Beijing: As the Chinese Red Army and Pakistani troops commenced joint anti-terror exercises, reports here said that such cooperation could be extended to undertaking combined operations against terror groups operating on the borders of the two countries.
The current round of Sino-Pak military exercises being held in China were "sign of commitment" of the two armies to crackdown on Islamic militant groups like East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), state run China Daily said.
ETIM regarded as a pro-al Qaeda group is active in Xinjiang, the Chinese Muslim Uyghur majority province bordering Pakistan and the Chinese officials have complained that their cadres are being trained in terrorist camps in Pak-Afghan border.
Dong Manyuan, an anti-terror expert at the China Institute of International Studies, said the military exercises against terrorism may result in joint action on the ground in future.
"There is also the possibility that the two countries might conduct joint military actions against ETIM terrorists along the China-Pakistan borders one day, as there is still room for more anti-terrorism cooperation between Beijing and Islamabad in the future," Dong was quoted by the Daily as saying.
The issue of ETIM militants figured high during the just concluded visit of Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to China, during which reports said Beijing had sought Islamabad`s support for a crackdown on the militant group.
China Daily said, 10 ETIM militants who were captured by Chinese troops recently in Xinjiang were held with the help of Pakistan military.
The newspaper said that the timing of the announcement of the exercises were significant as they were held following the recent capture of 10 ETIM terrorists apparently in cooperation with Pakistan troops.
"While the joint exercises will be the third of its kind, they take on particular significance because of the timing," the paper said.
The news of the capture by militants by Chinese troops was immediately followed by Pakistani Army Chief`s visit to Beijing last month, during which the two countries reaffirmed their strategic and security ties, it said.
"What is more, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to visit China from July 06 to 11 for talks with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao," it said.
Li Wei, a Beijing-based anti-terrorism researcher noted that besides China`s northwest Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the ETIM has also made their presence felt in central-eastern China, including Henan and Shanxi provinces.
The current round of Sino-Pak anti-terrorism exercises are being held in Qingtongxia in Northwest China`s Ningxia Hui Autonomous region, which has substantial Muslim population.
Troops of the Special Services Group – encompassing more than 100 members from each side - together with the Chinese air force are participating in the week-long military exercises. The exercises, coincide with the one-year anniversary of the deadly riot on July 5 in Muslim Uygur majority Xinjiang.
Over 200 people were killed in last years’ protests by Turkish origin Uyghurs over increasing settlements of Chinese Huns in their province.
China and Pakistan held their first-ever joint anti-terrorism exercises, "Friendship-2004," in Xinjiang`s Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County, which borders Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The second joint anti-terror military drill, "Friendship-2006," was carried out in the hills of northern Pakistan`s Abbottabad area.