Criminals and terrorism suspects are transported to a stadium for a mass sentencing rally in Yili, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in 2014. Photo: Reuters

Uygur militants 'eliminated' from Pakistan, claims minister

Islamabad says it has eliminated movement China blames for attacks in restive Xinjiang

Pakistan has eliminated all members of the Uygur militant group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement from its territory, but must remain vigilant to ensure they do not return, the country's defence minister said in Beijing yesterday.

China blames the movement for carrying out attacks in its far western Xinjiang region, home to the Muslim Uygur people, although many foreign experts doubt its existence in a cohesive group.

READ MORE: China vows to improve terror intelligence cooperation with US amid threat from Islamist militant Uygurs in Xinjiang

China, Pakistan's only major ally in the region, has long urged Islamabad to weed out what it says are militants from Xinjiang, who are holed up in a lawless tribal belt, home to a lethal mix of militant groups, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

"We believe they're all eliminated," Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on the sidelines of a security forum. "There [were] a small number in tribal areas, they're all gone or eliminated. There are no more there."

It was in Pakistan's interests as in China's to fight Uygur militants, Asif said, denying there was any difference of opinion between Beijing and Islamabad on Pakistan's efforts to tackle the problem.

"The fight against ETIM is our own fight. It's not only China's fight. It's a joint fight against ETIM, between Pakistan and China, so there is absolutely no difference of opinion on the elimination of ETIM from our tribal areas," he said.

"We have to be vigilant for a long time that this menace, this infection, does not return."

Some Xinjiang government officials have said they believe Pakistan is not doing enough to prevent Uygurs from travelling there to become radicalised.

We believe they're all eliminated
Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif 

Hundreds have died in unrest in Xinjiang in the past few years. Exiles and activists say Chinese controls on the Uygur people's religion and culture is more a cause of the violence than well-organised militant groups.

China and Pakistan call each other "all-weather friends" and their close ties have been underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbour, India, and a desire to hedge against the United States' influence across the region.

China and Pakistan were getting ready to finalise a deal for China to sell eight submarines to Pakistan, Asif said, in what could be one of China's largest overseas weapons sales. "We are at the final stage. I think it won't take very long," he said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Pakistan's Uygur militants all gone, minister claims