- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

KASHGAR, China Convoys of Chinese military trucks roared along the Karakoram Highway last week, heading for the country's northwest borders, which are rimmed by Afghanistan and Pakistan, as Beijing scrambled to protect its far-western Muslim region from infiltration by Islamic extremists.
As tourist buses and goods vehicles dwindled to a trickle along the highway that ascends 11,000 feet in 500 miles to the Pakistan border, People's Liberation Army trucks roared by, loaded with troops and supplies.
At the Khunjerab Pass border point, 14,000 feet above sea level at the foot of the spectacular snow-capped peaks of the Pamir mountain range, the chaotic process of entering China from Pakistan has invited interminable Chinese scrutiny.
From behind the concrete block of customs posts comes the sound of PLA officers preparing expeditions to scour the nearby mountains and thwart attempts by Afghan refugees to flee the turmoil of their homeland.
Fifty miles north through a patchwork of villages populated by ethnic Tajiks, the single dirt track that leads up the narrow Wakhan Corridor to Afghanistan is out of bounds to all but local villagers and Chinese soldiers. Because the area across the border is controlled by Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, which last week buried its commander, Ahmed Shah Masood, there is increased risk of refugees attempting to flee down this wild and verdant pass.
For fleeing Afghans, heading east to China would be an act of complete desperation because Beijing is determined not to allow a single refugee into its territory. With the border sealed, refugees are a minor part of Beijing's Central Asian fears. The Chinese have a much larger worry: Fundamentalists could one day launch a terror campaign inside China.
The prospect of an arc of Islamic instability engulfing Central Asia clouds Beijing's attempts to exploit the vast natural resources of Xinjiang province, where more than half the population is non-Chinese Muslim.
Because of this, Washington's decision to launch a war on terrorism has tantalized Beijing. Senior officials have made it clear that China expects to back the Bush administration even though the leadership remains wary of triggering a nationalistic backlash if it signs up as a full ally.
In return, Beijing will demand American support as it quashes what it calls "splittism" in Xinjiang. "The United States has asked China to provide assistance in the fight against terrorism," said Zhu Bangzao, a foreign ministry spokesman. "China, by the same token, has reasons to ask the U.S. to give its support and understanding in the fight against terrorism and separatists. We should not have double standards."
While Chinese officials want to give the impression that they face an equally grave threat from Islamic terrorists, most Chinese Muslims are moderates who wear Western-style suits, shave and do not order their wives to cover their faces with scarves.
There were no West Bank-style celebrations at Kashgar's Muslim Restaurant, a ramshackle two-story teahouse overlooking the teeming market stalls and fruit peddlers who gather behind the Id-Kha mosque. When the first television pictures of the attack on New York and Washington were broadcast, most people watched in stunned silence, shook their heads and stared away in wonder.
American residents of the city said they received dozens of telephone calls from locals offering their condolences in the aftermath of the attack.

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