The Taliban has removed Uyghur militants from an area near Afghanistan’s border with China, sources in the region told RFE/RL, in a move that analysts say signals growing coordination between Beijing and the Afghan militant group.
The Uyghur fighters that have been relocated inside Afghanistan are believed to be members of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) — an Uyghur extremist group that Beijing blames for unrest in its western province of Xinjiang and refers to by its former name, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
The Taliban allowed Uyghur groups to operate in Afghanistan during its rule in the 1990s and is believed to still have links with them. China has demanded the Taliban cut any ties with the militants.
Analysts say the Taliban’s move marks a new step in its ties with Beijing, marking the first time the militants have taken action on the ground to assuage Chinese security fears since they seized power in Afghanistan in August.
“It’s what China wants and what the Taliban needs to provide if it is to encourage deeper cooperation with Beijing,” Bradley Jardine, a fellow at the U.S.-based Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, told RFE/RL. “The real question is whether they can fully follow through.”
The TIP militants were located in Badakhshan, a province in northeast Afghanistan along the country’s 76-kilometer border with China, and have since been moved to other areas, including in the eastern province of Nangarhar, a former Afghan military official with knowledge of the developments told RFE/RL.
The Uyghur militants were present in Badakhshan until last week but have since been removed, a Tajik border guard from the area, citing intelligence reports, separately told RFE/RL on October 4.
It is unclear if the Taliban will hand over the fighters to the Chinese authorities, an official in Tajikistan’s state border services, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media, told RFE/RL.
Beijing And The Taliban
China has forged a pragmatic and at times tense working relationship with the Taliban over the decades that has centered on counterterrorism.
Before the collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government, Beijing also had a close working relationship with Kabul and Afghan forces helped monitor and target Uyghur militant groups at China’s request.