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Delisting of anti-China ETIM: beginning of a new proxy war?

Daily Times(PK) logo Daily Times(PK) 08/11/2020 Imtiaz Gul
a man wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Daily Times(PK)
On November 5, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo removed the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from the list of designated terrorist organizations, signaling perhaps the beginning of a new phase of intense cold war with China via Afghanistan.

“I hereby revoke the designation of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, also known as ETIM, as a ”terrorist organization”, Pompeo said in a brief October 20 directive that was made public on Thursday, a week after he signed new strategic security cooperation deals with India that coincided with the 2+2 Indo-US dialogue at New Delhi.

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Ironincally, the George W. Bush administration had designated ETIM as a terror outfit in 2003, and also co-sponsored a UN resolution on the same subject. On the occasion, US officials had used the official Chinese literature to justify the designation, and had blamed ALL the violence in Xinjiang in previous ten years on ETIM.

A recent UN security council report speaks of at least 500 ETIM terrorists of the group operating in Afghanistan, primarily in Badakhshan, while US officials estimated those numbers at around 100.

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James Millward, a US multiple author of books on Xinjiang and China, called the delisting a good move but quipped that by “sneaking the de-listing out today, when US is preoccupied with election, is no coincidence,” Pompeo has sent a clear message to Beijing. One Twitter observer criticised the move as “weaponising counterterrorism designations in the “new cold war era.” The move drew angry reaction from Chinese officials and media.

“Whilst the world is distracted by the ongoing drama and controversy of the U.S. presidential election, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a very quiet but sinister move,” Chinese national broadcaster CGTN wrote in a fierce reaction to the US MOVE.

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A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing Wang Wenbin, also responded harshly to the US decision, saying it exposes “the current U.S. administration’s double standard on counter-terrorism and its repulsive practice of condoning terrorist groups as it sees fit. Terrorism is terrorism.”

“The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is a terrorist organization listed by the UN Security Council and known as a terrorist group by the international community. It has long been engaged in terrorist and violent activities, causing heavy casualties and property losses, and posing serious threats to security and stability in China, the region and beyond,” said the spokesperson, regretting that the US was the co-sponsor of the ETIM’s listing in the 1267 Committee of the UN Security Council.

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Fighting the ETIM is a consensus of the international community and an important part of the international endeavor against terrorism, ” Wenbin said adding that US should “refrain from whitewashing terrorist organizations, and stop reversing the course of international counter-terrorism cooperation.”

ETIM’s presence in northern Afghanistan also resonated at Pakistan-Afghanistan-China symposium on counter-terrorism security cooperation. Chinese experts and officials repeatedly referred to the ETIM “headquarters” in Afghanistan and hoped the country

“ETIM is a big threat to the security of Xinjiang and the mainland China,” Chen Zhimin, President of China Friendship Association (CAF). “They committed crimes in all three countries and we should intensify our intelligence cooperation to combat the group,” he underlined.

This makes the anti-terrorism into our common goal and necessitates regional security and intelligence cooperation, Zhimin said, and urged both Pakistan and Afghanistan for greater big data intelligence cooperation in the anti-terror war. “Terrorists use the internet, video-conferencing for terror plots, why cant we use the same for countering them and preventing their attacks, he asked.

Quite strange that the delisting – decided in October – came about a week after the October 29 2+2 US-India Dialogue at New Delhi, where US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense secretary Mark Esper minced no words on who the Indo-US cooperation was directed at. “Our leaders and citizens see with increasing clarity that Chinese Communist Party is no friend to democracy, rule of law, transparency… I’m glad to say India and US are taking all steps to strengthen cooperation against all threats and not just those posed by CCP,” he said.

He also explained on the occasion that “both US and India are taking steps to strengthen our cooperation against all manner of threats and not just those posed by Chinese Communist Party. “Last year, we have expanded our cooperation on cyber issues, and our navies have held joint exercises in the Indian Ocean,” Pompeo said.

Does this explain, on the one hand, the ever-growing Indo-US geo-political cooperation. And on the other, the possible use of anti-state groups such as ETIM / ISIS or AQ, for destabilizing the region and to counter China through poxy groups?

ETIM is among the 20 or so terror outfits that Kabul government often speaks about, including of course Daesh/ISIS and Al-Qaeda. The only plausible explanation for these terror groups is their proxy nature, driven externally. As recently reiterated also by Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s advisor on national security, this externally sponsored terrorism continues to fuel conflict and hold peace hostage.

How should we explain the destruction of two major Daesh attacks on educational institutions in Kabul in October and on 02 November? A ploy to pressurize President Ashraf Ghani into conceding space to Taliban?

These groups continue claiming acts of violence in Afghanistan but without a real explanation or justification for their acts. Can a rag-tag armed group really expect to overrun Afghanistan or challenge Pakistan? They may inflict destabilizing pain and instill transitory fear but cannot hope to defeat the state institutions. If seen together, the latest Indo-US agreements and the removal of ETIM from the US terror list therefore kick up new questions and leave little doubt that vested interest does lean on proxy terrorist outfits to achieve geopolitical objectives.

China and Pakistan must brace for a new round of intense proxy war in the region. Pompeo made it quite obvious (in the aforementioned statement) without uttering a single word in support of Kashmiris under Indian occupation or the raging wave of discrimination against Muslims in Europe.

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