Saturday, August 27, 2011

South China Sea and the dream of a bipolar world….

The journey towards a bipolar world has already commenced and some believe that the principal route of this journey will be through the waters of South China Sea. The bipolarity lost at the end of previous century will be rediscovered in a matter of less than a decade, say some assessments. If history is any guide, the polar systems of world power always come into being as a result of major international conflicts involving many nations. And the resurgence of bipolarity will be no exception.

Why is this route so important? It is believed that nearly one third of the world’s shipping transits through the waters of South China Sea. It is also believed to be home to huge quantity of fisheries and have oil and gas reserves beneath its seabed. But are these the reasons enough to trigger a global armed conflict? China, the major claimant to this sea, is all set to become the second super power in the next five years when its economy achieves the status of the strongest economy. The developments over this region are quite interesting and the analysts are not ready to discount the projections that 21st century will be naval century and, hence, any major war fought in this century will be fought at sea.

The South China Sea joins the Southeast Asian states with the Western Pacific, functioning as the throat of global sea routes. It is a part of the Pacific with an area of 3.5 million kilometers. It is located south of mainland China and the island of Taiwan, west of the Philippines, north west of Sabah (Malaysia), Sarawak (Malaysia) and Brunei, north of Indonesia, north east of the Malay peninsula (Malaysia) and Singapore, and east of Vietnam. The minute South China Sea Islands, collectively an archipelago, number in the hundreds. The sea and its mostly uninhabited islands are subject to competing claims of sovereignty by several countries. These claims are also reflected in the variety of names used for the islands and the sea.

It is an extremely significant body of water in a geopolitical sense. It is the second most used sea lane in the world, while in terms of world annual merchant fleet tonnage; over 50% passes through the Strait of Malacca, the Sunda Strait, and the Lombok Strait. Over 1.6 million m³ (10 million barrels) of crude oil a day are shipped through the Strait of Malacca, where there are regular reports of piracy, but much less frequently than before the mid-20th century.

The region has proven oil reserves of around 1.2 km³ (7.7 billion barrels), with an estimate of 4.5 km³ (28 billion barrels) in total. Natural gas reserves are estimated to total around 7,500 km³ (266 trillion cubic feet).

The area is a bone of contention between many nations. The disputes between these nations have been regarded as Asia's most potentially dangerous point of conflict. These disputes involve China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and other neighboring countries. The gravity of these disputes, and their potential for triggering an international war, can be gauged from the fact that in July 2010, US Secretary of State called for the Peoples Republic of China, the major claimant, to resolve the territorial dispute. China responded by demanding the US keep out of the issue. This came at a time when both countries have been engaging in naval exercises in a show of force to the opposing side, which increased tensions in the region. The US Military released a statement where it opposed the use of force to resolve the dispute, and accused China of assertive behavior.

Why is China so much assertive as accused by the US? No doubt, China is a major stakeholder but what is it that leads the conflict-averse country like China to be assertive in this case. The firm reply to the US asking it to mind its own business demonstrates two facts; China treats US interest in the dispute as latter’s interference in China’s affairs because south China Sea is legitimately a Chinese territory, or China has assumed the role of a major arbiter in the region and wants the US to stay away from its turf. China had to fill the vacuum in this area created as a result of US withdrawal from the Philippines.

Marine and energy resources, in the opinion of some analysts, are not the only reasons China is so assertive about this body of water. According to The Diplomat, the semi-closed sea is integral to China’s nuclear strategy. And without understanding the nuclear dimension of the South China Sea disputes, China’s maritime expansion makes little sense. Possessing a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent is a priority for China's military strategy. China’s single Type 092, or Xia-class, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, equipped with short-range JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), has never conducted a deterrent patrol from the Bohai Sea since its introduction in the 1980s. However, China is on the verge of acquiring credible second-strike capabilities with the anticipated introduction of JL-2 SLBMs (with an estimated range of 8,000 kilometers) coupled with DF-31 and DF-31A road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In addition, China plans to introduce up to five Type 094, or Jin-class, SSBNs outfitted with the JL-2 missiles, while constructing an underwater submarine base on Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

With these kinds of strategic interests, China feels it is its legitimate right to keep the South China Sea off-limits. China also needs to secure its forces in the South China Sea and modify its maritime strategy and doctrine accordingly. Currently, the primary wartime missions of the People’s Liberation Army Navy are: 1) securing sea approaches to Taiwan; 2) conducting operations in the western Pacific to deny enemy forces freedom of action; 3) protecting Chinese sea lines of communication; and 4) interdicting enemy lines of communication. With the introduction of the Type 094, protecting Chinese SSBNs will become another primary mission, and this mission will require China to kill enemy strategic antisubmarine forces and end the resistance of other claimants in the South China Sea. Chinese anti-access/area-denial capabilities, especially quieter nuclear-powered attack submarines, can be used to counter enemy forward antisubmarine warfare operations. China’s aircraft carriers, already under sea trial, will be deployed in the South China Sea to silence the neighboring claimants.

If the tension on this sea intensifies, the world will witness global realignment into Allied and Axis powers as a prelude to First World Naval War. Presently, all nine states that touch the South China Sea are more or less arrayed against China and, therefore, dependent on the United States for diplomatic and military support. These conflicting claims are likely to become even more acute as Asia's spiraling energy demands -- energy consumption is expected to double by 2030, with China accounting for half that growth -- make the South China Sea the ever more central guarantor of the region's economic strength. Already, the South China Sea has increasingly become an armed camp, as the claimants build up and modernize their navies, even as the scramble for islands and reefs in recent decades is mostly over.

War or no war, will this realignment translate into another bi-polar world like the one which came into being post-WWII? Professor Samuel Huntington, in his famous book, Clash of Civilizations...., predicted a war between China and Vietnam sometimes close to 2010 over the maritime resources of this sea. In view of Huntington, this would be a war within a civilization; but the later evidence suggests that South China Sea will be a hotbed of a much broader international conflict. Analysts have their fingers crossed but given the economic growth and fast industrialization of China, the world is already on the road to its cherished dream of bipolarity.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Oil imperialism; Iraq, Libya and now Balochistan…..

"The oil companies are the major international corporations. Since oil has become important, they have virtually owned the State Department. They are the corporations within the American imperialist system that have the greatest concern for American foreign policy. Because they have the largest overseas investments, their influence over foreign policy has always been extremely strong.” Noam Chomsky

A fugitive from Pakistani law, a Pakistani equivalent of OBL, has finally found a safe haven in Switzerland after having been pushed out of Afghanistan under Pakistani pressure. A person responsible for killings and insurgency in Pakistan has received a kind of media projection in the USA that only a very popular leader deserves. According to a New York Times report, a slim figure in a dark suit, Brahumdagh Bugti, 30, could pass for a banker in the streets of this sedate Swiss city (Geneva). But in truth he is a resistance leader in exile, a player in an increasingly ugly independence war within Pakistan. He has been on the run since 2006. 

The report builds his image of a hero. The fact that the New York Times is promoting this fugitive makes future American plans very clear; American strategists will not be out of job after installing the rebels’ government in Libya. They have very clear future plans and their next destination is Balochistan which figures very prominent in USA’s national interests. The fugitive being now promoted can realize the dreams of gaining control over Balochistan.

This barren land mass is of special interest to the USA for its oil reserves. The interest incidental to oil is the deep-sea port of Gwadar built by China on Balochistan’s Makran coast.

The US interests, its defense, economic and foreign policies, all are driven by global oil reserves. Wherever there is oil, there is US national interest. Speaking about American oil imperialism, Noam Chomsky in an interview in 1977 had said that there's been a very consistent U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, at least since the Second World War, whose primary concern has been to ensure that the energy reserves of the Middle East remain firmly under American control. The State Department noted in 1945 that these reserves constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history. Basically it is a policy meant to keep Saudi Arabia, which has by far the largest known stores of petroleum, under American control.

Commenting on the relation between the U.S. government's policy and the interests of the American oil companies, Chomsky said that the oil companies are the major international corporations. Since oil has become important, they have virtually owned the State Department. They are the corporations within the American imperialist system that have the greatest concern for American foreign policy. Because they have the largest overseas investments, their influence over foreign policy has always been extremely strong.

This all makes motives behind the US policies very clear. The Middle East oil reserves are already firmly under US control with US-installed and backed autocratic regimes. Take the example of Libya, where US-backed NATO forces are in the final stage of overthrowing Qaddafi regime. The Libyan tyrant, Qaddafi was not as pliant as the Saudi rulers or Gulf Emirs. On top of that, Oil reserves in Libya are the largest in Africa and the ninth largest in the world with 41.5 billion barrels (6.60×109 m3) as of 2007. Most of Libya remains unexplored as a result of past sanctions and disagreements with foreign oil companies.

Mouth-watering! Isn’t it?

Now look at the “weapons of mass destruction” possessed by Iraq in 2003. Oil reserves in Iraq will be the largest in the world according to recent geological surveys and seismic data. The Iraqi government has stated that new exploration showed Iraq has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, with more than 350 billion barrels. Officially confirmed reserves rank third largest in the world at approximately 143 billion barrels (22.7×109 m3). A major challenge to Iraq's development of the oil sector is that resources are not evenly divided across sectarian lines. Most known resources are in the Shiite areas of the south and the Kurdish north, with few resources in control of the Sunni population in the center.

American access to oil and gas reserves of the Central Asian states was being contemplated through its control of Afghanistan. According to some accounts, US had already decided to attack Afghanistan even before 9/11. Like Iraq’s WMD’s, al Qaeda provided it an excellent excuse to land in and destroy Afghanistan. This move will prove to be counter-productive for the American interests in the years to come because Afghanistan will never be Iraq or Libya for the US.

If the very recent history of America’s global interventionism is any guide, Balochistan should be the next candidate for US-aided rebellion a la Libya.  According to Global Research, Pakistan's extensive oil and gas reserves, largely located in Balochistan province, as well as its pipeline corridors are considered strategic by the Anglo-American alliance, requiring the concurrent militarization of Pakistani territory. Balochistan comprises more than 40 percent of Pakistan's land mass, possesses important reserves of oil and natural gas as well as extensive mineral resources. Balochistan also possesses a deep sea port largely financed by China located at Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea, not far from the Straits of Hormuz where 30 % of the world's daily oil supply moves by ship or pipeline.

Pakistan has an estimated 25.1 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven gas reserves of which 19 trillion are located in Balochistan. Among foreign oil and gas contractors in Balochistan are BP, Italy's ENI, Austria's OMV, and Australia's BHP. It is worth noting that Pakistan's State oil and gas companies, including PPL which has the largest stake in the Sui oil fields of Balochistan are up for privatization under IMF-World Bank supervision. According to the Oil and Gas Journal (OGJ), Pakistan had proven oil reserves of 300 million barrels, most of which are located in Balochistan. Other estimates place Balochistan oil reserves at an estimated six trillion barrels of oil reserves both on-shore and off-shore.

This brings us to the major theme of this article; Balochistan's strategic energy reserves have a bearing on the separatist agenda. Following a familiar pattern, there are indications that the Baloch insurgency is being supported and abetted by Britain and the US.  In the current geopolitical context, the separatist movement is in the process of being hijacked by foreign powers. British intelligence is allegedly providing covert support to Balochistan separatists (which from the outset have been repressed by Pakistan's military). In June 2006, Pakistan's Senate Committee on Defense accused British intelligence of "abetting the insurgency in the province bordering Iran" [Balochistan]. Ten British MPs were involved in a closed door session of the Senate Committee on Defense regarding the alleged support of Britain's Secret Service to Baloch separatists. Also of relevance are reports of CIA and Mossad support to Baloch rebels in Iran and Southern Afghanistan.

The stated purpose of US counter-terrorism is to provide covert support as well as training to "Liberation Armies" ultimately with a view to destabilizing sovereign governments. In Kosovo, the training of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the 1990s had been entrusted to a private mercenary company, Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI), on contract to the Pentagon. The BLA bears a canny resemblance to Kosovo's KLA, which was financed by the drug trade and supported by the CIA and Germany's Bundes Nachrichten Dienst (BND).

The report says that BLA emerged shortly after the 1999 military coup. It has no tangible links to the Baloch resistance movement, which developed since the late 1940s. An aura of mystery surrounds the leadership of the BLA. Washington favors the creation of a "Greater Balochistan" which would integrate the Baloch areas of Pakistan with those of Iran and possibly the Southern tip of Afghanistan, thereby leading to a process of political fracturing in both Iran and Pakistan. The US is using Baloch nationalism for staging an insurgency inside Iran's Sistan-Balochistan province. The 'war on terror' in Afghanistan gives a useful political backdrop for the ascendancy of Baloch militancy. 

In view of this, the patronizing of a scion of Bugti tribe by the imperialist powers and his image building by a paper like the New York Times makes a lot of strategic sense on the part of the US. How has Pakistan positioned itself, diplomatically and militarily, to face the very imminent onslaught of oil imperialism is something of crucial interest for those watching events unfolding in Balochistan, FATA, particularly South Waziristan and Karachi.

Related links:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fall of Tripoli; NATO does it again….

Whether the Battle of Tripoli has been lost to rebels or not, the Libyan turmoil seems to have entered a new phase. There are conflicting reports of fall of Tripoli but it seems that the fall is imminent if not already taken place. It may be too early to analyze the factors leading to rebels’ apparent success against Libya’s strongman and the atrocities perpetrated by him and his family members. Does the apparent fall of the Qaddafi regime vindicate President Barack Obama's "lead from behind" strategy? It will also be too early to give the credits at this stage.

The key question is whether the rebels could achieve what they did without global intervention (read: USA and NATO’s aerial strikes against the Libyan population)? According to some analysts, NATO’s strikes were the key to success of rebels in Tripoli. This means that the rebellion was not a populist movement and was successful because Libya was facing a collective fury of the mightiest of the global powers.

The major reason of the fall of Tripoli is NATO’s stepped up military operations, especially American military operations, as critics had been calling for. The real test of Obama's Libya operation will be how events play out after Qaddafi is gone and if Libya quickly transitions to a stable, representative political order, then the messiness of the last five months will be forgiven and forgotten. Ask George W. Bush administration which knows, as hard as it is to topple a dictator, the really hard part is what comes after.

NPR Blog has compiled from the international press, some very interesting factors of rebel’s success in Tripoli which are listed as under:

— "Surveillance And Coordination With NATO Aided Rebels": "American and NATO officials cited an intensification of American aerial surveillance in and around the capital city as a major factor in helping to tilt the balance after months of steady erosion of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's military. The officials also said that coordination between NATO and the rebels, and among the loosely organized rebel groups themselves, had become more sophisticated and lethal in recent weeks." (The New York Times)

As Bombing Weakened Qaddafi's Forces, Opposition Organized: "It took five months after the NATO air strikes began before rebel forces entered Tripoli. Col Gaddafi's forces were a real army with heavy weapons, while the rebels were a bunch of civilians who had managed to get hold of some light arms such as AK-47s. It took a while for the bombing campaign to significantly reduce the government's military advantage and for the rebels to be organized into a proper fighting force. In the end, they advanced on Tripoli from three fronts, surrounding the coastal city, where they were met by jubilant crowds. Many were surprised at how little resistance they met outside the capital." (BBC News)

NATO Attacks Intensified; Deadline Loomed: "NATO warplanes have flown nearly 20,000 sorties in the past five months, including about 7,500 strike attacks against Qaddafi's forces. The jets have hit at least 40 targets in and around Tripoli in the past two days. This was the highest number on a single geographic location since the bombing started more than five months ago, officials said. ...
"NATO officials deny there has been a fundamental shift in tactics in recent days to provide close air support to the advancing rebels. ... But they acknowledge that in response to new developments, alliance bombers have been pummeling Qaddafi's troops holding defensive positions even when they were only trying to stem the progress of the rebels.
"Alliance's military planners have [also] been racing against a deadline next month, when member states must vote on a second three-month extension of the mission. The bombing campaign has been criticized as detracting resources from NATO's main mission, the 10-year war in Afghanistan." (The Associated Press)

A "Secret Allegiance?" "One reason for the rebels' startlingly rapid entrance into Tripoli – which had long seemed impregnable – was reported to be the secret allegiance of the commander of the special battalion guarding the capital. Senior rebel official Fathi al-Baja told the Associated Press that the commander's brother had been killed by the regime years ago, and that he had been loyal to the rebels. When opposition forces reached the gates of Tripoli, the battalion promptly surrendered. (The Guardian)

"Libya's Gritty Mountain Rebels May Have Turned Tide In Tripoli": "The push by guerrilla fighters from Libya's isolated Berber highlands, the rugged Nafusa Mountains near the Tunisian border, was one front too many for Qaddafi's depleted and sometimes demoralized forces." (Los Angeles Times)

As events unfold, it's important to remember that while the U.S., it's NATO allies and opposition leaders believe it's only a matter of time before Qaddafi is captured, as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported from Tripoli earlier today on Morning Edition, everything is a "bit messy" at this point and exactly how things will play out isn't known.

Post-Qaddafi Libya will be as hard to govern as Iraq. Both have many commonalities. Both are oil rich, both were ruled by autocrats to the disgust of common man. Both were attacked by Western imperialists. "Leading from behind" strategy is just a farce. It was a brazen attack on Libya. The instability now looming large in the entire region will be a nightmare for the African countries. However, Libyan oil will be in easy access and the dream of oil dinar will die its own death.

Please also read:

The gold dinar, dollar and Libya intervention.....

US interest in Libya is all about oil and China's growing economy....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A new gem in the String of Pearls….

China has long been a suspect for having ambitions beyond its territorial waters. This is because it has been struggling very hard to secure its energy routes from Hong Kong to Port Sudan. Its sea lanes of communication (SLOC) run through the strategic choke points like Bab al Mandab, Strait of Malacca, Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Lombok as well as other strategic naval interest such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Somalia.  These lanes are called China’s String of Pearls. This string was described as such, for the first time, in an internal communication of US DOD, titled Energy Futures in Asia. According to this report, the “String of Pearls” describes the manifestation of China’s rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Persian Gulf.

Was China doing something unique which no other country is doing?

China has recently added a precious gem to its String of Pearls; its first aircraft carrier which has just been launched for maiden sea trials. Although aircraft carriers have been in service in many naval forces for decades, the launch of China's first aircraft carrier drew worldwide attention. According to Xinhua, Chinese news agency, the carrier was refitted from an old former Soviet Union vessel and serves mainly as a platform for research, experiment and training. It is true that as a key symbol of a powerful naval force, aircraft carrier is a moving battle platform that can either be used for offense or defense. But their use depends fundamentally on a country's defense policy and military strategy. China's need to defend its long coastline and enormous maritime interests is basically behind the country's resolve to develop aircraft carriers. China has also learnt a lesson from its modern history of humiliation that backwardness leaves one vulnerable to attack.

Between 1840 and 1949, China was attacked from the sea for more than 100 times and was forced to sign a string of unfair treaties due to maritime defense failures. In the 21st century, struggle for maritime interests is becoming increasingly intense as the whole world comes to realize that the seas have become a key space for expansion of national interests and maritime security has become an important sphere of national security. Therefore, building a strong navy that is commensurate with China's rising status is a necessary step and an inevitable choice for the country to safeguard its increasingly globalized national interests.

Will China keep its word that it will never seek hegemony, no matter how developed it is? It may try to but what will China do if the hegemony is thrust upon it? A very recent debt crisis in the US has clearly demonstrated that China is not far from claiming the crown of the globe.

According to Xinhua, Chinese navy fleets had by June escorted 3,953 ships from countries all over the world through the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia, among which 47 percent were foreign commercial ships.

China’s plans to enter the blue waters on-board a carrier were known to the world since long but it never admitted that it was indeed building a carrier. Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar was suspected to be a dispersal base for the carrier after an irresponsible remark by defense minister about China’s plans to develop a naval base near the port. Although China distanced itself from these remarks, it however confirmed only last month that it was refitting the old, unfinished Soviet carrier hull bought from Ukraine's government. The world suspects that it was also building two of its own carriers because if Beijing is serious about having a viable carrier strike group, it will need three carriers along with support ships and aircrafts for the carrier group.

In China's neighborhood, India and Thailand already have aircraft carriers, and Australia has ordered two multi-purpose carriers. The United States operates 11 carriers.

The initial reaction from the world is not very significant. The two major countries who would feel threatened are India and the US who have partnered for the sole business of blocking China’s access to Indian and Pacific Oceans. Before the launch, a Pentagon spokesman played down the likelihood of any immediate leaps from China's carrier program. U.S. experts on the Chinese navy agreed.

"A newly-wed couple wants a 'starter home', a new great power wants a 'starter carrier'," Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College and Gabriel Collins, a security analyst, wrote in a note about the carrier launch (

"China's 'starter carrier' is of very limited military utility, and will primarily serve to confer prestige on a rising great power, to help the military master basic procedures, and to project a bit of power."

But the carrier is just one part of China's naval modernization drive, which has forged ahead while other powers tighten their military budgets to cope with debt woes. China has been building new submarines, ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernization. The country's growing reach at sea is triggering regional jitters that have fed into long-standing territorial disputes, and could speed up military expansion across Asia. In the past year, China has had run-ins at sea with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. The incidents -- boat crashes and charges of territorial incursions -- have been minor, but the diplomatic fallout often heated. The nation most disturbed at this new development is, naturally, India. They always thought that Indian Ocean was “India’s Ocean” but now now they will have to put up with this harsh reality.

"They want to assert their dominance in East Asia as well as the Chinese sea and they have very ambitious plans of asserting their claims over some islands," retired Indian Major General Ashok Mehta, a defense analyst in Delhi, said of China.

"India has lot of catching up to do and the history of India's catching up is not very impressive," he said, noting New Delhi's plan to have three aircraft carriers by 2015.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Why did they choose Xinjiang?

The recent terror attack in China’s Xinjiang province and Chinese government's statement that that the attack has Pakistani terrorists’ stamp, has pleased so many in the world. The prophets of doom had started predicting sour Sino-Pakistan relations in the days to come and many even went to the extent of making preparations for celebrating “total international isolation” of Pakistan. The reason was China’s initial statement that terrorists were trained in FATA, a restive tribal area infested with anti-Pakistan terrorists. Fully aware of the ground realities, China turned the tables on these prophets the very next day by declaring total support to Pakistan in its war against terrorists.

Pakistan's FATA bordering Afghanistan has been volatile ever since opening of a number of unwarranted Indian consulates and intensification of the activities of intelligence network of a very powerful country, the latter being the major reason of strained US-Pakistan relations. The very fact that China was the target of terror attacks speaks volumes about who could be behind these terrorists. This also explains “Islamists’” acts of violence targeting Chinese citizens in Islamabad in 2007, after occupying a sacred place of worship and making the people hostage to this agenda.

The other reason for choosing Xinjiang was its volatility for ethnic reasons and its close proximity to Pakistan's international borders. The Chinese province of Xinjiang, having predominantly Muslim population of Turkic origin has remained in turmoil since long. Since those involved in turbulence are Muslims who, in their view, are fighting Chinese imperialism, the common perception is that probably the area is under the influence of al Qaeda or other terrorist activities for gaining political space. Only recently, an assault on a Chinese police station in Xinjiang has left at least four people dead, raising concerns about a fresh outbreak of violence in the restive far western region. The confrontation in Hotan – near one of China's most important energy-producing areas – comes two years after the deadliest ethnic rioting in the country's recent history left at least 197 people dead.

Details of the police station attack are contested. The official Xinhua news agency said on Monday that "thugs" forced their way into the building, started fires and took hostages before security reinforcements killed several attackers in a gunfight that also claimed the lives of two civilians and two officers. Six hostages were successfully rescued. Local police confirmed the report and said they were planning countermeasures.

According to Guardian, this version of events is disputed by the World Uighur Congress, which wants more independence and greater rights for the largely Muslim, ethnic group in Xinjiang. Dilxat Raxit, the Sweden-based spokesman for the WUC, said the shooting occurred in the main bazaar when a large number of locals tried to protest about the "disappearances" of young Uighurs taken away by the security forces.

The unrest is a major concern for the government in Beijing, which is increasingly dependent on Xinjiang for oil, gas and coal to power the economy. Many Han Chinese migrants have moved into the region to cash in on this boom, prompting tensions with the indigenous population.

Is this tension in the region driven and perpetrated by the Muslim terrorist outfits like al Qaeda? Has this turbulence got anything to do with enforcement of Sharia, as is the case elsewhere in Afghanistan and Pakistan or is it simply a struggle of Uyghur majority population to preserve their culture, faith and economic rights? In order to find answers to these questions, let us look at the history of this region.

The Uyghur are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. Today, Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China. An estimated 80% of Xinjiang's Uyghurs live in the southwestern portion of the region, the Tarim Basin. The largest community of Uyghurs outside Xinjiang in China is in Taoyuan County, in south-central Hunan province. Outside of China, significant diasporic communities of Uyghurs exist in the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Smaller communities are found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Throughout history, the term Uyghur has taken on an increasingly expansive definition. Initially signifying only a small coalition of Tiele tribes in Northern China, Mongolia, and the Altay Mountains, it later denoted citizenship in the Uyghur Khaganate. Finally it was expanded to an ethnicity, whose ancestry originates with the fall of the Uyghur Khaganate in the year 842 AD, which caused Uyghur migration from Mongolia into the Tarim Basin. This migration assimilated and replaced the Indo-Europeans of the region to create a distinct identity, as the language and culture of the Turkic migrants eventually supplanted the original Indo-European influences. The name "Uyghur" reappeared after the Soviet Union took the ninth-century ethnonym from the Uyghur Khaganate, and reapplied it to all non-nomadic Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang, following a 19th-century proposal from Russian historians that modern-day Uyghurs were descended from the Turpan Kingdom and Kara-Khanid Khanate, which had formed after the dissolution of the Uyghur Khaganate. Historians generally agree that the adoption of the term "Uyghur" is based on a decision from a 1921 conference in Tashkent, which was attended by Turkic Muslims from the Tarim Basin (Xinjiang). There, "Uyghur" was chosen by them as the name of their own ethnic group, although the delegates noted that the modern groups referred to a "Uyghur" were distinct from the old Uyghur Khaganate. Soviets and the ruling regime of China at that time, the Kuomintang intended to foster a Uyghur nationality in order to divide the Muslim population of Xinjiang, whereas the various Turkic Muslim peoples themselves preferred to identify as "Turki", "East Turkestani", or "Muslim".

On the other hand the Kuomintang, grouped all Muslims, including the Turkic-speaking people of Xinjiang, into the "Hui nationality". They generally referred to the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang as "Chan Tou Hui" (turban-headed Muslim). Westerners traveling in Xinjiang in the 1930s, like George W. Hunter, Peter Fleming, Ella K. Maillart, and Sven Hedin all referred to the Turkic Muslims of the region not as Uyghur, but as "Turki", in their books. Use of the term "Uyghur" was unknown in Xinjiang until 1934, when the governor Sheng Shicai came to power in Xinjiang. Sheng adopted the Soviets' ethnographic classification rather than the Kuomintang one, and became the first to officially promulgate the use of the term "Uyghur" to describe the Turkic Muslims of Xinjiang. After the Communist victory, the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong continued the Soviet classification, using the term Uyghur to describe the modern ethnic group.

In current usage, Uyghur refers to settled Turkic urban dwellers and farmers of the Tarim Basin and Ili who follow traditional Central Asian sedentary practices, as distinguished from nomadic
Uyghurs staged several uprisings against Chinese rule. Twice, in 1933 and 1944, the Uyghurs successfully regained their independence(backed by the Soviet Communist leader Joseph Stalin): the First East Turkestan Republic was a short-lived attempt at independence of land around Kashghar, and it was destroyed by Chinese Muslim army under General Ma Zhancang and Ma Fuyuan at the Battle of Kashgar (1934). The Second East Turkistan Republic was a Soviet puppet Communist state which existed from 1944 to 1949 in what is now Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture.

Mao declared the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. He turned the Second East Turkistan Republic into the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, and appointed Saifuddin Azizi as the region's first Communist Party governor. Many Republican loyalists fled into exile in Turkey and Western countries. The name Xinjiang was changed to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where they are the largest ethnic group and Uyghurs are mostly concentrated in the southwestern Xinjiang.

The Uyghur identity remains fragmented, as some support a Pan-Islamic vision, exemplified in the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, others support a Pan-Turkic vision, as in the East Turkestan Liberation Organization and a third group would like a "Uyghurstan" state, as in the East Turkestan independence movement. As a result, "No Uyghur or East Turkestan group speaks for all Uyghurs, although it might claim to", and Uyghurs in each of these camps have committed violence against other Uyghurs who they think are too assimilated to Chinese or Russian society or not religious enough. Mindful not to take sides, Uyghur leaders like Rebiya Kadeer mainly try to garner international support for the "rights and interests of the Uyghurs", including the right to demonstrate, although the Chinese government has accused her of orchestrating the deadly July 2009 Ürümqi riots.

Most Uyghurs are Muslim, and practice Sufism. The relics of the Uyghur culture constitute major collections in the museums of Berlin, London, Paris, Tokyo, St. Petersburg, and New Delhi. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scientific and archaeological expeditions to the region of Xinjiang's Silk Road discovered numerous cave temples, monastery ruins, and wall paintings, as well as valuable miniatures, books, and documents. Explorers from Europe, America, and Japan were amazed by the art treasures found there, and soon their reports caught the attention of an interested public around the world. Throughout the history of Central Asia, the Uyghurs left a lasting imprint on both the culture and tradition of the people of central Asia.

Today, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a territory in western China, accounts for one-sixth of China's land and is home to about 20 million people from thirteen major ethnic groups, the largest being the Uyghurs. Some Uyghurs call China's presence in Xinjiang a form of imperialism, and they stepped up calls for independence—sometimes violently—in the 1990s through separatist groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The Chinese government has reacted by promoting the migration of China's ethnic majority, the Han, to Xinjiang. Beijing has also strengthened economic ties with the area and tried to cut off potential sources of separatist support from neighboring states that are linguistically and ethnically linked with the Uyghurs.

Xinjiang's wealth hinges on its vast mineral and oil deposits. In the early 1990s, Beijing decided to spur Xinjiang's growth by giving it special economic zones, subsidizing local cotton farmers, and overhauling its tax system. In August 1991, the Xinjiang government launched the Tarim Basin Project (World Bank) to increase agricultural output. During this period, Beijing invested in the region's infrastructure, building massive projects like the Tarim Desert Highway and a rail link to western Xinjiang.

Growing job opportunities in Xinjiang have lured a steady stream of migrant workers to the region, many of whom are ethnically Han whose population has risen from approximately 5 percent in the 1940s to approximately 40 percent today. Many of these Uyghurs say China colonized the area in 1949. But in its first white paper on Xinjiang, the Chinese government said Xinjiang had been an "inseparable part of the unitary multi-ethnic Chinese nation" since the Western Han Dynasty.

In its 2007 annual report to the U.S. Congress, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said the Chinese government "provides incentives for migration to the region from elsewhere in China, in the name of recruiting talent and promoting stability". Since imperial times, the Chinese government has tried to settle Han on the outskirts of China to integrate the Chinese periphery. But the Communist Party says its policies in Xinjiang are designed to promote economic development, not demographic change.

Ethnic tension is fanned by economic disparity: the Han tend to be wealthier than the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Some experts say the wage gap is the result of discriminatory hiring practices. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China reports that in 2006, the XPCC reserved approximately 800 of 840 civil servant job openings for Han. Local officials say they would like to hire Uyghurs, but have trouble finding qualified candidates. Uyghurs are also upset by what they consider Chinese attempts to "refashion their cultural and religious identity.

During the 1990s, separatist groups in Xinjiang began frequent attacks against the Chinese government. The most famous of these groups was the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). China, the United States, and the UN Security Council have all labeled ETIM a terrorist organization, and Chinese officials have said the group has ties to al-Qaeda. Concern about Uighur terrorism flared in August 2008—just days before the Beijing Olympics—when two men attacked a military police unit in Xinjiang, killing sixteen.

But many experts say China is exaggerating the danger posed by Uyghur terrorists. China has accused the Uyghurs of plotting thousands of attacks, but Andrew J. Nathan, a China expert at Columbia University, says, "You have to be very suspicious of those numbers." Many of the "terrorist incidents" that China attributes to ETIM are actually "spontaneous and rather disorganized" forms of civil unrest.

Xinjiang shares a border with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and the Tibet Autonomous Region. Because of the Uyghurs' cultural ties to its neighbors, says a report of Council on Foreign Relations, China has been concerned that Central Asian states may back a separatist movement in Xinjiang. According to Nathan, these fears are fueled by the fact that the Soviet Union successfully backed a Uyghur separatist movement in the 1940s. To keep Central Asian states from fomenting trouble in Xinjiang, China has cultivated close diplomatic ties with its neighbors, most notably through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which was created to ensure the support of Central Asian states, and to prevent any emergence of linkages between Uyghur communities in these countries and Xinjiang. As a result of these diplomatic efforts, China's neighbors "are now fighting their own Muslim fundamentalist groups," which makes them more sympathetic to China's plight.

None of China's neighbors have expressed official support for the Uyghurs, but the region's porous borders still worry Chinese officials. In the 1980s and 1990s, many Uyghurs traveled into Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they were exposed to Islamic extremism. Some enrolled in madrassas, some enrolled with [the anti-Taliban opposition force] the Northern Alliance, some enrolled with the Taliban, some enrolled with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.