Sat, Feb 03, 2018 - Page 6 News List

China in talks about Afghan military base

AFP, KABUL

Worried about militants sneaking into a restive Chinese region from war-torn Afghanistan, Beijing is in talks with Kabul over the construction of a military base, Afghan officials said, as it seeks to shore up its fragile neighbor.

The military camp is to be built in Afghanistan’s remote and mountainous Wakhan Corridor, where witnesses have reported seeing Chinese and Afghan troops on joint patrols.

The freezing, barren panhandle of land — bordering China’s tense Xinjiang region — is so cut off from the rest of Afghanistan that many inhabitants are unaware of the Afghan conflict, scraping out harsh, but peaceful lives.

However, they retain strong links with their neighbors in Xinjiang and with so few travelers in the region local interest in the Chinese visitors has been high, residents said.

China’s involvement in the military base comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeks to extend Beijing’s economic and geopolitical clout.

The Chinese are pouring billions of US dollars into infrastructure in South Asia.

With Afghanistan’s potential to destabilize the region, analysts said any moves there would be viewed through the prism of security.

Beijing fears that exiled Uighur members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement are passing through the Wakhan into Xinjiang to carry out attacks.

It also worries that Islamic State group militants fleeing Iraq and Syria could cross central Asia and Xinjiang to reach Afghanistan, or use the Wakhan Corridor to enter China, analysts said.

Afghan and Chinese officials discussed the plan in December last year in Beijing, but details are still being clarified, Afghan Ministry of Defense deputy spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh said.

“We are going to build it, but the Chinese government has committed to help the division financially, provide equipment and train the Afghan soldiers,” he said.

A senior Chinese embassy official in Kabul would only say Beijing is involved in “capacity-building” in Afghanistan.

NATO’s US-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan declined to comment, but US officials have previously welcomed China’s role in Afghanistan, noting they share the same security concerns.

Members of the Kyrgyz ethnic minority in Wakhan said in October last year they had been seeing Chinese and Afghan military patrols for months.

“The Chinese army first came here last summer and they were accompanied by the Afghan army,” said Abdul Rashid, a Kyrgyz chief.

The Afghan army arrived days earlier “and told us that the Chinese army would be coming here,” he said. “We were strictly told not to go near them or talk to them, and not to take any photos.”

China fears militancy could threaten its growing economic interests in the region, Kabul-based Center for Strategic and Regional Studies researcher Ahmad Bilal Khalil said.

“They need to have a secure Afghanistan,” he said, estimating Beijing had provided Kabul with more than US$70 million in military aid in the past three years.

Beijing has also flagged the possibility of including Afghanistan in the US$54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) linking western China to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan.

“The anti-terrorism motivation is an important one, but it’s not as important as the bigger move to boost the CPEC,” Hong Kong-based political analyst Willy Lam (林和立) said.

Kabul is also keen for Beijing to have a “more active role,” said Andrew Small, author of The China-Pakistan Axis.

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