Afghan Uyghurs Caught Between Taliban and China’s Transnational Repression

Updated: October 14th, 2021 06:50 PM IST

The Taliban’s relocation of Uyghur militants marks the first known instance of the Afghan militant group taking action on the ground to assuage Chinese fears since they toppled the Afghan government in August.

Afghan Uyghurs Caught Between Taliban and China’s Transnational Repression

The Taliban has removed Uyghur militants from an area near Afghanistans 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 Talibans 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.

"Its 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 Centers 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 countrys 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 Tajikistans state border services, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media, told RFE/RL.

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 Chinas request.

Since the groups takeover of Kabul on August 15, Beijing has moved to solidify its relationship with the Taliban, promising economic and development support in exchange for attention to Chinese security concerns, especially monitoring and denying sanctuary to any Uyghur groups in Afghanistan.

While the relocation of Uyghur fighters marks a notable step in ties between Beijing and the Taliban, analysts caution that the group is still walking a fine line in its burgeoning partnership with China.

Top Taliban Stories