Pakistan has assured its major ally in the region, China, that it has eliminated all members of the Uighur militant group from its territory, and that it will remain vigilant to ensure they do not return. China blames the militants of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for carrying out attacks in its far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people. China has long maintained that the militants from Xinjiang are holed up in a lawless tribal belt, home to a lethal mix of militant groups, including the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. If true, the news would be reassuring to the Chinese.

On cue, and as expected, China and Pakistan have almost finalised a deal for China to sell eight submarines to Pakistan, one of the largest overseas weapons sale made by the superpower. As much as we appreciate and reiterate our support for the CPEC corridor and the economic benefits that will accrue from this venture we must keep in mind that the Uighurs are a persecuted ethnic minority struggling for a long time, blind observance of foreign policy demands must be checked.

Activists say that the central government policies have gradually curtailed the Uighurs’ religious, commercial and cultural activities. Beijing is accused of intensifying a crackdown after street protests in Xinjiang in the 1990s, and again in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Beijing is accused of exaggerating the threat from Uighur separatists in order to justify repression in the region.

That being said almost 200 people died in ethnic riots in Urumqi, the administrative capital of Xinjiang, in July 2009. One of the sparks for the violence seems to have been the deaths of two Uighurs in clashes with Han Chinese at a factory thousands of miles away in southern China. Such penchant for violence cannot be tolerated by any government, be it in China or in Pakistan. Occasional attacks on Chinese targets suggest Uighur separatism remains a potent and potentially violent force and hence Pakistan will not hesitate to deal with such dangerous elements.