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china advances security apparatus in tajikistan in the aftermath of the taliban takeover

China Advances Security Apparatus in Tajikistan in the Aftermath of the Taliban Takeover

Author:Dante Schulz

Nov 5, 2021

China received approval from Tajikistan to construct a counterterrorism base near its southern border with Afghanistan. The decision comes amidst growing security concerns in Dushanbe about the resurgence of the Taliban in Kabul. According to the agreement signed between Tajikistan’s Ministry of Interior and China’s Ministry of Public Security, Tajikistan’s Rapid Reaction Group will assume full control of the base and  receive $10 million in financing from China. The base is slated to open in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province, a potential hotbed for violence due to its history and remoteness in the Pamir Mountains. Although no Chinese troops will be stationed at the new base, Tajikistan agreed to fully transfer control of another preexisting Chinese military base to Beijing in exchange for military aid. These two agreements demonstrate the rapidly developing Tajikistan-China bilateral security relationship.

In 2019, the Washington Post claimed that Chinese troops had been stationed in Tajikistan’s Murghab district since 2016, just seven miles from the Afghan border. The article noted that the troops were from the People’s Armed Police (PAP), China’s paramilitary police force, instead of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Furthermore, RFE/RL published testimonies of locals who had visited the Shaymak facility claiming that Afghan, Chinese, and Tajik forces were stationed at the base. China and Tajikistan have both denied claims that Chinese forces are present within Tajikistan.

Nevertheless, Chinese troops in Tajikistan would support Beijing’s security apparatus in Central Asia. Prior to the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, reports suggested that the PAP was patrolling sections of the Wakhan Corridor, the small sliver of Afghan territory bordering China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. In addition to reportedly having troops in Tajikistan, China has also engaged with its Central Asian neighbor in joint military exercises. In 2019, China and Tajikistan held air, ground, and air-defense anti-terrorist drills. Furthermore, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan established the “Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism in Counter Terrorism” to create a multilateral format for regional security coordination in 2016. China was concerned that extremist activity in the corridor could impact its economic ambitions in Central Asia and deter countries from signing on to Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects. The resurgence of the Taliban has heightened worries in Beijing about its security standing in the region.

Since the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan, China has been in contact with its partners in the region. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan after attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)-Afghanistan Contact Group in July. The contact group hosted foreign ministers for the first time since its inception in 2005, highlighting China’s desire to prevent any extremist groups crossing into China, Pakistan, or Central Asia. China also led additional joint anti-terrorism exercises with Tajikistan in response to the Taliban takeover in August. The “Counterterrorism Collaboration 2021” exercises entailed joint tactical exercises in mountainous terrain with an emphasis on combatting organized crime, extremist insurgent groups, and drug traffickers. Earlier that month, Tajikistan also participated in trilateral military exercises with Russia and Uzbekistan, showcasing Dushanbe’s desire to bolster its security forces with foreign support.

China is eager to quell extremist activity in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor and on its Central Asian partners’ territories to ensure economic security and stability for its investors in the region. The resurgence of the Taliban has granted Beijing further justification to advance its security interests in the region and coordinate with Dushanbe to bolster their bilateral security relationship. China is unlikely to interfere directly in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs. Therefore, to safeguard its interests in the region, China will instead work with Tajikistan and the other Central Asian republics to broaden their multilateral security scope. Likewise, Tajikistan has been receptive to Chinese military assistance to quell its own fears of the Taliban active along its southern border. This raises further implications, including the possible conflict that could develop between Moscow and Beijing as China expands its security reach into Russia’s southern neighbors, countries that Moscow has long defined as its “special sphere of influence.”

 


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