China fails to meet its objective of connecting with the Taliban despite Xinjiang’s security threats: Report
Afghanistan’s Taliban government has completed the country’s first road link with China, extending the country’s previous democratically-elected government’s aim for increased connectivity and trade with its eastern neighbour.
However, analysts predict that Beijing is likely to approach the situation cautiously amid security threats posed by terrorists and separatists in its restive Xinjiang province.
The newly constructed 50 km (31 mile) Little Pamir Road in Badakhshan province, built with an estimated cost of 370 million Afghanis (US$5.07 million), was initially conceived by the former US-backed government to attract Chinese investment in Afghanistan’s mining resources.
Construction of the road began in May 2021 but was suspended shortly. The Taliban regained control of the country three months later after the United States completed its military withdrawal.
According to Mohammad Ayub Khalid, the Taliban governor of Badakhshan, the 5-meter-wide road was completed around January 15.
Khalid stated that asphalt work would commence shortly.
While specific details about the road’s location were not disclosed, local sources cited by the South China Morning Post suggest it extends to the Chinese border via the Wakhjir Pass in the Wakhan Corridor, a challenging mountainous region.
Taliban’s extending strategic outreach to Afghanistan’s neighbours
The former Afghan government envisioned this road as a link to China’s extensive network, aiming to boost commerce, imports, exports, and cross-border transit.
The Taliban, however, sees it as a potential strategic corridor connecting Afghanistan not only with China but also with Pakistan and Tajikistan.
Despite the symbolic importance for the Taliban, experts cited by the media believe the road holds little economic interest for Beijing.
Zhu Yongbiao, a professor at Lanzhou University, told the South China Morning Post that the project primarily serves as a demonstration of the Taliban’s governance capabilities, lacking practical access and economic value.
Taliban-China ties: Focus on Beijing’s security concerns
Security concerns play a pivotal role in China’s cautious approach to the Taliban, particularly in the Wakhjir Pass, widely deemed a major counterterrorism front line between Afghan militants and China’s Xinjiang region.
China, worried about terrorism spilling into Xinjiang, has refrained from establishing customs facilities in the area and has only deployed border guards along the pass.
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist group founded by Uygur militants, further complicates the situation.
With an estimated 500 fighters in northern Afghanistan, primarily in Badakhshan province, ETIM has been linked to violent attacks in Xinjiang.
China has consistently urged the Taliban to intensify efforts against terrorism while expressing intentions to enhance trade ties with Afghanistan.
Despite hosting senior Taliban officials and establishing diplomatic relations, China remains cautious about the potential security risks associated with opening up the Wakhan Corridor.