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The Rediff Special/P Rajendran

The Uygur factor

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India may be upset that a country which sells the most arms, has conducted over a thousand nuclear tests and which is the only country to actually use nuclear arms against another nation, is trying to punish it.

But wasn't god always on the side of the bigger battalion? So why is India complaining when no one will listen anyway?

The argument that India went nuclear because of a perceived threat, of course, is bilge -- the Bharatiya Janata Party wanted to go nuclear and did. It's already admitted it would have done it the last time it was in power, the only trouble being that 13 days is too stiff a deadline to conduct a nuclear test.

But with nuclear testing has come sanctions and complaints, not just from those who preferred a quiet India but also from those who can see that too many big battalions only presage a war.

So now India stands before the world, looking as if it came in uninvited, wearing dirty shoes. It has been rapped with sanctions and may have well blasted its chances of entering the United Nations Security Council. So what could India really have done?

If India really wanted to conduct nuclear tests and point fingers at the world, saying, "It was all your fault I had to do this" or words to that effect, it should have first hollered itself hoarse claiming Chinese was supplying nuclear weapons to Pakistan. Though such complaints would have been futile, their going unheeded would have provided the excuse India needed to go in for nuclear tests.

A talented boxer, all through his early days, may take some hard knocks. And he learns as much from his coach as from different opponents. That is where India falls short.

It should learn from the successful tactics of both Pakistan and China. Pakistan funded militancy in Punjab and Kashmir for a long time, while the US benignly ignored it. But after the cold war, it was rapped on the wrist.

China too have funded Maoists in India and, until some time ago, also trained Naga militants. By thus keeping tension in an area high, it divided the attention of the armed forces and ensured slow development of those areas. And by aiding Pakistan, it has India covered on two flanks.

That is what India ought to learn from China -- to work with an enemy's internal and external foes instead of looking first like the aggressor, and, finally, like an ass.

China has no friendly neighbours. Japan is dependent on it for exports but has a dispute brewing over the Senkaku islands. China claims sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, over which the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have claims.

It took over the Paracel Islands from Vietnam without a by-your-leave in 1974 and the Mischief Reef from the Phillipines in 1996. It also had a border war with Vietnam in 1979. Though it buys Sukhois and submarines from Russia, it has border disputes with its northern neighbour and Tajikistan too. And, of course, there's the one going with India too.

China's territorial aspirations, though increasing slowly, have terrified the other nations in and around the South China Sea. One reason perhaps why, despite the troubles in Indonesia, the Australian navy still came to conduct the routine sea exercises with the Indonesian navy.

The Central Asian republics in the west and Mongolia in the north too are worried about taking on China but their populations are seething -- for as they see it, their relatives are facing religious and other forms of persecution.

China also claims Taiwan is part of itself, while the islanders claim otherwise. Macau is the only uncontentious territory left, which the Portuguese are to hand over to China next year.

It has ethnic strife to deal with in three regions: Inner Mongolia, where the Mongols object to being ruled and inundated by the Han Chinese; Xinjiang, where the Caucasian Uygurs want a separate homeland, and Tibet.

Inner Mongolia is just 10 per cent Mongol now, Xinjiang is only 47 per cent Uygur according to reports and the actual percentage of Chinese in Tibet is not known but is believed to be huge.

Besides this, there is unrest over wealth being shifted from the wealthy east and southern coast of China to other, economically weaker areas. Corruption is rampant but complaints are inadvisable. Remember what happened in Tiananmen Square? Due to such suppression, there is also a pro-democracy movement smouldering there.

India could make common cause with China's foes without expecting active aid, only tacit support. It could also compete with China's markets in these countries. But India's cause would be better served if it provided internal dissidents, particularly those in Xinjiang, with a public platform and, if necessary, military aid.

The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is just across the Indian border. Once the land of the Uygurs, through which the silk road ran, the ethnic population is in a minority now. Originally part of China, the province became an independent nation, East Turkestan, between 1944 and 1949. Thereafter Chinese troops moved in and took over again.

The importance of Xinjiang can be gathered from the fact that the capital, Urumqi, is vital enough for the Chinese to have given it the honorary title of a port. And though senior officials are often Uygurs, they always have to report to a Han superior.

The Uygurs claim they are suppressed by the Chinese, that their women, in violation of Islamic tenets, are forced to undergo sterilisation and are encouraged to marry Chinese. They also object to the Chinese use of the large coal and oil reserves and the use of Lop Nor in the Taklamakan desert for nuclear tests.

There have been clashes between Chinese forces and the Uygurs, even uprisings. And when these were crushed Uygur militants bombed buses in Beijing. The Uygurs have linked their cause with that of Tibet, which is gaining international support, and Inner Mongolia.

Though Pakistan espouses an Islamic cause, it has bowed to Chinese pressure to return Uygurs who went there for religious education and sought asylum.

And the discovery of mummies in Xinjiang that are clearly Caucasian in origin and which predate the Han dynasty's takeover in 73 BC speak of an Indo-European past, one that allowed for sun worship too. These finds, the Uygurs say, prove the non-Mongoloid origins of the people of East Turkestan. This, though Mongoloid mummies have been found along with Caucasian ones and that the Turkic people came down from Mongolia in 10 BC.

A mummy of a 40-year-old woman over 3,800 years old, dubbed the Loulan beauty, has also spurred the Uygurs into claiming she is the "mother of their nation". Other Caucasian mummies found have been carbon-dated as being up to 6,000 years old.

If India backs the Uygurs of the region areas and fights their cause in international fora, in return seeking help to divert the Chinese using guerrilla warfare, it could help divide the PLA's attention. With 47 per cent of the local population hostile, the Han Chinese cannot hope to crush them without an international outcry, even from the US.

Like Pakistan does and China did with India, it could also train militants and encourage small Muslim nations like Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to take up the cause of their people in China.

China may have slowed disintegration by opening its economy but if it ever breaks up due to economic pressures and political instability in future as Russia did earlier, India is likely to face less danger from a non-aggressive Muslim nation, something like Bangladesh, on the northern front.

A similar programme with regard to Tibet and Mongolia too could have the Chinese army in a bind, if it is implemented well.

But, mind you, despite all the pointing of fingers, Indo-Chinese ties, till recently, looked like improving. So instead of blaming China for bombs burst in their backyard, it would be better to press for a more balanced relationship. Easier now, since India is in a position. Otherwise, nastier options exist.

This is, of course, a cynical assessment of how India could avoid becoming an international pariah. It would be far better to make peace with our neighbours if they allow it. Otherwise, this option exists -- a way, so to say, for India to have and eat its cake too.

P Rajendran is an assistant editor at Rediff On The NeT.

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