Chinese and Pakistani troops are jointly patrolling a stretch of the border connecting Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Xinjiang against the backdrop of reports that more than 100 Uyghurs from the region have joined the Islamic State.
China’s state media reported the joint patrolling on Thursday, with the website of People’s Daily, the Communist Party of China’s mouthpiece, publishing dozens of photos of armed Chinese and Pakistani troops marching along the border and conducting drills.
There was no report accompanying the photos and it could not immediately be ascertained whether such patrolling was being done for the first time, or the activity was being reported for the first time.
The caption with the photos read: “A frontier defense regiment of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) in Xinjiang, along with a border police force from Pakistan, carry out (sic) a joint patrol along the China-Pakistan border.”
What was referred to as the “China-Pakistan border” is considered by New Delhi as the frontier of PoK, officially an integral part of India.
The joint patrolling comes at a time when Washington-based think tank New American Foundation has said that 114 men from Xinjiang were among thousands of foreign fighters recruited by IS.
It added that “China’s control over religious activities in northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region could be a push factor driving people to leave the country and look elsewhere for a sense of belonging”.
Quoting New American Foundation, state media said: “Of the more than 3,500 foreigners recruited to join ISIS, the report stated that 114 came from Xinjiang, making the region the fifth largest contributor. Xinjiang followed Saudi Arabia and Tunisia on the list.”
Pakistan has repeatedly dismissed reports of the presence of Chinese troops in PoK. These reports had suggested the troops were deployed in the region to protect infrastructure projects funded by China and Chinese personnel working on them.
Work is currently underway on the flagship $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project which will cut through PoK to connect Xinjiang to Gwadar port in Balochistan.
CPEC is expected to connect both countries through roads, railway networks and pipelines. It is an integral part of President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road Initiative”.
The photos were also published at a time when Jammu and Kashmir is seething with unrest triggered by the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani that has claimed 44 lives.
Indian recently positioned about 100 T-72 tanks along the frontier with China in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir.
Officially, China refers to Jammu and Kashmir as “Indian Controlled Kashmir”. Earlier this week, China’s foreign ministry said in statement it was “concerned” by the casualties in the Indian state.
“We are equally concerned about the casualties in the clash, and hope that relevant incident will be handled properly. The Kashmir issue is left over from history. China holds a consistent stance and hopes relevant parties will address the issue peacefully through dialogue,” the statement said.
The official Xinhua news agency, wrapping up a report from Srinagar on Thursday, said: “A separatist movement and guerrilla war challenging New Delhi’s rule is going on in Indian-controlled Kashmir since 1989.”