their SE Asian affiliates such as JI in Indonesia. This often plays out in Southern extremists demanding that education in schools be Islamic, in Arabic or Malay and resist Thai language as culturally anti-Islam. One of the modern drivers of the violent conflict is that thousands of Thai Muslim students (follow the example of their cult hero Haji Sulong who was indoctrinated in Mecca) go overseas to study in radical Sunni educational facilities in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Cairo and Indonesia and so get ‘infected’/indoctrinated by the Wahhabi puritanical and intolerant strain of Islam. They return as radical hate preacher imams (ustas/ustaz/Tok Gurus) such as Mahamu Mama aka Pador Mamu to set up radical mosques and Islamist schools (pondoks). Incredibly 80% of all students in these three Southern Thailand provinces attend a religious school (pondok) guaranteeing instability in the region for generations to come.
According to this news site, a threatening letter sent to a Buddhist teacher in southern Thailand. The translation reads:
“Kru Bow Kru Koy Kru Kai [the name of the teacher], the Thai Buddhist get out. Don’t work here. Not guarantee for safety. Go to teach at Krongpinang at Nibongchanoopatum. We know and can follow where you are, what you teach, and how you go. We, Pattani state, do not want Thai Buddhists teachers. This is the first warning. You are also the Thai Buddhist [Kafir Siam]. We are Allah people and don’t get involved with them. Get out. Allah protects people who believe in Allah only.”
It is therefore not unusual to see monks protected by Thai military in these Southern Thai provinces.
It is little surprise that when Muslim students return to their Southern Thai mosques from Wahhabi funded institutions abroad that the rate of bombings, kidnappings, beheadings and shootings have dramatically increased. Just last month another wave of terrorist bomb attacks took place in Yala Province believed to be the work of Hikmat Allah Abadan (Brotherhood of the Eternal Judgment of God).
Mass Wahhabi Salafi radicalization of intellectual elites drives terror in this troubled region channelling regional political discontent into a broader clash of civilization paradigm of the global jihadists.
One center of such destabilization is the religious educational facility called theYala Islamic College founded in 1998. It is funded by International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a Saudi based organization that espouses the intolerant Wahhabi ideology. This facility churns out hate preachers that then go and brainwash Muslim youth in the pondoks into the radical Wahhabi Salafi sect of Islam.
“Since 2001 the civil society in the three southern Thai provinces has experienced a widespread imposition of legalistic Salafi norms and the reality on the ground is today very different from what it was in former southern Thailand.Salafism has heavily eroded Patani cultural identity and current insurgent groups have extreme religious goals, such as an Islamic Caliphate. On 26 July 2009 Abu Yasir Fikri, President of PULO, and the “emir” of the Group of Mujahidin Islam Patani (GMIP), Me Kuteh, agreed to join forces. Abu Yasir Fikri was allowed to speak on behalf of the GMIP on all political issues. The agreement included a section in which they agreed to form a unified military force, the Patani Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA would be commanded by the First Deputy Military Commander of the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO). On 18 April 2009, PULO outlined a solution to conflict at the OICsTwelfth Meeting of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts to consider the Conditions of Muslim Communities and Minorities in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.” (Note OIC: Organization of the Islamic Conference changed its name to Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2011). Taken from South Thailand Insurgency
Terrorists use pondoks such as Yuwa Muslim School in Pattani province as centres of radicalization and support. In January 2015 Thai military had to shoot three terrorists using that facility.
Puritanical hate text books funded by Wahhabis now proliferate among the Southern Thai Muslims. One example is the notorious ‘Berjihad di Pattani’.The text was based on writings of Sayyid Qutb Maulana Abul al Maududi and the al-Farida al Gha’iba by Muhammad Farraj (the text that inspired the Jihadist murderers of President Sadat of Egypt in 1981).It is published in Kelentan, Malaysia and uses selective texts from the Quran to extol violent jihad against all non-Sunni people. The book directs true Muslims to even kill their parents if they do not fight in the way of Allah by opposing the Thai authorities, Buddhist monks and Thai educational facilities and teachers and as jihadi warriors joining the religious war against non-Muslim people.
The majority of moderate Muslims in Thailand’s North are resisting this perto-dollar extremist Wahhabi takeover of Islam in the South. They publish counter narratives to try and inoculate Muslim youth from Wahhabi/Salafi radicalization. The anti-radical text ‘Facts about the Distortion of Islamic Teachings as Appeared in The Struggle for Pattini’, is an example of this heroic effort.
What is happening in Southern Thailand is but a part of a global problem associated with the spread of an intolerant and puritanical strain of Islam, the Wahhabi/Salafi. Whilst the Wahhabi schools do not teach bomb making 101, they certainly espouse an ideology of bomb thinking.
” Contemporary Islam is witnessing a crisis of authority both in religious and sociopolitical arenas. This is being caried out by the clashing of the puritans (comprising fundamentalists, militants, extremists, radicals, fanatics and jihadists) and the moderate (consisting of modernists, progressives, and reformers) sections of the Muslim community all over the world.
The modern phenomenon of Islamic resurgence seeks to bring back Islamic values, practices, institutions and law back into the lives of Muslims. It seeks tp re-create an Islamic ethos, an Islamic social order, at the vortex of which is the human being guided by the Quran and the Sunnah. This phenomenon is reflected in an increase in the use of Arabic religious terminology, wearing of Arabicized attire by males, donning of the hijab by women, segregation between the sexes and a decrease in interreligious communication combined with an urgent urge to establish an Islamic state in the case of Muslim majorities and an Islamic society in the case of Muslim minorities….
Historically, Islam in Thailand has been of the syncretistic type (Kuam Tua (Malay)/Khana kau (Thai) which involved the intermingling of local practices with normative Islam. It had been tolerant…but this has changed gradually (into) Salafi-Wahhabi oriented Islam (Kuam Muda (Malay)/ Khana mai (Thai). (The Wahhabi influence started) in 1926 with the arrival to Bangkok of Ahmad Wahab (an Indonesian who studied Wahhabism in Mecca but who was exiled by the Dutch from returning to Indonesia). (This hard line strain merged in the 1960’s with the growing Salafist movements such as ) Young Muslim Association of Thailand….In the 1970’s, the spread of the Saudi petro-dollar sponsored program of Islamic resurgence led to the emergence of the Thai Salafi reformism with Saudi Wahhabism resulting in the gradual marginalization of the khana kau section of the Muslim community. ..The first instance of Salafi-Wahhabi reformist ideas coming to Southern Thailand was with Haji Sulong who was a Malay Msulim…educated in Mecca…Islamic resurgence has been a continuing phenomenon within the Malay speaking Muslims of Southern Thailand until today…with the aim of establishing a pure Islamic society through religious activism and proselytism. Wahhabi reformers such as Dr. Ismail Lufti and his Yala Islamic College (who eschews any nomenclature of ‘Wahhabi’ and prefers to call his movement ‘ahl as-Sunnah’), which is sponsored by Saudi benefactors, have engaged in undertaking the puritan reformation….(characterized by) :
• rigid literalism
• supremacist psychology
• restriction of women
• opposition to rational thought
• hostility to artistic expression
“The Wahhabism (holds) the old ethnocentric belief that only Arabs can represent the one and true authentic Islam…that Bedouin culture (was) the one and only true Islam… (at it’s inception in the Eighteenth century it was a device to reject Turkish dominance)…the Wahhabi’s of today take the culture of Saudi Arabia and universalize it into the singularly true Islam.” Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft Wrestling Islam from the Extremists’, pp 52-53
“The Islamization of the southern conflict occurred in the 1980’s through the external influence of Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan and the impacts of Global Muslim related events such as the wars in Bosnia, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. …the majority of Southern Thai Muslims identify themselves with the Shafii school of ISlamic law and shun Wahhabism…the arrival of Wahhabi Islam in southern Thailand resulted in rifts within local Islam which even caused theological splits within families…the traditional Malay Muslims are resisting puritanical Wahhabi, viewing it as a threat to their culture…(nevertheless the coming of the Wahhabi extremism has contributed to increasing radicalization in religion and politics).”
Impact of Terrorist Organizations in the Middle East
Terrorism is a significant variable in security studies and it is hindering a wide range of safety. Likewise, because of the emotional expansion in psychological militant assaults in the course of the most recent twenty years, have economies have found a way broad ways to work on the political, social, and financial circumstances by diminishing outer struggles and fear monger assaults.
The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) distinguishes psychological oppression as a danger or genuine utilization of illicit or vicious power by a non-administrative individual or gathering to accomplish a political, monetary, strict, or social objective through dread. This is on the grounds that these exercises are intended to make mental impacts and their belongings go past the survivors of fear-monger occurrences.
Definitions of terrorism are dubious because of issues of marking activities as psychological warfare advances the judgment of the entertainers, which might reflect philosophical or political predisposition. Definition of terrorism as characterized by the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) is termed as “a non-state entertainer’s compromised or genuine use of unlawful authority and viciousness to attain a political, monetary, strict, or social purpose through dread, coercion, or scaring.” The people in issue, or the victims of fear-based oppression, have little in common with the fear-mongers, but they address a larger human population whose response the fear-mongers need. It is critical to comprehend that fear mongers are sane entertainers. They have a particular reason for their utilization of savagery and guess that it will make a response from the crowd that they are focusing on.
According to the GTD (2018), the Middle East has accumulated the greatest number of losses on the planet, notably since roughly 2001. Due to challenges such as high unemployment rates, money shortages, single-item financial elements, low levels of per capita payments, and slow monetary growth in the Middle East, these countries must rely on foreign speculation to beat these problems. Given the financial needs of these countries, bringing in an unfamiliar endeavour can play an important role. Differentiating the effects of capital flight and fear- based negative events in these countries might help policymakers improve or maintain business as usual.
In 2016, Iraq had 2,965 terrorist attacks, Afghanistan had 1,342, and Syria had 366. Conversely, there were 30 fear-monger assaults in all of Western Europe around the same time. However, the Global Terrorism Database notes that the number of fear-mongering attacks in Europe is increasing, the situation in the Middle East is far more concerning—a region where assaults are a piece of day-to-day existence for some residents.
The costs of psychological warfare, on the other hand, go far beyond literal annihilation. There are also significant social and financial consequences in the Middle East. ISIS has scoured a large number of historical heritage places in Iraq and Syria. Given their social and historical significance, the worth of many of these locations is incalculable. According to some sources, the sale of stolen antiques on the black market may be ISIS’ second-largest source of revenue, after oil. Some of these antique relics have been discovered in London’s antique shops. UNESCO has added a number of important locations to its list of endangered places due to pillage and obliteration, including six new sites in 2013.
The emotional drop-off in the travel business inside Syria and Iraq adds to these disasters. The Syrian Ministry of Tourism has attempted to aid the tourism business by distributing a series of YouTube recordings. The recordings show Syria’s recognisable blue waves and beautiful seashores, in an effort to rehabilitate a country that many associate solely with war atrocities. In 2011, just before the Syrian civil war reached its most destructive stage, 8.5 million tourists visited the country, contributing almost $8.3 billion to the economy (around 13.5 percent of Syria’s GDP). In 2014, however, only 400,000 tourists visited Syria. Several nations, including Tunisia and Egypt, have seen similar drops in the travel industry following psychological oppressor attacks, causing massive economic damage.
Oil is one of the Middle East’s most basic endeavours, and terrorism has a huge impact on it. Oil offices have been identified by psychological militants in a few Middle Eastern countries, causing supply shortages. Because of ISIS attacks, Iraqi oil production dropped by as much as 320,000 barrels per day at one time. Various oil offices are included in ISIS’ jurisdiction. The profits from oil sales go to the psychological militant group, diverting funds that would otherwise go to public foundation programmes. ISIS held 60% of Syria’s oil reserves in 2014, and the group made approximately $3 million per day from the illegal oil trade. Despite the fact that ISIS has recently lost a lot of territory, it still controls large wells in northern Iraq, preventing Baghdad from collecting much-needed cash.
Psychological oppression has a considerably greater impact on the Middle East’s economy than it does on the European economy. Given that the Middle East has seen the sharpest increase in illegal intimidation over the past 15 years, it appears to be a basic mistake that assessments have not attempted to gauge the absolute cost of psychological tyranny.
Organizations in Western nations which store these investigations are, maybe justifiably, more concerned about the impact of psychological persecution on their own countries. It is simple for the Western world to excuse the expense of psychological warfare in the Middle East since it is both far away and a piece of day-to-day existence for the area’s kin. Interestingly, demonstrations of terrorism in the West are considered perilous abnormalities.
While the actual effects of terrorism in the Middle East should be the primary focus of counterterrorism efforts, the financial consequences should not be disregarded. Estimating the cost of psychological warfare as a means of identifying knowledge gaps and obstacles has merit. Counterterrorism authorities should help alleviate the excessive financial repercussions that fanatic gatherings have on the Middle East by recognising and securing vital territorial income streams like the tourism industry and oil.
The Deadliest Enemies: China’s Overseas Military Bases in Central Asia and Uyghur’s Turkestan Islamic Party
Amid the burgeoning sentimental relationship between Beijing and the resurrected Taliban’s Emirate 2.0, the al Qaeda-affiliated Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) has aggravated its propaganda war against Communist China, hence cleverly concealing its historically faithful jihadi bonds with the Afghan Taliban. Despite the Taliban’s assurances of non-interference in China’s internal affairs, Beijing is building up its military presence in post-Soviet Central Asia. One example is its establishment of military bases in the Af-Pak-China-Tajik strategic arena near the isthmus of the Wakhan Corridor in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan province.
Although China did not camouflage its contentment with the failed US policy in Afghanistan and sought to leverage the Taliban victory as its foreign policy asset, Beijing has faced the Taliban’s elusive stance in curbing the Uyghur jihadists challenges. Today, the Celestial is well conscious of its harsh realities. With the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan, Beijing lost a safe buffer zone in the strategically critical Afghan-Chinese borders area in Badakhshan, which has afforded with free secure area for over 20 years. While the US’s presence in the region disturbed China, it nevertheless provided Beijing with relative stability and protected from the infiltration of global al Qaeda elements into the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Therefore, by showcasing its concern over its instability in the neighboring country, Beijing prefers to pressure Taliban on security matters, claiming that Afghanistan should not become a safe haven for terrorist organizations such as the Turkestan Islamic Party. On October 25, during the bilateral meeting in Qatar’s Doha, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pressed Taliban’s Acting Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi to make a clean break with Uyghur jihadists of TIP and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed of global terrorism.
The Taliban’s Interim government is accustomed in responding to such external pressures from its neighbors and the international community. The typicality of its response lies in the denial of the presence of Central Asian and Uyghur terrorist groups on Afghan soil, further wittily dodging the topic of its ties with al Qaeda. Taliban strategists seeking international recognition have apparently developed cunning tactics to carefully conceal their ties to al Qaeda and Central Asian jihadi groups, while maintaining the bayat (oath of allegiance) of veteran strategic partners in holy jihad.
And this time, Taliban representative Suhail Shaheen voiced a stock answer, stating “many Uyghur fighters of TIP have left Afghanistan because the Taliban has categorically told them there is no place for anyone to use Afghan soil against other countries, including its neighboring countries.” But the Chinese authorities are well aware of the Taliban’s insincerity on this matter. In turn, the Taliban realized that the authorities of China and Central Asian states did not believe their statements. As a consequence, Beijing denied the Taliban’s claims, claiming that approximately 200-300 Uyghur militants of TIP currently live in the Takhar province near Baharak town.
Certainly, to calm Chinese concerns and encourage deeper economic cooperation with Beijing, the Taliban has removed TIP Uyghur jihadists from the 76-kilometer Afghan-China border area in Badakhshan to the eastern province of Nangarhar in early October. The Taliban’s double play testifies their walk on a fine line between pragmatism and jihadi ideology, especially when they simultaneously want to look like a state and maintain a historical relationship with al Qaeda.
A short look at Taliban-China relations
Since the mid-1990s, the Af-Pak border arena has remained at the center of China’s security and counter-terrorism strategy. Chinese policymakers were concerned that the TIP’s Uyghur militants found refuge in Afghanistan’s border region of Badakhshan and are waging a decades-old holy jihad to liberate Eastern Turkestan from the iron claw of Beijing. Within this framework, China’s counter-terrorism policy aims to prevent the challenge of the TIP Uyghur jihadists who have been deeply integrated into global al Qaeda’s structure over the past quarter-century. This undertaking surfaced on Beijing’s agenda since the collapse the pro-Moscow regime of Mohammad Najibullah in 1992 and became extremely acute after the Taliban’s lightning seizure of power in August 2021.
In order to break the long-standing and trusted jihadi ties between TIP and the Taliban, Beijing has emerged as a pragmatic backer of the Taliban’s new rule, promising economic and development support through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For its part, the Interim Afghan government, seeking international recognition, has called China a most important partner and pushed for deeper cooperation with Beijing.
Following the steps of its historical diplomacy of flexibility and pragmatism from the Qing dynasty, Beijing has forged a pragmatic and operative relationship with the Taliban for nearly thirty years. Since Taliban’s first rise to power in 1996, this pragmatic relationship has been centered in China’s counterterrorism strategy. Guided by the “Art of War” strategy of the ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu, Beijing decided to “defeat the enemy without fighting”. In 1999, China launched flights between Kabul and Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur region, and established economic ties with the Taliban who patronized Uyghur militants of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM – now TIP).
In December 2000, China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Lu Shulin met with the Taliban’s founder leader Mullah Omar in Kandahar, in which Lu voiced Beijing’s position on the need to stop harboring Uyghur jihadists operating in Afghanistan. Consecutively, the Taliban anticipated that China would recognize their government and prevent further UN sanctions. During the meeting, Mullah Omar assured Lu that the Taliban “will not allow any group to use its territory for any activities against China.” But this deal was only half materialized. While Omar did restrain Uyghur jihadists to attack China’s interests in Af-Pak zone, he did not expel them from Afghanistan. And Beijing did not oppose new UN sanctions against the Taliban, it only abstained.
Following the collapse of Mullah Omar’s so-called Sharia regime after 9/11, China did not sever its ties with the Taliban leaving room for strategic change in the future. Putting eggs in different baskets, in 2014-2020, China secretly hosted Taliban delegations in Beijing several times and provoked them to active struggle against foreign invaders for the liberation of the country. However, China’s central focus in their contacts with the Taliban has always been to curb the Uyghur jihad against the Celestial and build a first line of defense in the Wakhan Corridor along the Af-Pak-China-Tajik strategic arena.
Hence, according to China’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy, securing BRI strategic projects overseas from TIP attacks and blocking the Salafi-Jihadi ideology in Xinjiang became even more important for Beijing since the Taliban overtook the power. Counterterrorism and concerns of Islamic radicalization were the justification for China’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, where the CCP has imprisoned more than 1.5 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz Muslim minorities in concentration camps, manically depriving them of their religion, language and culture since 2014.
China’s military footprint in Central Asia
Predictably, the abrupt US withdrawal from Afghanistan encouraged Beijing to continue its aggressive and assertive foreign policy toward Central Asia to expand its BRI projects in the region. If before, in exchange for its economic assistance, Beijing demanded from Central Asian nations to adhere the “One-China policy” (recognition Taiwan as part of PRC) and support its war against “three evils” (separatism, religious extremism and international terrorism), then now it is also stepping up the military footprint in the region.
On October 27, the Tajik Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower house of parliament) approved China’s proposal to fund the construction of a $10 million military base in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province near the intersection of the Af-China-Tajik borders arena. The agreement which reached between Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry and China’s Public Security Ministry, indicates the new base would be owned by the Rapid Reaction Group of the Interior Ministry.
This is not Beijing’s first overseas military base in Central Asia. China already operates a military base located 10 km from the Tajik-Afghan border and 25 km from the Tajik-Chinese border in the Tajikstan’s Gorny Badakhshan province on the isthmus of the Wakhan corridor. Thus, the Chinese base overlooks a crucial entry point from China into Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In accordance with secret agreements signed in 2015 or 2016 between China and Tajikistan, Beijing has built three commandant’s offices, five border outposts and a training center, and refurbished 30 guard posts on the Tajik side of the country’s border with Afghanistan.
In July 2021, the Tajik government offered to transfer complete control of this military base to Beijing and waive any future rent in exchange for military aid from China. The Chinese military base in Tajikistan has no regular troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but has representatives of the People’s Armed Police (PAP). It is worth pointing out that China, concerned about the activities of TIP’s militants in Xinjiang and their potential links with transnational terrorism, adopted the first counter-terrorism legislation on December 27, 2015. The law provides a legal basis for various counter-terrorism organs, including the PAP, empowering it with broad repressive functions. PAP members currently serve at China’s overseas military base in Tajikistan, the main function of which is counter-terrorism monitoring of Tajik-Af-Pak border movements.
It is imperative to note that China is concentrating its military facilities not in the depths of Tajik territory but precisely on the isthmus of the vital Wakhan corridor at the Af-Pak-China-Tajik borders intersection. In the mid-90s, Uyghur militants fled China’s brutal repression via the Wakhan corridor to join the Taliban, al Qaeda and TIP in Afghanistan. In their propaganda messages, TIP ideologists often mention the Wakhan Corridor as a “Nusrat (victory) trail” through which the “long-awaited liberation of East Turkestan from the Chinese infidels will come.”
The mastery of the Af-Pak-China-Tajik strategic arena is currently critical to Beijing for several reasons. First, the holding the Wakhan Gorge allows China not to depend solely on the will of the Taliban to prevent attacks by Uyghur jihadists of TIP. Secondly, it gives China an additional lever of pressure on the Taliban to sever their ties with Uyghur militants, playing on the contradictions between Tajikistan and the Afghan Interim government. And finally, Beijing is well positioned to protect its future investments in the Afghan economy through the BRI project.
China’s aggressive and assertive move into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence does not make the Kremlin nervous as much as the US military presence in the region. Quite possibly, China’s expansion of its military presence in Tajikistan was coordinated with Russia, which considers Central Asia to be its southern flank. Because Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are part of the Russian-led CSTO military alliance, opening a foreign military base in one of them requires the consent of this military block. Now, the two most considerable regional powers, Russia and China can be expected to pursue common counterterrorism strategies through the coordination and information-sharing on TIP Uyghur jihadists and Russian-speaking fighters based in Taliban-led Afghanistan.
Propaganda war between Communist China and Turkestan Islamic Party
As Beijing tries to fill the power vacuum left by the United States and expand its political and economic influence over the Afghan Taliban’s Interim Government, the veteran Uyghur jihadi group of Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) and newly emerged Katibat al-Ghuraba al-Turkestani (KGT) are respectively intensifying their ideological war against the China’s Communist regime.
The media center Islam Avazi (Voice of Islam), the TIP’s propaganda machine, systematically and vociferously criticizes the Chinese Communist government as “atheist occupiers” and “Chinese invaders” for occupying the lands of East Turkestan. Recently the TIP’s main mouthpiece in its weekly radio program on the Uyghur-language website ‘Muhsinlar’ stated that “China’s overseas military bases are evidence of its evil intentions to occupy new Islamic lands through creeping expansion.” Then the Uyghur speaker insists that “temporarily settling in new lands, the Chinese kafirs (disbeliever) will never leave there, a vivid example of which is the tragic experience of East Turkistan, whose religion, culture and history are Sinicized, and its titular Muslims are being brutally repressed.”
Our research indicates that despite their longstanding involvement in the global jihad in Afghanistan and Syria and their strong alliances through oaths of allegiance (bayat) with al Qaeda, Taliban and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the central ideology of Uyghur Jihadists is the fight against the Chinese Communist regime. The strategic goal of the Turkestan Islamic Party is to liberate the historical lands of East Turkestan, now known as Xinjiang, from the occupation of the Chinese “communist infidels” and to build its own state with Sharia rule there. In their regular statements, audios and videos, TIP propagandists raised the victimization of Uyghur Muslims during China’s occupation of East Turkistan, which has long been a key theme in TIP’s ideological doctrine.
Amid establishing Chinese overseas military bases in Central Asia, TIP’s media center Islam Avazi has sharply intensified anti-Beijing propaganda. Both the Taliban and TIP have double standards in this regard. Criticizing the Chinese Communist regime, TIP deliberately avoids and never condemns Taliban’s recent close ties with the China. At the same time, when the Taliban recently criticized New Delhi for persecuting Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir and call themselves defenders of the oppressed Muslim Ummah, they tried to sidestep the topic of China’s crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Future of Uyghur Jihad in Post-American Afghanistan
Thus, even though the TIP remains an essential player of global jihad and a vanguard for the Uyghur cause, China’s pressure on the Taliban and its military bases in Central Asia will force Uyghur fighters to curb their jihadi ambitions in post-American Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, as before, the Taliban will continue their attempts to marginalize Central Asian jihadi groups in Afghanistan, making them completely dependent on their will and exploiting them for their political purposes.
It is difficult to predict to what extent the Uyghur jihadists have the strength and patience to withstand Taliban moral pressure and Chinese intelligence persecution in the new Afghanistan. Interestingly, researchers at the Newlines Institute claim the Taliban’s collaboration with Chinese military advisers present in Afghanistan. According to a senior source within the Taliban, “some 40 advisers from China (including some military ones) deployed to Afghanistan on October 3.” Therefore, it will be difficult for TIP to maintain its developed propaganda apparatus, to enhance its organizational capabilities in the new realities of Afghanistan, when Chinese overseas military bases are breathing down its neck.
Beijing’s military footprint on the Af-Pak-China-Tajik border arena will force TIP to demonstrate its diplomatic and strategic ability in seeking support and solidarity from numerous umbrellas jihadi organizations such as al Qaeda, Jalaluddin Haqqani’s Haqqani network, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, HTS, and even Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K). Suppose al Qaeda continues to weaken, and IS-K grows stronger via targeted attacks and successful recruitment. In that case, Central Asian jihadists may change their jihadi flag and join IS-K. The most capable defectors from al Qaeda to ISIS were Uzbek, Tajik and Uyghur foreign fighters in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, as their experience has shown.
Any TIP’s move to take the jihad back to Xinjiang for its liberation, undoubtedly, will face steep odds. Beijing’s repressive security measures, such as high-tech mass surveillance and mass detention of Uyghurs in so-called re-education camps, have long deprived TIP of its network in Xinjiang. Worries that TIP is poised to ravage Xinjiang, therefore, seem overblown. With demographic changes in the Xinjiang region, where the Han population is almost the majority, the TIP has lost its social underpinning and perspective of waging jihad within the country.
In conclusion, wary of antagonizing Beijing and its dependence on Chinese economic largesse, the Taliban Interim government will progressively reduce its support for Uyghur jihadists. The establishment of Chinese military bases on the isthmus of the Wakhan Corridor and the strengthening of its anti-terrorism initiatives, combined with the monitoring of the Af-Pak-China-Tajik arena, call into question the extent to which TIP can conduct operations against China’s BRI.
Lastly, a rapprochement between China and the Taliban leaves TIP cornered, limiting room for maneuver and forcing some Uyghur Muhajireen (foreign fighters) to carry out a hijrah (migration) to Syria’s Idlib province to join their fellow tribesmen from Xinjiang. Nevertheless, despite this grim appraisal of TIP’s prospects in post-American Afghanistan, it can capitalize from its commitment to transnational jihad and expand its international network exploiting the Syrian melting pot. Indeed, given the physical remoteness from China’s overseas military bases, the Syrian quagmire will give the TIP a certain latitude, strengthening its ability to assert itself on the global jihad.
Author’s note: This article was first published by a SpecialEurasia Research Institute, which partners with Modern Diplomacy.
Can the Taliban tame ETIM?
The Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) is also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is a Uyghur Islamic extremist organization founded in the Xinjiang province of China. TIP is the new name, although China still calls it by the name ETIM and refuses to acknowledge it as TIP. The ETIM was founded in 1997 by Hasan Mahsum before being killed by a Pakistani army in 2003. Its stated aim is to establish an independent state called ‘East Turkestan’ replacing Xinjiang. The United States removed it from its list of terrorist Organizations in 2020. The group and its ties to Muslim fundamentalism have compounded Chinese concerns about the rising threat of terrorism within the country.
In Tianjin, the Taliban’s political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar again pledged to “never allow any force” to engage in acts detrimental to China. Suhail Shaheen, the Afghan Taliban’s spokesperson, said in an exclusive interview with the Global Times that many ETIM members had left Afghanistan because Taliban had categorically told them that Afghanistan can’t be used to launch attacks against other countries. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had also asked the Taliban to crack down on the ETIM, which is based out of the Xinjiang province. In view of the Taliban’s pro-China stance on the ETIM, the article will assess the feasibility of the Taliban’s promises of not providing sanctuaries to the groups which are direct threat to the national security of China.
First, this statement surprises the experts in view of the Taliban’s historic relationship with the ETIM. According to a recent United Nations Security Council report, ETIM has approximately 500 fighters in northern Afghanistan, mostly located in Badakhshan province, which adjoins Xinjiang in China via the narrow Wakhan Corridor. Most of Badakhshan is now under Taliban control, but according to some reports, Tajik, Uzbek, Uighur and Chechen fighters comprise the bulk of the local Taliban rank and file, rather than Pashtun fighters. This scenario appears very challenging for the top leadership of the Taliban to deny sanctuaries to such loyalists.
Second, ETIM is operating in Afghanistan since 1990. It has strong links with the local Taliban commanders. The local Taliban commanders may put pressure on the top leadership or hinder the extradition of ETIM members from Afghanistan. Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University, thinks that ETIM members in Afghanistan still have some influence. It may not be easy for the Taliban to fully cut ties with all ETIM members in Afghanistan as it may hurt other military militants that used to support it.
Third, the Taliban’s capacity to tame the ETIM is limited because its all members and leadership have scattered across Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey. Zhang Jiadong, a professor with the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times, “In recent years, the ETIM also changed its living areas overseas. The exact number of ETIM members is hard to know but “its core members are living in countries including Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey. More of them stay in Syria than in Afghanistan and have been keeping a low profile in recent years”.
Fourth, the ETIM has developed close ties with international militant organizations, including Al Qaeda. Moreover, Al Qaeda has significant influence over the Taliban. Al Qaeda has ability and resources to sabotage the extradition of ETIM members from Afghanistan. Some militant organizations including IS-K have developed the ideological differences with the Afghan Taliban. IS-K recently used a Uyghur fighter for suicide campaign in Afghanistan just to show fissure between the Taliban and ETIM. So, this trend can be a challenge for the Afghan Taliban.
The Taliban’s new stance of not providing sanctuaries to the ETIM contradicts with some of its founding principles. The Taliban’s new version on ETIM is not easy to follow. Time will be the true judge of the feasibility of Taliban’s new stance.
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