Beijing’s attention turns to security in Central Asia and Afghanistan

Reid Standish

The Taliban has rem-oved Uyghur militants from an area near Afghanistan’s border with China in a move that signals growing coordination between Beijing and the Afghan militant group, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service and I reported.
Finding Perspective: The relocation of Uyghur militants marks the first known instance of the Taliban taking action on the ground to assuage Chinese fears since they toppled the Afghan government in August.
It is not known whether the Taliban will hand over the fighters to Chinese authorities or simply plans to relocate them, but it marks a new sign of cooperation with Beijing.
However, analysts caution that the Taliban is still walking a fine line in its burgeoning partnership with China.
During the Taliban’s previous reign in 1996-2001, the group also relocated Uyghur militants from the border regions to other parts of Afghanistan to calm Chinese concerns but stopped short of handing over fighters to Chinese authorities, which strained ties between Beijing and the Taliban.
Andrew Small, a fellow with the German Marshall Fund in Berlin who tracks Chinese activities in South Asia, said that the Taliban may be looking to replicate that strategy.
“This is in keeping with what happened when they were in power before,” Small said. “The Taliban have sought to avoid embarrassment with China as a result of any Uyghur militant activities, but it would be a very different matter if they actually handed them over.”
Why It Matters: Beijing is focused on security concerns in Afghanistan and how they could spill over into neighboring Central Asia, leaving China with a complicated hand to play.
Working with the Taliban on counterterrorism is one way to help mitigate that, but the jury is still out on whether China and the group can fully cooperate together.
In the meantime, China is worried about an impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and is aiming for sanctions against its neighbor to be lifted as part of a wider push by Beijing to gain more international political support for the Taliban.
Such measures could also give Beijing more sway over the group, as I explained in this article. The West, however, still controls many of the large financial levers over Afghanistan.