Despite the China is flirting politically with i Taliban since their return to power in Afghanistan, the news coming from Tajikistan tell a different story. In fact, Beijing has signed an agreement with the government of the Central Asian Republic to create one military base in Tajik territory, on the border with Afghanistan.
The agreement was approved by parliament of Dushanbe – which has no room for maneuver other than to satisfy the wishes of the dictator Rahmon – and will lead to an investment of 10 million dollars for the construction of an outpost which will then be managed by the Tajik armed forces. Not only. As part of this renewed military cooperation, Tajikistan would have offered China the full control of another base on the border with Afghanistan, active for at least five years, so far operated by Chinese forces but under Tajik control. This latest offer would include, in return for Tajikistan’s refusal of any future claims on the site, a military support from Beijing to Dushanbe in terms of equipment and financing.
Beyond the details, the meaning of the agreement is clear: China wants to protect itself against any terrorist infiltration from Afghanistan. As often happens, the Chinese authorities aim to bring all their pragmatism into play. The Afghan resources they are tempting and, to access them, the Taliban are essential interlocutors. But that doesn’t stop Beijing from trying to prevent potential future headaches, should the extremist movement’s conciliatory announcements prove unsubstantiated. One of Beijing’s biggest fears, in fact, is that i Xinjiang Uyghur militants, a Muslim-majority Chinese region where the government is pursuing what many observers call one ethnic cleansing, can find external banks.
This explains the profound reason for the agreement which, if confirmed, will lead the Chinese to officially obtain full control of a second military base abroad, after that of Djibouti. Xi Jinping therefore seems to be moving in a direction that could lead him to review one of the historical pillars on which the foreign policy of the People’s Republic has been built in recent decades, that of non interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
Looking instead at the news from the Tajik side, the role of staunch opponent of the Taliban that Rahmon has carved out seems to be starting to bear fruit. In fact, since last August, the leader of Tajikistan has continued to vehemently criticize what is happening in Afghanistan on a regular basis, placing himself as a bulwark of the conspicuous minority of Tajik ethnicity which resides in Afghan territory, equal to more than a quarter of the country’s total population.
In the last few hours, an indiscretion has emerged which, if confirmed, could further place Rahmon in the front row and put Chinese moves even more in the spotlight. Some local sources have indeed stated that the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of the legendary military leader known as “the Lion of Panjshir”, He would open one representative office right in the Tajik capital. A news with still unclear outlines, which would have all the appearance of a potential fuse capable of detonating the conflict, for now only dialectical, involving Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
Net of the real concern that the Afghan instability may also affect his absolute reign, Rahmon continues to fuel the conflict also to increase his international weight and obtain financial or military aid. On a political level, the bet has already paid off: in mid-October the Tajik president was welcomed with full honors a Brussels, where he met the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and in Paris, where he had a one-on-one interview with Emmanuel Macron. And now here is the military agreement with China, unthinkable until a few years ago, considering that the Russia it has a very strong influence on Tajikistan, the country where the largest foreign military base controlled by the Kremlin is located.
Considering the huge investments made in the area and the concerns related to regional stability, Central Asia seems destined to become increasingly important for Beijing also from the point of view of security. A sphere in which Russia has dominated since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, Moscow itself seems willing – like it or not – to come to terms with a deeper Chinese military penetration in the region. An attitude that obviously is not found towards United States.
Just a few days ago the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has become the spokesperson for Central Asian Chancelleries stating that none of the countries in the area would be willing to host US or NATO troops on their territory. A declaration to be understood as a double warning, directed both to Washington and to the regional partners of Russia who would eventually be toyed with the idea of opening up this path. It is undeniable that Central Asia, ignored for years by both Western governments and international public opinion, is enjoying an unexpected period of popularity. Situation that is leading Moscow to reaffirm at every useful opportunity its will to keep its influence on the region intact.
It is not a case that Vladimir Putin was the first ever leader to congratulate Shavkat Mirziyoyev, re-elected at the helm ofUzbekistan on October 24. The triumph was so obvious that the Russian President sent his message even before the official results were communicated. Uzbekistan is, unlike Tajikistan, the country in the area that is most working for one political dialogue with the Taliban, because Afghanistan is a fundamental piece of the infrastructural objectives by Mirziyoyev. Goals that have been and are also pursued through an openness to regional cooperation unthinkable until just a few years ago, but which could now be hampered by the different reactions of the governments of the area to the Afghan situation.