With the demise of Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the leader of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) based at Waziristan tendered to claim its legacy. It managed to gain attention of the Chinese authorities and the international arena by owning up to the responsibility of bombings of public busses in Shanghai and Kunming and threats of biological, chemical and conventional attacks on the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Presently, it asserts its primacy as being the mind behind Urumqi riots in 2009. However, the Chinese government’s denial of any such organization operating from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has landed it in an identity crisis of sorts. With the Chinese government’s ‘Iron Hand Policy’ operational in Xinjiang, it is important to reflect on what the future entails for this organization.
The PRC achieved a major feat in 2002 when it successfully pressed the US State Department and the UN to designate the ETIM as a terrorist organization. Nevertheless, this did not lead to the dissolution of the Uyghur separatist movement. It only led to the creation of various splinter groups to carry forward the agenda of an independent ‘East Turkistan’. In collaboration with the ‘East Turkistan Information Center’ the TIP took upon its mantle to preach and instigate terrorism, and extremism and called for jihad by violent means. It openly beckoned Muslims in China to stage terrorist events and hinder the functioning of Han dominated political echelons. It also tried to gain support from the larger Islamic fundamentalist movements by eulogizing the Mujahedeen endeavours.
However, of late, the movement exhibits irrevocable signs of dilapidation. The rhetoric of its leaders seems anachronistic in embracing an anti-communist strategy in the present day circumstances. It’s hinging onto an ‘anti-colonial’ ideology in releases of ‘Voice of Islam’ and ‘Islam Awazi’ demonstrates its lack of contemporary agendas. Moreover, its defence of Islamic fundamentalism has failed to garner any support from the global jihadist forces. Its separatist efforts are facing a massive blow from the developmental strategy adopted by the Chinese government. The Uyghur youngsters can now avail economic opportunities in far away provinces of China and an education in Chinese is providing them with an equal platform to seek a better life.
Likewise, the internal atrophy of the separatist movement has been abetted by the gradual leaning of the Uyghur youth to progressive realms. Central reasons for this degeneration are the lack of logistical support and resources for carrying on such a massive effort against the Chinese behemoth. Outdated modes of guerilla warfare tactics employed by this organization make it just a disoriented, disgruntled pack of hoodlums. Moreover, China’s maneuvering of its foreign policy in terms of introducing new intelligence-sharing and cooperative counter-terrorism measures has made it enormously difficult for Uyghur militants to operate from neighboring Asian countries like Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics. Pan-Turkic sentiments embraced by the Uyghur people have recoiled in face of their realization of the current political exigencies. And the concerns of local Uyghurs seem to have shifted to more day-to-day manifestations of unemployment, religious repression, and assimilation pressures rather than seeking an autonomous rule.
The aftermath of Urumqi crisis which the TIP claimed to have triggered, has yet again witnessed a two-fold response strategy by the Chinese government. On one hand it questioned the existence of TIP as a party and stated that it might just be an association of the ‘World Uyghur Congress’. On the other hand, China effectively utilized the larger terrorist rhetoric to clamp down on terrorist and separatist groups like the TIP. Following the public trials and pronouncement of death sentences for the instigators of the Urumqi riots, PRC announced a ‘Comprehensive Management of Public Security’ through recruitment and training of high-caliber personnel from the ethnic minorities to curb the ‘three evils’ besetting the region. Additionally, with an aim of ‘safeguarding the political situation of ethic unity’, the PRC has outlined a policy of thoroughly educating the people through Party cadre members and setting up of video-monitoring systems covering the entire city.
With such a two-pronged approach of both punitive and integrative measures in place for the people of Xinjiang, the TIP seems to be chasing a lost cause. The recent years have witnessed an increase in the strong hold of the Communist Party in Xinjiang and commendable success in its attempt at integrating the Xinjiang region into its polity. Though TIP could achieve temporary disruption of the law and order situation in Xinjiang, it has failed to establish its own identity as an ‘organized’ threat to the Chinese State or even a true stalwart of Turkish nationalism. Its proclivity of treating government Uyghur workers as collaborators with the State has earned it the wrath of fellow community members. And as a fragile organization pitted against a highly efficient and domineering state, the future portends a debacle waiting to unfold. It is unlikely that the organization would emerge as a strategic concern for the Chinese authorities though it might become a target of the larger anti-separatist and anti-terrorist movement.