Thursday, January 11

Does Osama speak Mandarin? The Great Game, 21st Century style

(Today's planned post has been bumped to Monday.) The other day Baron Bodissey at Gates of Vienna published a piece titled The Middle Kingdom and the Crescent, which examines the murky question of whether the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) has terrorist ties -- hey! Where are you going? Didn't you read Kipling when you were a child? Resign yourself to learning about peoples and places that are quaint only from a far distance. Where was I?

East Turkestan does not exist as far as China's government is concerned, but it's located in Xinjiang, China's largest province. East Turkestan, as it used to be called before Mao's troops overran it, is peopled mostly by the Muslim Uygur (pronounced 'weegur') people. The Uygurs want their own country back, and they have a pretty good case.

The question the Baron examines is whether ETIM, a violent separatist group, has ties with al Qaeda.

It's an interesting piece because it examines intel from different angles, including the US reasons after 9/11 for going along with China's designation of ETIM as a terrorist organization.

All I will add to the story is that one has to keep The Great Game in mind. It so happens that the Uygurs are sitting on top of large oil and gas reserves in Xinjiang. That's all we really need to know, isn't it, to see how the chips are falling.

Of course Beijing will slap the terrorist label even onto a Uygur knitting bee. And no matter how much the US government frowns on ETIM, unofficially Washington is giving a cordial welcome to Uygur activists.

But to return to the Baron's question, what about the Uygur connection to al Qaeda? Well, put yourself in the place of a Uygur: Help from bin Laden, help from the US Congress, help from bin Laden, help from the US --

Now put yourself in Osama's place: Should I take refuge in China while at the same time angering Beijing?

There have been too many Osama sightings in China -- in Xinjiang, no less -- to dismiss the stories. Then there is the history:
[...] It should be recalled that representatives of China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) had met and struck a deal with Osama. Osama was to restrain an [Uygur] uprising in [Xinjiang]. In return, PLA had agreed to build the communication network in Afghanistan which was then ruled by the pro-Osama Taliban. The Memorandum of Understanding was signed on the 9/11 day itself. Nothing has happened subsequently to suggest a weakening of ties between Osama, Taliban and PLA. [...](1)
So, whatever ties ETIM had with al Qaeda years back, I doubt that Osama has many friends in ETIM at this time because the safest place for him right now is in China. And China's secret police are everywhere in Xinjiang. You can't take a pee in Xinjiang without this being noted by undercover agents and ratters.

Even if I am right, that says nothing about ETIM ties with other Muslims in other parts of the world sympathetic to the Uygur cause. And it says nothing about ETIM ties to other terrorist organizations, which they very definitely have. They really don't need to depend on help from al Qaeda.

But it all boils down to this: oil talks, nobody walks. Thus, the outline of today's Great Game.

1) Who's Hu in South Asia: Decoding India-Pakistan-China relations by Rajinder Puri, September 2006.

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