Counterterrorism experts and political analysts in Beijing are feeling delighted as the Afghan government and the Taliban have both expressed their friendly attitude towards China. Commenting on it, Hu Xijin, Editor-in-Chief of the Global Times wrote in an opinion editorial: This is certainly good for China. Yet I saw some people have described the Taliban as an enemy of China’s national interests and called for the antagonism of China against the group. Such a claim is emotional, naïve and deeply out of place in my opinion.
As a matter of fact, the US has no longer called the Taliban a terrorist group, and has engaged with it. British Defence Minister Ben Wallace recently said the UK will work with the Taliban should the group come to power in Afghanistan. If China were to turn against the Taliban at this point, it would be tantamount to digging a diplomatic trap by itself. I don’t believe that scenario would take place.
Some Chinese netizens do not understand Afghanistan. They have put labels on the Taliban and showed abhorrence against it because of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha, and the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which once had activities on Taliban’s domain. This is understandable. But as far as I know, the relationship between the Taliban and the ETIM cannot be defined as that the Taliban supports ETIM launching terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. The Taliban tends to go to extremes on religious matters and shares values with many terrorist groups. To what extent will their shared values lead to real acts requires an objective assessment.
Global Times editor Hu Xijin has admitted the lack of knowledge of the “Chinese netizens” both about Afghanistan and Taliban. He certainly has missed a point as he thinks “the relationship between the Taliban and the ETIM cannot be defined as that the Taliban supports ETIM launching terrorist attacks in Xinjiang”.
We need to understand, East Turkistan Islamic Movement or ETIM is a ferocious radical Islamic militancy outfit. ETIM was designated a terrorist organization by Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, the United States, and the United Nations in 2002. But in November 2020, US President Donald Trump removed ETIM from America’s terror list saying, there was no credible evidence of the existence of this terror outfit. Was it because, US found its ally in ETIM, which also can play role in destabilizing China?
There is no reason for policymakers in Beijing to feel delighted at the “friendly attitude” of the Afghan government and Taliban. Everyone understands, with the withdrawal of the US troops, Afghanistan will eventually go under Taliban rule, and in this case, China should note, the only agenda of Taliban is to push forward the agenda of waging jihad against “enemies of Islam”.
In my opinion, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is going to cause serious security concern to China, and ETIM certainly will enjoy support and patronization from Taliban as well as anti-China forces.
ETIM, also known as Turkistan Islamic Party, is an extremist group founded by Uyghur jihadists in Western China that seeks to create an independent East Turkestan state to replace China’s Xinjiang.
According to the Asia Times, ETIM may have increased its logistical and financial resources, manpower, and weaponry since the removal of the terrorist tag by Washington in 2020.
A recent UNSC report confirms the presence of more than 500 ETIM fighters in different parts of northern Afghanistan, including Badakhshan, Kunduz, and Takhar provinces that connect China’s Xinjiang province via a narrow Wakhan Corridor.
The report also names Abdul Haq (Memet Amin Memet) as the group’s leader and highlights the outfit’s transnational agenda to target Xinjiang in China, Chitral in Pakistan as well as the vital China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
In 2017, the Islamic State released a video of Chinese Uyghur Muslims threatening to return home and “shed blood like rivers”, as reported by Asia Times.
East Turkestan is a term of Russian origin referring to the territorial region of Xinjiang province in China.
Historically, the region was under the Chinese empire but regularly faced opposition from secessionist movements and local rebellions from different groups like Uyghurs, Tajiks and Kazaks who ethnically relate more to the Turkic population of other Central Asian republics than the Han Chinese.
After the fall of China’s Qing dynasty in 1912, local separatists continued to fight for an independent state. In 1933, the Uyghurs managed to establish an East Turkestan Republic (ETR) but were defeated by China’s Kuomintang forces.
After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, communist leader Mao Zedong designated Xinjiang as the “Uyghur Autonomous Region” as a bargain for separatists to surrender.
Political violence and independence movement again picked up in the region in the wake of Soviet disintegration and more than 160 people were killed between 1990 and 2001, reportedly carried out by ETIM, an Islamic fundamentalist organization.
Although policymakers in Beijing are in favor of China not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and strongly support all Afghan parties to “resolve the risk of a full-scale civil war through peaceful negotiations, the ground reality is just opposite. Taliban, which has already started violated pre-conditions of Doha agreement by not distancing itself from Al Qaeda in particular and other radical Islamic militancy outfits, will never value China’s friendly attitude. Instead, Islamist forces in Afghanistan shall see China as one of their “greatest enemies”, and will extend support towards radical Islamic militants in Xinjiang. Instead of expecting favorable attitude from the upcoming Taliban regime in Afghanistan, China should take preparations of combating the notoriety of a jihadist conglomerate.