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Pakistan to become the new ‘major terror ground’ in just six months

William Engdahl is an award-winning geopolitical analyst and strategic risk consultant whose internationally best-selling books have been translated into thirteen foreign languages.

Published time: August 09, 2013 09:51

Developing Pakistan-China ties which can drastically change the economic map of the region are threatened by Pakistani separatism, which might suddenly transform into another ‘terror ground.’

As Washington continues sending its development assistance aid in the form of drones to bomb civilians illegally inside Pakistan’s borders, allegedly to go after Taliban fighters, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently completed a trip to Beijing where he met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, his first foreign visit after the May elections. The Pakistani Federal Cabinet subsequently approved the start of negotiations and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on developing a "China-Pakistan Economic Corridor" long-term plan, and an action plan between the development ministries of the two countries.

The core of the new agreements between China and neighboring Pakistan calls for accelerated development of a 2,000-km trade infrastructure corridor linking Gwadar Port on Pakistan’s Indian Ocean coast to Kashgar, the westernmost city in China’s Xingjiang province. Pakistan has offered China a ‘trade and energy corridor’ via Gwadar, linked to inland roads. The plan would import oil from the Middle East, to refineries at Gwadar and sent on to China via roads, pipelines or railway.

A view of the Beijing-funded "megaport" of Gwadar, in southwestern Pakistan (AFP Photo)

Xinjiang is also the heart of China’s known oil resources and a transit area for major oil and gas pipelines. The development will cost billions of euros, which China reportedly has now pledged in the form of ‘soft loans’. The railway infrastructure will provide crucial links for transporting oil and gas from the Persian Gulf and minerals and food from Africa will be the heart of the new project.http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_61094.shtm

However, in six months this area will "suddenly" become a major "terror ground" that conveniently will disrupt the rail infrastructure link. It reminds me of the German Berlin-Baghdad Rail link to the Ottoman Empire before WWI that was the major cause for Britain to ally with Czarist Russia and France in the Triple Entente that became WWI in 1914.

Asian-gulf economic powerhouse?

China’s needs for energy resources, food and minerals from the Gulf and Africa have boosted trade between the regions in the recent years. China’s trade with the UAE alone has grown 15-fold since 2000 to reach $37 billion. It is expected to reach $100 billion by 2015. Some 2,500 Chinese firms have offices in Dubai. China's largest bank ICBC and the Bank of China also have branches in the Gulf sheikhdom where they are beginning to transact bilateral trade in Chinese renminbi rather than dollars.

The Chinese are currently upgrading some 600 kilometers of the China-Pakistan highway. The KKH was built in 1986 from Kashgar through Pakistan and the upgrade will make it suitable for heavy container traffic and linking it to Gwadar Port. China and Pakistan are also working to link Gwadar port and Xinjiang through a new Chinese-financed railway network. This will turn Gwadar Port and the KKH into a trade corridor for China and other Central Asians countries and create in Gwadar an energy, transport, and industrial hub providing direct and economical access to the Arabian Sea for both China and resource rich Central Asian states.

Gwadar is the world’s largest deep sea port. It lies in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan in the warm water Arabian Sea. The design and construction of the final stages of the port, which began in 2002, is being carried out in collaboration with China. It has an immense geostrategic importance at the entrance to the Persian Gulf and is a likely substitute for the Port of Dubai. In 2011 Pakistan invited China to build a Naval base at Gwadar, something the Pentagon is eyeing very closely. China has yet to respond on that. 

It will generate billions of dollars in revenue for Pakistan and likely create about two million jobs.

Pakistan and China have signed agreements to help energy starved Pakistan to utilize the hydro-electric potential offered by the area by constructing the Diamer-Bhasha and Bunji dams.

China also wants to import gas from Iran by joining the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline that will pass through Gilgit Baltistan on the Pakistan border to Xinjiang in China.

Also Pakistan and China have signed agreements to develop entirely new industrial cities in various parts of Pakistan along the route of the rail link, including at Gwadar.

Close to the Straits of Hormuz, Gwadar has the potential to become the gateway to Central Asia and China. It’s at the junction of the world’s three most important strategic and economic regions–Middle East, South Asia and Central Asian states—giving it the potential, barring new wars, to generate billions in annual transit trade. As part of a shift in policy, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have recently been eagerly pursuing trade and economic links with China.

On January 30 this year, Pakistan turned over the management and operation of the Gwadar Port Authority to a Chinese company at the same time the Pakistan government signed  up to the Iran–Pakistan gas pipeline, tying Pakistan, Iran and China more closely, something that caused pain in Washington.

The availability of a major alterative trade route that cuts distance and time from the present long and slow 8000 km route by ship from the Persian Gulf through the Malacca Strait to the eastern seaboard of China will give both the Gulf states, as well as parts of Africa where China is very active, and Asia, huge economic benefits. 

Enter Baluchistan ‘Separatism’

Conveniently for Washington, which has no interest in fostering greater Chinese independence of energy supply, in recent months a growing militant separatist movement has erupted on the scene in Baluchistan, the Pakistan province where Gwadar is located. 

In 2006 the US Armed Forces Journal published an article by Colonel Ralph Peters titled Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look. In the piece, which appears to bear uncanny relevance to subsequent Pentagon and US State Department policy in the region, Peters calls for the  creation of a Free Baluchistan

His call was echoed by US Pakistan “expert” Selig Harrison, who reportedly enjoys strong ties to the CIA. In 2006 after Peters published his sensational article Harrison wrote in Le Monde Diplomatique and the New York Times that a Free Baluchistan movement was “simmering.”  The call by Peters and Harrison for a Free Baluchistan began four years after China began building the first phase of the Gwadar Port.

On June 15 this year, terror attacks including a suicide bombing of a bus filled with students and a gunfight in the city that left two dozen dead, hit the Baluchistan provincial capital of Quetta.

The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a militant separatist group, claimed responsibility. The BLA wasn’t acting alone. As the injured students were being rushed to hospital, they ran into an ambush by the ‘Pakistani Taliban’, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ). 

The BLA has been involved in attacks on government oil fields and gas pipelines. The Pakistan government accuses India of being behind the BLA. India recently has been moving closer to the US and to Japan in a military alliance that has a distinct anti-China bent.

Further, on July 29, jihadist militants armed with rockets and heavy weapons launched a concerted assault on a major prison in Dera Ismail Khan, close to the South Waziristan tribal agency in northwestern Pakistan, along the route of the rail-highway-pipelines from Gwadar to Xinjiang, freeing an estimated 250 militants affiliated with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Terror attacks in Xinjiang too

Xinjiang has recently suffered from new rioting by separatist Muslim Uyghurs. In late June in Xinjiang, home to some 10 million Uyghurs, two terror attacks killed 35 people days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the July 5, 2009 riot in the capital Urumqi that left 197 people dead.

The Jihadist Uyghur terrorists apparently are being recruited in Turkey by an Uyghur independence organization, sent to Syria for combat experience and, if they survive, sent back to Xinjiang to carry out terror deeds there.

China’s official daily, Global Times, reported in early July that a Muslim Uyghur from Xinjiang, Memeti Alili was arrested in Xinjiang during the new wave of terrorist acts and riots.

The Chinese daily reported that the 23-year-old Alili confessed to police that he had been recruited as a student in Istanbul by something called the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Aili was arrested when returning to Xinjiang to complete his mission to "carry out violent attack and improve fighting skills." He confessed that he had been assigned to return by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). ETIM is a terrorist group that aims to create an Islamist state in Xinjiang, which works alongside the East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association (ETESA), an Istanbul-based exile group.

This picture taken on August 5, 2013 shows the shell of a burnt out bus being towed by a rescue vehicle along a street in Urumqi in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (AFP Photo)

Muslim Uyghur youth are being recruited to go to Istanbul to “study”, then recruited by ETIM and ETESA to fight as Jihadists in Syria with Al Qaeda and other jihad groups, according to China’s anti-terrorism authority. If they survive the Syrian battlefield training, the Uyghur jihadists are recycled back to Xinjiang in China, the end-point of the new Gwadar to China rail and road infrastructure “land bridge.”

The headquarters of ETESA, located in Istanbul include research, media, social affairs, education and women's affairs departments. It aims to "educate and train Muslims" in Xinjiang and "set them free" by forming a Muslim state, according to a Chinese official.  In 2004, in Washington Anwar Yusuf Turani established the East Turkistan Government in Exile. Washington seemed not to object, though many other countries did, including China.

The Istanbul link of ETIM and ETESA is no accident. Istanbul’s Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly backed the Uyghur separatists in 2009 during the riots, calling them fellow Turkic peoples.

Meanwhile, as if to further underscore how vulnerable any China-Pakistani energy and trade corridor from Gwadar to Xinjiang would be, on the eve of US Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Islamabad to meet Pakistan’s Prime Minister just after the China deal of Pakistan, the US made several drone attacks inside Pakistan in the North Waziristan tribal region. They killed at least six people. It was the fourth US drone strike since Sharif was re-elected as Prime Minister in June, all in the crucial North Waziristan en route to Xinjiang. Despite Pakistan's strong protests Washington refuses to halt the CIA-run drone attacks. 

With the CIA drone attacks, the Baluchistan attacks of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Baloch Liberation Army, as well as Jihadists being sent into Xinjiang from Turkey and Syria, we can expect unrest to increase in Baluchistan province and upwards to Xinjiang as the huge China-Pakistan infrastructure plans materialize in coming months.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.