BEIJING (Reuters) - Almost all members of the Uighur militant group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) have been eliminated from Pakistan, the country’s president said on Wednesday during a visit to Beijing.
China blames violent unrest in its far western region of Xinjiang on Islamist separatist groups like ETIM, which it says wants to set up an independent state called East Turkestan and have bases in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Many foreign experts, however, have questioned whether ETIM exists as the coherent group China claims it is.
Meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People, Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain said a recent anti-terror operation codenamed Zarb-e-Azb “has been successful in eradicating the terrorism from our country”.
“It has also been very helpful in eliminating the ETIM element from our country and I think almost all the ETIM people in our country have been eliminated. Maybe, if they are there, there should be very few,” Hussain said.
China and Pakistan were “iron brothers” and always helped each other “with great zeal”, he added. Hussain is in China to attend a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Asia.
“China will unswervingly support Pakistan’s efforts in safeguarding its national security,” Xi told Hussain, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.
Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang in the past few years, blamed by Beijing on the militants. Rights groups say the real cause of the unrest is Chinese restrictions on the Islamic faith and culture of the Uighur people who call the region home.
China says ETIM recruits Uighurs who have gone to Turkey and trains them with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq, with the intent of returning to Xinjiang to wage holy war.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie