星期四, 8月 18, 2016

China's Nightmare: Xinjiang Jihadists Go Global

While fighting in Syria, the Turkestan Islamic Party has joined forces with global jihadist movements.

Analysis of the world’s Islamic jihadist movements shows that over the past few months, the Internet-based propaganda activity of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) has increased dramatically. The Turkestan Islamic Party, a group also called the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), fights for the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic State of East Turkestan in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
The TIP’s members consist mainly of ethnic Muslim Uyghurs. Since 2001, the group has been affiliated with al-Qaeda. After the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS), the ideological goals and the scale of hostilities of the Turkestan Islamic Party shifted. In 2013, the TIP moved to join the Caliphate, integrating, along with a pair of Uzbek groups, into a faction of Jabhat al-Nusra. Recently it was reported that on July 28, 2016 Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra announced that the group would be renamed as Jabhat Fath al-Sham.
Today more than 2,000 TIP fighters in alliance and under the leadership of Jabhat Fath al-Sham are fighting in the northwest part of Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. According to Al Arabiya News there are a few thousand Uyghur fighters in Syria, many of whom arrived with their families after a long and treacherous journey from China and Central Asia. They are believed to have been seen in large numbers in disparate regions of Idlib, including the strategic town of Jisr al-Shoghur, Ariha, and the highlands of Jabal al-Zawiya.
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The analysis shows that in recent months the TIP has posted more than 30 videos and other propaganda material on the internet. A careful study of this material makes it clear that significant changes have occurred in the ideological and strategic goals of the TIP since 2010. The position of the Turkestan Islamic Party against the Chinese authorities has become even more radical. If previously the party’s strategic objective was to conduct a terrorist struggle against the power structures of China and to separate Xinjiang from Beijing, today it sets a more global objective. TIP fighters call on the world’s Muslims to join the jihad against Western countries in internet videos. Perhaps most worringly for China, the TIP believes that Muslims may fight locally using various means instead of coming to Syria and Iraq to conduct a “holy war” against the “infidel” Western regimes.
TIP’s Propaganda Work
In addition to military actions in Syria, the TIP has begun to focus greater attention on propaganda work. On August 5 it launched a new channel via the Telegram instant messaging service, which houses a variety of information on the nature of jihad propaganda. TIP fighter and members alike are capable of transmitting information to others on the private channel. The leader of TIP, Abdul Ahad Turkistānī (Abd al-Ḥaqq al-Turkistānī), is registered as a moderator of the Telegram channel. Overall, the messaging is a kind of blunt challenge to the coalition forces led by the United States, who are fighting against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Since 2008, the information center of the TIP has produced an Arabic print and online color magazine, “Islamic Turkestan.” In its latest issue (#19), published in May 2016, there were materials on a variety of topics, ranging from the Salafi doctrine of jihad to anti-Chinese articles. In contrast to earlier issues, the range of subjects has expanded. Earlier issues mainly focused on Beijing’s military suppression of Uyghurs in East Turkestan, while in recent issues the TIP gives political assessments of the events in Syria and Iraq. In particular, the Turkestan Islamic Party condemns what they call the “crusade” of Western states led by the United States against Syria. In the lead article, NATO is called an “Alliance of Crusaders,” which weakens jihad with airstrikes. The TIP also accuses Russia and Iran of providing military support to Assad. The lead article states that “the Russian planes and tanks will not save the Alawite regime of Assad, as the Mujahideen in Sham will soon destroy it with the support of Allah.” The article concludes with an appeal to TIP fighters to support the people of Sham and remain steadfast on the path of jihad which it states is “specified by the Messenger of Allah.”
The magazine also continues its focus on the oppression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. Headlines include: “East Turkestan is seething under Chinese repression,” “History of the suffering of Muslims,” “China has adopted controversial laws on the fight against terrorism,” “Gushing wound of East Turkestan,” “Crimes of the Chinese Communist Regime,” “Save Turkestan until it is too late,” “Crying of silk scarves of Uyghur mothers,” and others. The last page of the magazine states that “the emancipation of East Turkestan from the Communist China is the duty of every Muslim of East Turkestan.” Articles include colorful photos of Islamic scholars, TIP fighters in Syria, and violent repression by the Chinese police.
Analysis of published materials shows substantial and thematic similarities between the TIP’s magazine and other periodicals issued by radical Islamist terrorist groups.
It should be noted that all videos, statements, and audio materials from TIP have been prepared and posted on the Internet by the group’s the official media center,“Islam Awazi,” which translates as the “Voice of Islam.” In particular, on July 22, 2016 the Turkestan Islamic Party distributed a video titled “My Desire,” which highlighted photos of Uyghur fighters in Syria and their struggle with the Chinese army in the city of Urumqi. Behind the scenes, a song states in the Uyghur language, “We want to live according to the canons of Shariah as true Muslims and to conduct holy war against infidels on earth.” Half a dozen similar videos were posted over recent months in addition to several songs and music videos.
TIP Turns Against ISIS
Among the many videos of “Islam Awazi,” the audio message of TIP Emir Abd al-Ḥaqq al-Turkistānī posted on May 28, 2016 deserves special attention. It shows that he is alive and still runs the Turkestan Islamic Party. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik previously stated that  al-Haqq was killed in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan on February 15, 2010, but the TIP never confirmed the death of its leader. After four years it was reported in the media that he was able to recover from his injuries.
In a new audio message, al-Haqq called Uyghurs “in any corner of the world, wherever they may be” to join jihad. According to  al-Haqq, “today they are making jihad in Sham, helping their brothers, and tomorrow the soldiers of Islam must be willing to return to China to emancipate the western province of Xinjiang from the communist invaders.”
However, he also condemned ISIS and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as “illegitimate.” In his opinion, “the proclamation of Caliphate [by ISIS] was equivalent to unripened crop harvesting, since it was established without the approval of the Islamic leaders and the Ummah” (the international community of Muslims). He argued that the Caliphate had to be established on the basis of Shariah, and not on a political basis. He condemned the brutal executions of ordinary Muslims by ISIS fighters and questioned the theological knowledge of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. At the end of his messages al-Ḥaqq explained the ideological and religious reasons for the split between the Turkestan Islamic Party and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
In August 2015, Usman Ghazi, the IMU leader, took the oath of allegiance to ISIS emir al-Baghdadi, and cut ties with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Uzbek militants from Central Asia who split from the IMU, remaining faithful to al-Qaeda under the wing of the terrorist group Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), swore allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the new leader of the Taliban. In December 2015, following the “betrayal,” the Taliban fought against and defeated the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the Afghan province of Zabul. According to al-Ḥaqq, the IMU leader’s fatal error led to the collapse of the group. But its defeat was in the interest of the TIP, since the two organizations  who sought to create a caliphate in Central Asia and China’s Xinjiang were secretly competing with each other for influence.
Uyghurs in the Arms of Global Jihad
“Islam Awazi,” the TIP’s media center, publishes three to four videos monthly in the column, “A Call From the Front Lines of Jihad,” which report about the military “successes” of TIP fighters. Also, a monthly “Tourism of the Believers” video is produced which demonstrates the “peaceful” and “military” life of Uyghur fighters in Syria. There are regular columns titled “Lovers of Paradise,” “Blessings Are the Strangers,” “Go Forth Oh Mujāhid.” “Islam Awazi” also posts letters, orders, statements, messages, and greetings from TIP leadership in PDF format.
After careful analysis of the video, audio, and printed materials from “Islam Awazi” it can be concluded that almost all of them contain anti-China slogans as well as a call for jihad. Despite the transition of its main fighting force to Syria and its initiation within the global jihad, throughout the entire period of its existence the TIP has maintained a position against China specifically. All of its promotional materials raise the problem of Xinjiang and express concerns about the repression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. The Turkestan Islamic Party attempts to appeal to traditionally painful issues for Uyghurs, such as the Chinese birth control policy, expansion of the Han in Xinjiang, and discrimination and persecution of Muslims by Beijing. There is a call for jihad at the end of each message, regardless of format.
The TIP attempts to legitimize its terrorist activities by invoking the name of Allah. “The fight with China is our duty to Allah,” says Abdullah Mansour, one of the Islamic ideologues of the party, who justifies his political objectives with theological rhetoric. According to Mansour’s logic, the armed struggle against China is not a political objective of the TIP; it is the will of Allah. TIP leaders argue for their two main objectives — the separation of Xinjiang from China and the establishment of the Islamic state of “East Turkestan” in its place — using verses of the Quran.
The ideology of the Turkestan Islamic Party has undergone a number of significant changes resulting from rapprochement with al-Qaeda in Waziristan (2001-2010) and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria (2013-2016). In particular, the TIP has expanded the geographic reach of its interests and has strengthened links with radical Islamists from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Maghreb. Today, the TIP has become a serious contender in global jihad. As a result of the impact of transnational radical Islamic groups on the TIP, the doctrine of jihad has been permanently entrenched as the basis of the organization’s ideological platform. The TIP’s propaganda materials have acquired a pronounced jihadist hue. “Islam Awazi” has obviously adopted the style and form of presentation of other extremist groups in preparing its videos, particularly following the models of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Jabhat al-Nusra.
The TIP has also successfully started to mimic the tactics of the Taliban while conducting terrorist attacks. Before 2003 the targets of TIP attacks were officials, police, and members of the Chinese security forces. After its integration with al-Qaeda, Uyghur fighters began carrying out attacks in crowded and busy areas. This has led to an increase in “the damaging effect” of attacks and an increasing number of victims. The terrorist attacks in 2013-2014 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Urumqi, and the attempt to hijack the aircraft Hotan-Urumqiindicate a change in targets and places for the attacks. Today ISIS-inspired radicals in Europe repeat the experience of TIP fighters, who massacred Han Chinese at stations in Kunming and Guangzhou using knives, axes, and machetes in 2014.
Ruse of the “Red Dragon”
The globalization of Uyghur jihadists from the Turkestan Islamic Party, along with their separatist ideology, have become major problems for China. Beijing’s repressive policies in Xinjiang have pushed some Uyghurs to move from nationalism into the arms of Islamic extremists. Demonstrated violence against the Uyghurs, violation of their human rights, and restrictions and prohibitions on Islamic practices contributed to the development of the terrorist threat. Beijing, with its aggressive policies in Xinjiang over the past 15 years, has strengthened the position of the TIP which, in turn, exacerbated the problem of Uyghur nationalism and separatism, which rose to join the ranks of global jihad. Leader of the ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has said that China is the target of the Islamists.
China pursues purely personal interests in the fight against ISIS. The Chinese state-owned oil company Sinopec has made multimillion dollar investments to develop oil and gas fields in Iraqi Kurdistan. This provides Beijing with an opportunity to influence Turkey, which tacitly supports Uyghur separatists out of a sense of ethnic solidarity. China has not forgotten the statement of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that “Eastern Turkestan is not only the home of the Turkic peoples, but it is also the cradle of Turkic history, civilization, and culture. The martyrs of Eastern Turkestan are our own martyrs.”
However, as experience has shown, China takes a passive position in the struggle against global Islamic jihad in Syria and Iraq. Beijing has not sent its troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS and has instead confined itself to diplomatic support for Russia and the United States. The Chinese government uses the attacks of Islamic jihadists to persuade Western countries to support Beijing’s position on Xinjiang and turn a blind eye when the freedom and rights of Uyghurs are harshly suppressed by Chinese security forces. Therefore, China is not perceived by the West as a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism.
Uran Botobekov has a Ph.D. in political science and is an expert on political Islam.

星期一, 8月 08, 2016



02 August 1974 Story ref: BGY509130014 Contains: 1 Clips Format: imx 30

Angry Tibetans demonstrated at the Bhutan Embassy in the Indian capital, Delhi, on Thursday (1 August) at the Bhutan Government's announcement that it is to try a number of Tibetans, including the brother of the Tibetan Dalai Lama. They are accused of attempting to assassinate the King of Bhutan.

The Bhutan Government alleges that Mr. Gyalo Thondup, brother of the Dalai Lama (the spiritual and constitutional leader of Tibet) and Princess Yangki, second wife of the late King of Bhutan, were active "conspirators" in a plot to assassinate the new King of Bhutan.

The princess is accused of wanting to slay the present King to make way for her "illegitimate" son of the throne.

About 200 Tibetans in Delhi took part in the demonstration, distributing leaflets calling on the Bhutan Government to furnish proof of the allegations they have made against their fellow countrymen in Bhutan. Apart from a brief scuffle the demonstration was peaceful.

From a Tibetan Adventurer, a Tale of Bravado and Betrayal




Gyalo Thondup has had an extraordinary life. He was born in 1929 to a well-off family in the Amdo region of Greater Tibet — now subsumed in part by the Qinghai province of China — a region so poor and rugged that even commodities like soap and candles were a rarity. But he was raised to become the political adviser to the Dalai Lama, his younger brother —  Lhamo Thondup — born in 1935.

Educated in China and married to the daughter of a Kuomintang general, he is fluent in Chinese, Tibetan and English and was the Dalai Lama’s  adviser and interlocutor with foreign leaders like Chiang Kai-shek, Jawaharlal Nehru, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. His journey from his village in Amdo has taken him to Lhasa, India, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United States and then back to the compound of the house he lives in today in Kalimpong where he earns his living by making noodles. That is how the remarkable memoir he has written — The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong — came to be named. However, the title of his book gives the unsuspecting reader no inkling about its actual contents.

The Chinese conquest of Tibet was a calamity for the Tibetans — and a disaster for India. This book is  a sad chronicle of the tragedy that followed the Chinese defeat of the Tibetan army in 1950 and the signing of the 17 Point Agreement affirming Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. Though the agreement was to enable Tibet to live as an autonomous region, the Chinese took physical control of the country through an invasion in  1951, divided it by hiving off its eastern portion and renaming it the Tibet Autonomous Region of China in 1965. Needless to say, the region has been autonomous only in name.

In 1959, Chinese misrule led to a major uprising and the Dalai Lama took political asylum in India along with tens of thousands of Tibetans. Chinese repression intensified, culminating in the holocaust of the Cultural Revolution when all its prominent monasteries were sacked and its religious and cultural artefacts destroyed or damaged.

The relations between China and Tibet are a matter of controversy. The People’s Republic of China insists on affirming the imperial borders of the Manchu or Yuan era, but ties in that era were more complex and fluid. There was no “China” and both these were, in fact, foreign empires who ruled over China. However, what matters now is that Tibet is under the firm control of the PRC and there is little chance in the near term that this situation will change. The only change that can come is through negotiation and dialogue and better awareness in China of how shoddily they have treated their minority peoples and culture. This is a lesson that Gyalo learnt the hard way, going through the process of associating with the CIA and Indian intelligence agencies to stoke an insurgency against Chinese rule, failing and thereafter seeking to achieve Tibetan autonomy through dialogue.

The Chinese efforts to transform the hearts and minds of the Tibetans has been a spectacular failure and its rule has been characterised by repeated uprisings — 1959, 1969,  1987, 2008. The protests of  Tibetans that shook China on the eve of the Olympics in 2008 were significant in that not only did they take place in the TAR, but in areas of Tibet like Amdo and Kham which had been assimilated into Chinese provinces and where the Tibetans were in a minority. People who have travelled to Tibet have noted the deep veneration with which they hold the Dalai Lama even now and retain deep feelings for autonomy and cultural freedom.


India and Tibet are joined at the hip geographically. Their cultural ties are even deeper. Tibet is the abode of Shiva, the greatest god in the Indian pantheon; it is also the repository of a vast trove of Buddhist culture that once prevailed over India and was driven out by Brahminism. No Indian general, barring the unfortunate Zorawar Singh attempted to conquer the forbidding plateau, and, for that matter, none of the numerous invaders that India suffered came through Tibet. There was trade across the mountain passes between India and Tibet; indeed, the shortest distance between Lhasa and the sea was to the port of Kolkata, through which its major supplies were routed till the war of 1962. It is for these reasons that India has been extraordinarily generous and hospitable to the Tibetan refugees and the Dalai Lama. A Tibetan government-in-exile functions from Dharamsala which, however, treads carefully so as not to undermine India’s claim that it does not permit Tibetans to carry out political activities in India.

For a century or so, the British colonialists who drew the boundaries of political India sought assiduously to maintain Tibet as an autonomous region — recognising what they said was Chinese “suzerainty”, rather than sovereignty over Tibet. (It was only in 2008 that Britain abandoned  “suzerainty” and accepted Chinese “sovereignty” over Tibet)  But once a strong Chinese entity re-established its control over the country, such distinctions vanished and Beijing established its control over the region with the iron hand of the People’s Liberation Army. And the Indian political entity now faced a strong central power on its northern borders.

In keeping with its national interests, India sought to help the Tibetans. A query by Prime Minister Nehru to the Army chief, K M Cariappa about the feasibility of military assistance was met with a firm “no”. But New Delhi did manage to provide some material assistance to the Tibetans resisting the PLA in Kham. Don’t forget, in those days, access to Tibet was far easier through Kolkata and the passes of Sikkim, than from any part of China. Given the size of the Indian army and its commitments in Kashmir, there was no question of taking on the battle-hardened PLA. In a 1954 treaty, India surrendered its historical rights in Tibet, accepted China’s occupation  by recognizing its sovereignty over Tibet without getting any  commitments from Beijing over the Indo-Tibet border, naively believing that “friendship” between two countries would take care of all the problems.

Separately, the United States, which had sought to prevent the victory of the PLA in China and fought it in Korea, sought to open a new front against China through Tibet. The CIA’s predecessor, the OSS, had already made a connection in Lhasa, but now, with the victory of the PLA in the Chinese civil war, they were looking for other ways to hit China. Contact was established through the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, Thubten Norbu and simultaneously, the Kolkata consulate, through its vice-consul, a CIA officer, began to develop contacts with the Tibetan aristocracy via Sikkim, then an Indian protectorate. The story is told in considerable detail in Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison’s The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet and by one of the CIA officers, John Kenneth Knaus, in Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival.


Gyalo became the primary conduit of the CIA effort in Tibet, as well as an important interlocutor with India. Conboy and Morrison’s account, as well as that of Knaus’s, bring out the pathetic quality of that effort. Before 1962, India was complicit by permitting overflights of aircraft based in East Pakistan, dropping teams of Tibetans into their homeland. After the 1962 war, India got more actively involved and created Establishment 22, which supported the effort through a Tibetan group in Mustang, Nepal. The effort had little or no impact on China, if anything, it only served to deepen Beijing’s suspicions of India. However, following the election of 1968, the Americans shifted course as Kissinger sought to turn the Soviet Union’s flanks by befriending China. So, in 1969, the US abruptly stopped their Tibetan programme and the effort slowly unraveled.

Establishment 22 was used by India for some operations in Tibet and later against Pakistani forces in the Bangladesh war. It still exists in a truncated form as the Special Frontier Force.

Gyalo’s account is suffused with a sense of guilt. Had the Tibetans not sought Indian and American assistance, would the enormous suffering they subsequently faced at the hands of the Chinese been lessened? There is also a sense of bitterness  that after initially agreeing to give the Dalai Lama asylum in India in 1956, Nehru reneged,  taken in by Zhou Enlai who had dashed to India fearing such an eventuality. Naturally, there is no good answer to that. What has happened, has happened. And its unlikely that Mao, whose policies killed tens of millions of his own countrymen would have been any kinder towards Tibet.

What is interesting from the Indian viewpoint are some of the revelations Gyalo makes. He points to divisions in India’s bureaucracy, noting that he was  advised by Foreign Secretary T N Kaul to talk to the Soviets for help after the Americans dropped out, while the head of RAW, R N Kao was appalled by the suggestion. There is a ring of truth in this because through the Cold War and all the ups and downs in India’s relations with the US, the intelligence services of the two countries maintained a cordial and sometimes close relationship. He also speaks of the Indian effort to sabotage any effort on the part of the Tibetans to make a deal with China in the early 1980s. These were the same people who prevented a possible border settlement between India and China at the time.

There is also an interesting account detailing how Indian intelligence may have been involved in a plot to change the succession in Bhutan — which was foiled by the  premature death of King Jigme Dorji in 1972. A Tibetan consort of the old king, Ashi Yangkyi, was allegedly involved in the plot. Gyalo, who was then living in Hong Kong, was accused of masterminding the conspiracy. When he rushed back to India and sought to set the record straight through a press conference, he was strenuously opposed by Indian intelligence officials. In 1974, it may be recalled, skilfully manipulating a popular movement against the Chogyal of Sikkim, RAW succeeded in securing the accession of that protectorate into the Union of India.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of Gyalo’s account relates to his dealing with top Chinese officials. In 1979, almost coincidentally with the visit of Foreign Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to China, Gyalo visited China again, this time for a meeting with China’s pragmatic new supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.  It was during this visit that Deng told Gyalo that “except for independence, everything is negotiable,” an offer which evokes Narasimha Rao’s promise to the Kashmiris, that when it came to  autonomy, “the sky is the limit.”

Sadly, that has not happened, either in Tibet, or in Kashmir. Incidentally, that was the period in which Deng offered India a border package which would essentially freeze the Line of Actual Control. Unfortunately, the Cold Warriors in New Delhi rejected the proposal which now stands withdrawn.


Tibetan negotiations with the Chinese went on in the early 1980s, first through Hu Yaobang, the new General Secretary of the CPC, later with Yan Mingfu, various proposals were discussed, including a return of the Dalai Lama, but eventually the talks collapsed in 1989 when China itself made a radical change of course following the Tiananmen events. Gyalo also describes an encounter with Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun, who was in charge of Tibet after Yan Mingfu was sacked.

Gyalo’s voice and his views are not being heard for the first time. He has, in the past, been interviewed by researchers writing on the events of the time. A memoir is also a place to set the record straight, as Gyalo does, with regard to charges that he embezzled money from the Mustang operation, or, earlier, from the bullion that the Dalai Lama brought with him from Tibet.

Age plays tricks with memories, especially when remembering frenetic events which took place 50 or 60 years ago. Indeed, in an afterword, his own co-writer, Anne Thurston, questions several portions of the narrative. In  p. 277 he writes of a “Mr Nair” the head of the “research division” of RAW  who urged him not to talk to the Chinese in 1988. But if it’s Sankaran Nair who he is talking about, he is mistaken. Nair headed RAW for a brief period in 1977 had retired subsequently and was High Commissioner to Singapore at the time of the purported conversation. But memoirs are memoirs which must be looked at warts and all.

The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation