India and Uyghur card


Denied to get Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership, infuriated India may play Uyghur card in the coming days. Will this really advantage India to play a psychological war against intimate Pak-China friendship? This article explores whether such imagination will come true for the benefit of India and to what extent.

Modi Doctrine

With change in leadership after parliamentary elections in 2014, India has taken a tough stance vis-à-vis Pakistan. Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ approach will act tough on cross-border terrorism in the coming months. Following Independence Day speech delivered on 15 August, 2016 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with special mention to Baloch people thanking India, the same development may follow with Uyghurs of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Though invitation to Germany-based Uyghur rights activist Dolkun Isa to attend a conference at Dharmashala in India this year was thwarted by Indian authorities on the grounds of Interpol’s Red Corner notice issued against him on the charges of terrorism, it will become inevitable for India to play covert actions if it really think about the means to deter China on long term basis.

There is heavy pressure and support from China to curb the Baloch activists. Instances of Chinese help and gratitude for Pakistan-based terrorist organisations have been reported previously. To what extent Uyghurs will tender India’s support is anybody’s guess. But what Baloch people are doing in Baluchistan may repeat in Xinjiang.

Repression and disappearances of key Baloch activists may increase as it is now clear that India actively playing Baloch card. The same will follow with Uyghurs as both China and Pakistan need the success of $ 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project that dovetails Qwadar port in Baluchistan and Xinjiang for easy access and transport of oil and natural gas from Middle East and Central Asia as well as cooperation in energy and industrial parks.

 Uyghurs and China

Instances reported by international media about the ethnic tensions between Turkic minority group-Uyghur and Chinese Han community rebuked China by pro-democratic regimes and think tanks. This community have historical linkages with Central Asian nations and practice Islam, speaks Turkic language based on Arabic script.

The Uyghur American Association on their webpage states, “Much like Tibetans, Uyghurs in Xinjiang have struggled for cultural survival in the face of a government supported influx by Chinese migrants, as well as harsh repression of political dissent and any expression, however lawful or peaceful, of their distinct identity.”

There are several instances that Uyghurs in China have been banned to practice the religious practices during Ramadan and there are systematic ways to ruin their cultural identities. The more prosperous Han population in Xinjiang has been intentionally brought in to brew the erstwhile Uyghur social setting. Uyghurs have less socio-political freedom even in contrast to Mandarin speaking ethnic Hui minority.

India-China rivalry

India’s defence partnership with Vietnam and renewed diplomatic engagements with Japan-South Korea-Philippines have raised the stakes of India. Although China offers prosperous economic bilateral with India, the incidents of incursions of Chinese troops along India-China border reminds India of its war with China in 1962. There is a widespread suspicion in Indian society about Chinese policies in South Asia.

The Tibet card that India played by offering political asylum to Tibetan Buddhist leader Dalai Lama made China enraged. But this resentment was later brought to square one when China nourished its strategic cooperation partnership with Pakistan.

China subsequently offered economic assistance to Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal. This led to the conclusion among many South Asian analysts that China is testing the waters strategically important to India. Clandestine meetings with the leaders of Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), East Turkestan Liberation Movement (ETLM) and World Uyghur Congress may help India to play with Chinese psyche.

China-Pakistan beyond intimacy

In case of Pakistan, there is widespread thinking shared by India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval proposing covert ‘intelligence driven operations’. Pakistan Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif has already accused India for such attempts to destabilise the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through India’s external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said that China opposes all forms of terrorism when asked to comment about a bomb attack on a hospital in the Baluchistan provincial capital Quetta killed 70 and injured over 110 in August 2016. She further stated that China will campaign for the stability and security of Pakistan.

Yet, China vetoed the request to add Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist organisation head Masood Azhar in the UN Security Council’s blacklist for those affiliated to al-Qaida and Islamic State. He was involved in masterminding the attack on India’s Pathankot airbase. China cleverly remained aloof to suffer the glare from Pakistani establishment. This shows that China and India are not on the same page while dealing with terrorism.

In the first week of August, 2016 during his meeting with China’s top military official Fang Fenghui in Urumqi, Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif reassured to crackdown terrorist forces like “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” (ETIM). It seems dubious that China and Pakistan will remain calm if India engages Uyghurs openly.

Let the situation develop

Though it seems difficult to receive any positive signal from Uyghurs, India through its psychological war can reduce the Pakistan and China’s involvement in India. While displaying the stance, Dolkun Isa in interview given to The Indian Express suggested that India must find a balance between appeasing that country [China] and supporting the right of activists and others [Uyghurs].

Plans to hamper Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh, or disarming the Pakistan’s military arsenal with nuclear warheads may not accumulate in one instance such as playing the diplomatic gamble through Uyghurs. East Turkestan imagined by Uyghurs may not come in reality in its immediate effect, but by leveraging the Uyghur card, India can press the Pakistan to remain passive in Kashmir.