BEIJING: Pakistan has eliminated all members of the Uighur militant group the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from its territory, but must remain vigilant to ensure they don’t return, the Pakisan defence minister said in Beijing on Sunday. China blames ETIM for carrying out attacks in its far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people, although many foreign experts doubt the group’s existence in a cohesive group.

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,” Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters on the sidelines of a security forum. “I think there (were) a small number in tribal areas, they’re all gone or eliminated. There are no more there.”

It is just as much in Pakistan’s interests as China’s to fight Uighur 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 added. “We have to be vigilant for a long time that this menace, this infection, does not return.”

Hundreds have died in unrest in Xinjiang in the past few years. Exiles and activists say Chinese controls on the religion and culture of the Uighur people is more a cause of the violence than well-organised militant groups. China and Pakistan are 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 once it is signed. “It’s moving smoothly, it’s going ahead,” he said. “We are at the final stage. I think it won’t take very long.”

APP adds: Addressing the Xiangshan Forum’s plenary session on the topic `Regional terrorism: roots and Solutions’, Asif said that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan was a guarantee for peace and stability of Pakistan and the region. The minister lauded the proactive and positive efforts made by China in finding a peaceful resolution of Afghan problem. The benefits from projects like China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could be accrued only through peace which would usher in a new era of development and prosperity in the region, he added.

He emphasised the need for addressing basic concerns of people of the region and to deny space to extremists who take advantage of the fault lines existing in their respective societies. In order to bring peace and stability, he called for “a need to introduce a counter narrative along with a comprehensive social, economic and political reforms package in line with the culture, traditions and aspirations of the people.”

He condemned all acts of terrorism and called on the world community to recognise the basic reasons responsible for the fissures. He also mentioned the hitherto unresolved conflicts of Palestine and Kashmir, the unending events of gross human rights violations and unfulfilled promises by the world community failing to address the root causes of these conflicts. He said Pakistan gave refuge to over three million Afghans during the Afghan war. He said continued instability in that country had severe impacts, adding Pakistan had suffered a loss of 60,000 lives and billions of dollars in economic loss.

He said Pakistan’s armed forces had conducted various operations in tribal areas since 2003 and the latest operation Zarb-e-Azb vastly outnumbered achievements compared to other international forces’ achievements in Afghanistan since 13 years. The world needed to recognise the sacrifices by Pakistan over the past three decades, he stressed. Referring to South Asian security and stability, he said all disputes needed to be resolved amicably to offset chances of escalation. While Pakistan had been forcefully advocating early resumption of dialogue process with India, there was a need to reduce tension by avoiding escalation of hostilities at the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, he underscored.