China: Kunming Terrorist Attack
by R Hariharan on 15 Mar 2014 0 Comment

Indians who have been facing terrorist attacks for decades will condemn the dastardly attack at Kunming railway station in the early hours on March 2 that took 29 innocent lives. Over 100 people were reported injured in the attack. The masked terrorists wielding fruit knives struck wildly at the people crowding the station. Xinhua reported that a gang of eight (some reports said five) that “appeared to be expert at hacking people” took part in the attack. 


The same agency also reported that the Kunming Public Security Bureau’s four-man SWAT team patrolling the city responded to the alert and reached the station in ten minutes and in the midst of all the chaos managed to shoot and kill four of the terrorists, including a masked woman. A fifth member was wounded. It said the terrorists, dressed in black, stood their ground when challenged and the SWAT team leader managed to shoot a woman attacker who threw a knife at him.


China’s security forces including PLA, Special Forces, Border troops, Public Security forces, and the police have been honing their counter terrorist operational skills during the last few years. Counter terrorism has been the focus their joint training programmes with the forces of other countries including Russia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The Public Security Forces’ response to the Kunming attack shows the training has paid off. Their operational readiness – to react and respond in real time - and the professional competency demonstrated in Kunming, capital city of Yunnan Province, far from Xinjiang which had been the focus of militant attacks, is really commendable. 


The Kunming attack brings back unpleasant memories of Mumbai police’s clumsy response and utter lack of preparedness, despite prior intelligence, during the terrorist attacks on 12 targets by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiyaba (LeT) terrorists who infiltrated the city and held it to ransom for four days from November 26, 2008. They killed 164 people and injured 308 others. Two LeT terrorists who reached the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus opened AK-47 fire on passengers waiting there, killing 58 of them and wounding 104. The policemen on duty at the station opened fire with their obsolete rifles and managed to kill one terrorist. The efforts of the Union Home Ministry to streamline and coordinate the state’s readiness to respond to terrorist attacks that started immediately thereafter are yet to be completed!


The alleged mastermind behind the Kunming attack was identified as Abdurehim Kurban, which is probably a Uyghur name. Though the State media blamed Saturday night’s attack on ‘Xinjiang separatist forces’ they did not mention the Uighur connection to such attacks. Evidently they were following President Xi Jinping’s call for resolute opposition against any words and actions that damage the country’s ethnic unity while referring to the attack.


As happens in China’s controlled media environment, the local newspapers did not report the Kunming attack immediately, but preferred the safer option of leading with news of the 12th National Peoples Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (NC-CPPCC) at Beijing. News of the attack was carried only when micro blog messages about the incident flooded the internet. This contrasts sharply with our free media which vied with each other to provide real time coverage of the security forces operations that benefitted the attackers more than the public!


The President taking part in a plenum discussion with the members of the NC-CPPCC said, “we will build a ‘wall of bronze and iron’ for the ethnic unity, social stability and the national unity.” Unfortunately this is not being reflected in the State’s heavy handed response to public protests by the Uyghur and Tibetan minority in Xinjiang and Tibet respectively.


Kunming has a small Uyghur community confined to Dashuying village. According to locals, they had come to Kunming to make a living. Kunming also has Uyghur eateries, which serve naan-like rotis in the evening, a treat for Indian visitors. Obviously, local Uyghurs will be facing the brunt of the fallout of the terrorist attack. So Xi Jinping’s point is well taken. President Xi is fully conscious of the threats to ethnic unity as the Uyghur and Tibetan minority communities are unhappy at the threat to their distinct identity, culture and languages as Han colonisation has been relentless.


So the disturbed social environment within the two regions cannot be wished away when the State considers action against the “terrorists, extremists and separatists” (as Chinese seem to distinguish the various shades of Uyghur activists) infiltrating across the international borders. India’s own experience has shown in the Northeast that lasting solutions for insurgency have to be found through political measures in tandem with military operations to make the militants and insurgents wither away without popular support.


Unfortunately this does not seem to be happening in Xinjiang. The Xinhua interview with the deputy commander of the Xinjiang Military Area Command Major General Saimati Muhammat, an ethnic Uyghur attending the NC-CPPCC at Bejjing as a member reflects it. He is reported to have said, “Counter-terrorism arrangements are in place to prevent serious incidents in Xinjiang”. He added that the armed forces in Xinjiang would never ease border controls, implying that all the attackers do not belong to the country.


It seems obvious that there is more than ethnic or religious background to the ‘Xinjiang separatist strikes’ (as they are officially termed). Many Uyghurs, including the moderate ones, have a grouse against the Han colonisers who have been inducted into the province for over six decades. They threaten not only to subsume Uyghur identity but monopolise development and employment opportunities which are tilted in favour of the Han population. Some of their complaints relating to ban on keeping a beard or wearing a headscarf by women are common to Muslims of various ethnicities in China. The state has responded to these grievances in a highhanded manner. For instance, the medium of instruction in school is Mandarin Chinese and very few books are published in Uyghur.


According to China Daily, the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region is doubling the allocation for its Public Security Bureau to Yuan 2 million ($330,420) to strengthen the counter terrorism effort as per the government’s draft budget report released at the annual session of Xinjiang Regional People’s Congress. But that alone is not going to improve the situation. There has to be greater understanding from the state to involve the minority population in the mainstream, rather than segregating them in ghettoes.


Courtesy: Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) Paper No.2077 dated March 6, 2014

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