From Asia Times
The latest plot twist in the endless historical saga of Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires has thrown up an intriguing new chapter. For the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a military base alongside Afghanistan's border with China.
"We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers," Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, admitted to the AFP.
"We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help the division financially, provide equipment and train the Afghan soldiers," he added.
On the record, the Chinese Foreign Ministry only admitted that Beijing was involved in "capacity-building" in Afghanistan, while NATO's Resolute Support Mission, led by the United States, basically issued a "no comment."
The military base will eventually be built in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan.
It is one of the most spectacular, barren and remote stretches of Central Asia and according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there. True to Sydney Wignall's fabled Spy on the Roof of the World ethos, a great deal of shadow play is in effect. Apparently, this is basically about China's own war on terror.
Beijing's strategic priority is to prevent Uyghur fighters of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who have been exiled in Afghanistan, crossing the Wakhan Corridor to carry out operations across Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China. There is also the fear that ISIS or Daesh jihadis from Syria and Iraq may also use Afghanistan as a springboard to reach the country.
Even though the jihad galaxy may be split, Beijing is concerned about ETIM. As early as September 2013, the capo of historic al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, supported jihad against China in Xinjiang.
Later, in July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of Daesh said: "Muslim rights [should be] forcibly seized in China, India and Palestine." Then, on March 1, 2017, Daesh released a video announcing its presence in Afghanistan, with the terror group's Uyghur jihadis vowing, on the record, to "shed blood like rivers" in Xinjiang.
At the heart of the matter is China's Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
For Beijing, the stability of one of its links, the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is seriously compromised if terror threats abound in Central and South Asia. It could also affect China's sizable investments in Afghanistan's mineral mining industry.
The Chinese and Russian strategies are similar. After all, they have been discussed at every meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which Afghanistan is an observer and future full member. For the Russia-China partnership, the future of a peaceful Afghanistan must be decided in Asia, by Asians, and at the SCO.
The question is which Taliban to talk to. There are roughly two main factions. The moderates favor a peace process and are against jihadism, while the radicals, who have been fighting the US and NATO-supported government in Kabul.
Moscow's strategy is pragmatic. Russia, Iran, India, Afghanistan and the Central Asian "stans" have reportedly held meetings to map out possible solutions. China, meanwhile, remains an active member of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) promoting a peace deal and reconciliation process which will include the Kabul and the Taliban.
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