New facility to target Uyghur militants . . .
Tajikistan announced last week that China is financing a new “outpost” for Tajik special forces near its Afghan border. The facility will help contain the spillover of militant activity stirred up in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban re-taking control of Afghanistan in August. Of particular concern to Beijing is Uyghur extremists based in Afghanistan possibly crossing the porous Afghan-Tajik border. For several years, China’s People’s Armed Police have operated in southeastern Tajikistan, near the Xinjiang border. According to one expert, their role is likely intelligence gathering rather than military manoeuvres.
Troubling new alliances . . .
The Taliban government has been assiduously courting China, which it views as vital in helping resuscitate an Afghan economy verging on collapse. In return, Beijing has demanded that Kabul not allow Afghanistan to be a staging ground for attacks by the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), a Uyghur extremist group that China and the UN have labelled a terrorist organization. The Taliban has re-located TIP members away from its border with China and may be coming under pressure to deport them into Beijing’s custody. In a recent twist, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) – an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan and sworn enemy of the Tablian – is now reportedly welcoming disaffected Uyghur extremists into its fold.
Difficult balancing act . . .
Terrorism is a primary concern for the Chinese government. It has come under intense international criticism for the extraordinary measures it has taken against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Province, all in the name of countering the threat of terrorism. Externally, however, China appears to be taking a more restrained approach. Beijing and Dushanbe were quick to correct the record after initial reports suggested that the new special operations facility in Tajikistan was a military base. Also, while China’s presence in Central Asia has grown dramatically through its Belt and Road Initiative, it is being careful not to ruffle too many feathers in Moscow, which has historically considered the region its ‘backyard.’ China will likely welcome collaboration rather than competition with Russia in managing security in a region with no shortage of destabilizing influences.