India and China’s battle for influence in Asia intensifies, as the Asian giant has hinted that it will set up a military base in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Beijing made the indication just a week after India signed a treaty with Seychelles in order to build military infrastructure on Assomption Island near the ‘Horn of Africa’.
According to sources close to Beijing, the proposed move is aimed at countering terrorism. Sources also said that Chinese officials recently started discussing the issue with top Afghan officials. Kabul, too, has confirmed the news, with a senior Afghan official saying that the two countries would jointly build the base in Wakhan Corridor – a narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. The corridor is surrounded by mountains and a difficult place to live. The long war between the Afghan forces and the Taliban has no impact on the region. Even, majority of the Wakhan residents has no idea about the current political situation in Afghanistan.
The corridor shares borders with China’s Xinjiang Province, which is the home of many ethnic minority groups, including the Uyghur people. The Chinese Communist Party has a dispute with the Uyghur population. A militant organisation – called East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) – is also active in the province. China has taken stern actions against ETIM to eliminate the outfit for which the Asian nation has been accused of violating human rights. So far, it has not been possible for Beijing to destroy the militant group, as ETIM members take shelters in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
China has claimed that the Islamic movement prefers the Wakhan corridor to take shelter in neighbouring countries after triggering terror attacks in Xinjiang. According to the Chinese authorities, even Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda terrorists have started using the corridor to reach Xinjiang from Central Asia.
For long, China has been discussing ways with Afghanistan to stop infiltration of terrorists. The locals have informed the media that the Afghan and Chinese forces are jointly conducting route march in Wakhan corridor. However, both Beijing and Kabul denied the claim, saying that no such march has taken place in that area.
Deputy spokesperson of the Afghan Defence Ministry Mohammad Radmanesh said: “We are going to build it (the base), but the Chinese government has committed to helping the division financially, providing equipment and training the Afghan soldiers.” He also said that officials of the two countries had discussed the plan in Beijing in December. However, according to Radmanesh, details are yet to be worked out.
In recent times, China has invested a huge amount in different development projects in the war-ravaged South Asian country. Beijing’s move has brought the two countries closer. Experts are of the opinion that the proximity between the two countries encourages China to prepare the plan for setting up the military base in Afghanistan, as Beijing knows that it will be difficult for Kabul to reject its proposal.
America and India have been spending a huge amount of money for the development of war-torn Afghanistan. Now, China has adopted the same policy to increase its influence in Central Asia. A senior Chinese diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Afghanistan’s geographic location is strategically very important. It will become easier for the Asian powerhouse to increase its influence in Central Asia and South Asia, if Beijing manages to build the base in Wakhan corridor.