MOSCOW, November 8 (RIA Novosti) — Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to help China fight militants in the restive Xinjiang region, Reuters reports.
Sharif told Chinese President Xi Jinping that his country would “continue to resolutely fight the East Turkestan Islamic Movement terrorist forces,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement following a meeting in Beijing, as quoted by Reuters.
China has long asked Pakistan to deal with Xinjiang militants Beijing believes are hiding in areas controlled by tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Last month, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani vowed to assist China in fighting against Islamists during his visit to Beijing, according to Reuters.
During the meeting with Sharif, Xi Jinping referred to China and Pakistan as “iron friends”, meaning the countries enjoy close and trustworthy relations, Xinhua news agency reports.
On Saturday, Sharif also met with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. Zhang hailed Pakistan’s efforts to curb terrorism reiterating that Beijing wants to work with Islamabad in countering extremist groups, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, according to Xinhua.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is mostly populated by Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group, and Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in China. The region has been plagued by unrest that left hundreds of people killed. Beijing blames the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for the deadly clashes and incidents not only in the region, but also in the capital and other cities. The movement reportedly aims to establish an independent state of East Turkestan in Xinjiang.
In September, the latest confirmed attack, a series of explosions in Luntai County that left 50 people dead, was attributed by authorities to Xinjiang Islamists, according to Xinhua.
For their part, Uighur activists blame Beijing for spreading violence and cracking down on the Muslim minority. They warn that tensions will only increase after China announced in May a yearlong campaign to tackle terrorist groups in the Xinjiang. The operation was launched following an attack in the regional capital of Urumqi, which left over 30 people killed.
Nawaz Sharif is on a three-day trip to Beijing, attending the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO summit from November 8 to 10. In Beijing the prime minister has also announced Pakistan intends to increase its cooperation with China on Afghanistan, so as to “jointly maintain regional peace and stability”, Sharif stated, as quoted by Reuters.
Pakistan and China have reportedly signed over 20 deals during Sharif’s visit, including an agreement on nuclear power and development of the Gwadar Port. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not provided details of the bilateral agreements.