Archive for August, 2011

Had a pause in short article writing of late as have been bogged down with larger commitments. However, in the meantime, wrote a couple of short op-eds for what is becoming a regular column for 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post) touching upon the riots in the UK and the taking of Tripoli last week (with retrospect there are aspects of the UK one that I am less happy about). The English I submitted is below, and before it a link to the Chinese. More longer pieces in the pipeline on terrorism and China.

Lessons from Libya (In Chinese)

This week’s take-over of Tripoli by the rebel forces opposed to General Gadaffi has stirred a mixture of emotions. In the first place, there is a certain gratefulness that events in Libya are moving towards some sort of resolution. But while some in Europe are proud of the role that they played in ousting him from his position in power, there is an underlying sense of concern about what happens next. Nevertheless, it now seems clear that his time in charge of Libya is up and there are some lessons that can be usefully drawn from the experience of ousting him.

First of all, NATO, the EU and the US should be careful to celebrate this victory as their own. While it seems doubtful that the rebels would have done so well without their support, the fact remains that NATO was running out of ammunition and there is a growing uncertainty in Europe about what they are doing in Libya. There is also still no clear sense that Europe went into Libya with any sort of a clear strategy. All of this is a reflection of weakness rather than success.

Secondly, success in intervening here does not mean NATO now has to (or wants to) intervene in Syria. This is not hypocritical or evidence of double standards. The reality is that you can only become involved where you can make a difference and where you have support. No one liked Gadaffi so support was easy to find, and support came in the form of low-risk airstrikes in support of rebels that shielded NATO from too many casualties on the ground. All easily manageable. Syria, however, would be a very different proposition – quite aside from having a different capacity to respond (Syria is a longtime supporter of militant groups outside its borders), there is nowhere near the consensus in the international community. And of course there is the reality that NATO forces are now stretched over two battlefields (and subsidiary operations in Cote d’Ivoire and Iraq).

The point is that the reality on the ground is different. To call this hypocritical is simplistic and somehow assumes that we live in a world where absolute and universal rules apply. The world is complex and requires different responses that are often dictated by capacity. A one-size fits all policy in international relations is a recipe for disaster.

Thirdly, UN sanctions and resolutions do not equal armed intervention. In this case, it now seems clear that NATO, the EU and the US decided to take the initial sanctions against Gadaffi to their furthest possible point. This meant in the first place to protect Misrata and the other parts of the country Gadaffi had said he was going to crush, and secondly to support a rebellion to oust a leader who had mismanaged his country for four decades. This is a specific set of reactions to a specific situation. In other instances where sanctions have been imposed nothing has followed – for example, Iran, where the EU and US continue to push sanctions – there has been no subsequent military intervention. This means that we need not fear that sanctions against the Syrian regime would necessarily lead to conflict on the ground.

Chinese friends I have spoken to express a great sense of confusion over what the EU and US think they are doing in Libya. They see vast amounts of money being spent with no clear outcome. They worry precedents are being set in international policy that may lead to other problems down the line. While some of these concerns are well placed (going in with no apparent plan as NATO did is certainly not sound policy), the overarching point that they are missing is that a bad dictator has been removed from power and is no longer destroying his own country. In time a new democratically elected government will emerge that will mean that Libya is finally able to interact with the world on its own terms. This is an outcome that is in everyone’s favor. What this does not mean is that this is going to be the strategy that will be pursued in every situation.

Anarchy in Europe (In Chinese)

Britain ablaze, Greece on strike, and lunatics planting bombs and shooting people in Oslo – Europe seems an increasingly dangerous and chaotic place. But what is behind this growing anarchy, and why it is suddenly expressing itself with such fury now?

There are a number of reasons: from social disaffection and anger, to economic hardship and disenfranchisement, to a general anger at elites that it is no longer felt represent the public. It is not, as some have suggested, all a cause and effect from the economic crisis, but rather it is a complex set of issues that all feed off each other to create a multiplier effect that explodes in the violence that we can still see on London’s streets today.

To start with my hometown, London: the trouble there started off as a peaceful public protest in a community with tense relations between police and locals after police shot and killed a young man. This event appears to have been hijacked by local youths and petty criminals who used this as a pretext to launch a violent assault on city centers taking advantage of the opportunity to loot and steal as much as they could. This in turn inspired other communities to launch copycat efforts around the country and the end result has been chaos in major British cities.

It is far too early to say exactly why this has all taken place, but a part of it is clearly anger is directed at ruling elites that are perceived have no connection to the community. Similar, but much less violent expressions of displeasure were seen last year during protests linked to the government decision to charge for university places. This group has moved beyond an expression of political anger to wanton destruction. But nonetheless one of the direct causes of the current trouble are local tensions between police and the community.

This anger at elites is further reflected in the current protests and strikes across Europe, including the months long sit-ins taking place in Spain and the repeated stoppages in Greece and Italy. In all these nations, the publics are tired of listening to politicians that they do not feel represent them. Many young feel that they simply do not have a place in society or cannot get good jobs and end up migrating elsewhere to seek their fortunes. In an ironic twist, in Belgium, the situation has gotten so bad that the nation has not had an elected government for over a year – instead a technocratic administration has managed the nation. In the capital where the EU has its bureaucratic heart, the local government has very little credibility with its domestic audience.

On the more dangerous end of the scale are individuals like Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian self-styled crusader who was so angered at his government’s allowing of Muslim immigrants into the nation that he decided to punish the ruling party. Using a massive car bomb in the city center followed by a shooting of a group of young aspirant politicians, Breivik’s act was in retaliation for what he sees as the conquering of Europe by Muslims and the fact that no-one in Europe is doing anything about it. He particularly blamed the ruling Labor Party in Norway for letting this happen, and consequently targeted them for punishment in late July of this year.

The running thread through all of this is mistrust in government – something that is going to be further accentuated as economies collapse and debt numbers go through the roof. European publics have already stopped voting in elections in ever increasing numbers, now they are turning to other ways of expressing their distaste in their governments. There are clear lessons here for government’s about the importance of finding ways to connect with their publics.

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After a short hiatus, a new piece for Jamestown, looking at recent unrest in Xinjiang through the lens of its Pakistan connections. Interesting subject, I am going to be doing an increasing amount of work on. Have been focusing on some longer pieces hence the silence, should have some things landing soon.

Uyghur Unrest in Xinjiang Shakes Sino-Pakistani Relations

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 33
August 19, 2011 10:19 AM Age: 4 hrs

Pakistani President Zardari and Chinese President Hu Jintao in negotiations

It has been a difficult summer for China’s restive western province Xinjiang. A series of incidents characterized as terrorism have struck two of the province’s cities, causing death, destruction and ethnic tension. This picture was further complicated when the government of the city of Kashgar published a statement online that claimed at least one of the perpetrators had been trained in Pakistan (Xinhua, August 1). The allegation by Chinese officials cast a shadow over Sino-Pakistani relations, a bilateral relationship that had been characterized in Kashgar jut the month before by Pakistani Ambassador to China Masood Khan as “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel, sweeter than honey, and dearer than eyesight” (Associated Press of Pakistan, July 1).

Death in Hotan and Kashgar

The most recent troubles in Xinjiang took place in a series of incidents in the western cities of Hotan and Kashgar. The first was an incident in Hotan on July 18 when a gang of some 18 men, described as being between 20 to 40 years old, stormed a local police station after launching an attack on a local tax office (Shanghai Daily, July 21). Armed with a variety of axes, knives and firebombing material, the group attacked those they found within the Naerbage police station, killing four people and seriously wounding at least four more. In response, police killed 14 of the assailants and arrested the remaining four (Xinhua, July 20).

This violence was repeated just over a week later in Kashgar when, as described by a local Han Chinese man, “I saw a blue truck speed through the crossing and plough into the crowd” (Xinhua, July 31). The drivers then leapt from the cab of the van and started hacking at the crowd with knives of some sort. China’s official English-language news service indicated that immediately prior to the attack a pair of explosions was heard, but this was apparently omitted in Chinese language reports (Xinhua, July 31; AFP, July 31). In the end, the men killed eight people and injured a further 27 before the crowd turned on them and beat one of them to death while the second was apprehended (Xinhua, August 1). One report from a Hong Kong newspaper suggested that initially there had been three attackers with a vehicle bomb that had blown up prematurely, leading the other two to resort to the tactic of hijacking a truck and ramming it into a crowd (Ming Pao, August 3). This was not mentioned in other reports, though one person injured in the attack reported hearing “a big bang like a blast” before passing out (China Daily, August 2).

This was not the end of the violence – the next day another group of assailants armed with knives stormed a restaurant in Kashgar and killed the owner and a waiter before starting a fire in the building and racing outside to slash wildly at passersby (Xinhua, August 4). In the melee that ensued six civilians were killed and a further 12 civilians and three police officers injured before five assailants were shot dead (Xinhua, August 1). An unclear number of assailants escaped, though rewards were offered for the capture of two men, identified as 29-year-old Memtieli Tiliwaldi and 34-year-old Turson Hasan. The two were subsequently shot by security forces in cornfields outside Kashgar (Xinhua, August 1)

What Was Behind the Violence?

Broadly speaking the Chinese media and officialdom concur on the point that the violence was stirred by outside forces.However, with regards to the apportioning of blame there seems to be some divergence between the events in Hotan and Kashgar.

In Hotan, locals described the group that stormed the police station as a group of “ruffians” aged about “20 to 40 years old and all male” speaking with out of town accents. They were apparently wearing “convenient shoes” to aid them in “running away easily” (Xinhua, July 20, 2011). Another report characterized the men as “gangsters” from out of town (Zhongguo Xinwen She [Beijing], July 20). Police reported that the men had brought with them flags of “radical religion” that they were planning on flying over the police station. One banner was reported as saying, “Allah is the only God. In the name of Allah” (Xinhua July 20; Zhongguo Xinwen She, July 20). Officials claimed the attackers confessed they hoped their actions would “stir up ethnic tension” (Xinhua, August 4).

This backdrop was seemingly confirmed by a report in a Hong Kong daily, in which locals said that the spark for the incident was a local attempt to crack down on the wearing of the veil by Muslim Uyghur girls. According to Hotan resident, the government had been using slogans telling girls to “show off their pretty looks and let their beautiful long hair fly.” After this approach failed, the government had started to reach out to local religious leaders (South China Morning Post [Hong Kong], July 22). Within this context, it is worth highlighting that this all took place shortly before the beginning of Ramadan, a period of fasting and religious observances for Muslims.

At the same time, the importance of an attack on a local Hotan tax office that preceded the assault on the police station was played down in the official press. One report stated that the group had accidentally attacked the office mistaking it for a police station, while another said that two uniformed taxation officers who had been stabbed before the attack on the police station were mistaken for the police officers since their uniforms were similar (Shanghai Daily, July 21; Xinhua, July 22).

On the other hand, events in Kashgar came with a simpler explanation. Pointing the finger directly at the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the Kashgar government published a statement in which it said that one of the men had confessed that some of leaders of the group had trained in Pakistan in bomb-making and weapons handling and had returned to carry out terrorist attacks (Xinhua, August 1; China Daily, August 2; The News [Islamabad], August 6; People’s Daily, August 5).

This was not the first time that China has found links between domestic Uyghur-linked terrorism and individuals with links to Pakistan: Guzalinur Turdi, the 19-year-old Uyghur girl who tried to bring down a China Southern Airlines plane on March 7, 2008 en route from Urumqi was using a Pakistani passport and was part of a group directed by Pakistan. [1] This rather blunt apportioning of blame towards Pakistan was somewhat surprising, especially given the close relations that are clearly visible at almost every level of the Sino-Pakistani relationship.

Pakistan was quick to respond to the charges, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs publishing a statement that condemned events in Kashgar. Using Chinese-style terminology, the statement spoke of the “patriotic people of Xinjiang” and the Chinese government succeeding in “frustrating evil designs of the terrorists, extremists and separatists.” [2] According to the Pakistani press, the statement was published after President Hu Jintao called his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, to “express concern” about ETIM’s growing activities in the region (News Online, August 6). Soon after this, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief General Ahmed Shuja Pasha headed to Beijing. Whether this trip was linked to events in Xinjiang was unclear, with some reports indicating it was part of ongoing regional discussions about Afghanistan (The Nation[Lahore], August 2). Nevertheless, Xinjiang is likely to have been featured during discussions.

Maybe to prove herself to her main ally, Pakistan seems to have responded with a mini-crackdown of sorts on Chinese Muslims in the country. A Chinese individual identified as Muhammad Yusuf was arrested sometime in July with around $50,000, some Chinese Yuan, and Islamic literature (Dawn [Karachi], August 7). A few days after this was reported, Pakistan deported a group of five Chinese nationals in handcuffs and blindfolds – two men, two children and a woman. Another man was apparently refused boarding permission by the China Southern Airlines pilot, and the Pakistani press hinted that the group may be involved in ETIM plotting (Dawn, August 10).

Conclusions

The full picture of what took place in Hotan and Kashgar remains somewhat obscure, however, some details are clear.People did die, but the methods of attack seemed surprisingly low tech for terrorists who had supposedly undergone terrorist training in Waziristan. However, this was not the first time such attacks had been undertaken using such methods – in August 2008 a pair of Uyghur men ran a truck into a column of policemen on their morning run, before leaping out of the vehicle, using knives and lobbing homemade grenades. Sixteen officers were killed and another 16 injured (Xinhua, August 4, 2008). This was followed a year later by violent rioting in Urumqi that claimed almost 200 lives in clashes between Uyghurs and Han Chinese.

All this suggests that something deeper is afoot than just individual and random incidents of violence. The fact that we have seen similar instances of serious violence in Xinjiang on a relatively regular basis over the last few years suggests some deep-seated anger is bubbling just below the surface. Whether this is directed by external parties is unclear, however. The indications are that some Uyghurs in Pakistan are connecting with extremist groups there. There is evidence from videos released by Uyghur groups that there is a desire to strike within China (see Terrorism Monitor, June 23). However, the random and low-tech nature of this recent spate of attacks suggest that, while it may have in part emanated from the community of Uyghurs who are transiting back and forth between China and Pakistan, it does not seem to fit the mold of an al-Qaeda directed plot.  What is clear, however, is that the Sino-Pakistani relationship will endure – official statements from both sides indicate a high level of bilateral support and recent reports of Pakistan allowing Chinese access to parts of the advanced helicopter abandoned by the Navy SEAL team sent in to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad suggest that Islamabad cherishes its relationship with Beijing over its relationship with Washington (Financial Times, August 14).  Though both Beijing and Islamabad have denied this report, it is apparent that China requires action against fugitive Uyghur dissidents in Pakistan as a condition of maintaining a bilateral relationship “higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans.

 

Notes:

1. Elizabeth Van Wie Davis, “Terrorism and the Beijing Olympics,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief, April 16, 2008.

2. “Pakistan extends full support to China against ETIM,” Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Release, August 1

http://www.mofa.gov.pk/mfa/pages/article.aspx?id=787&type=1