As the Taliban consolidates its position in Afghanistan, suicide bombings and attacks on minorities are becoming a common sight in the wartorn country. Meanwhile, the world seems to have realised that Afghanistan is going to stay like this after the withdrawal of American and NATO troops. But for China, a particular suicide bombing has triggered a serious warning while also revealing a Uighur connection.
Uighur Muslim involved in suicide bombing
As per U.S. News & World Report, a devastating suicide bombing in Afghanistan last week was carried out by a Uighur Muslim. The attack has left the top Chinese security apparatus shocked as Beijing realises how the Taliban has broken its promise of reining in the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an Afghanistan-based extremist group composed of Uighur Muslims that wants to free Xinjiang from China and establish an independent East Turkestan.
Meanwhile, ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing and has gone as far declaring that the man involved in the attack that targeted a Shiite Muslim mosque in Kunduz was a Uighur Muslim.
Who are Uighur Muslims and why is China worried
Uighur Muslims are a Turkic ethnic group. They are native to the far-Western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Presently, China has dumped over 1 million Uighur Muslims into internment camps. China also uses “forced labour” to exploit the Uighur Muslims apart from relying on a broad range of human rights violations like forced abortions, state-sponsored rapes, organ harvesting and sterilisations.
For China, the Taliban takeover became a matter of worry because it was expected to lead to groups like ETIM recruiting and radicalising more Uighur youth, many of whom are already deeply disaffected by reports of Beijing’s “vocational camps” and authoritarian control of Muslim religious practices in Xinjiang.
The US itself has been supportive of the Uighur cause and the Trump administration had even removed the designation of the ETIM as a terror group. The State Department had denied any evidence of the very existence of the ETIM. The American disinterest in fighting the ETIM and the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has further emboldened the ETIM.
China is now worried about the ETIM extremists spilling over into Xinjiang. China even attempted a military build-up near the Wakhan Corridor that separates Afghanistan and China in order to push back against the ETIM.
How the Taliban played Xi Jinping’s China
When the entire world was watching the Taliban’s Afghanistan takeover in a state of shock, Chinese President Xi Jinping was busy striking a deal with the Sunni extremist group based in Afghanistan.
Xi had a simple offer for the Taliban- China will pay truckloads of money to the Taliban and to ensure a steady flow of the Chinese money, the Taliban will not say or do anything about Xinjiang, regardless of how Beijing torments the Uighur Muslime in Xinjiang. The Taliban has been milking China like a cash cow. The Taliban is demanding funds from Beijing for running day-to-day expenses to sustain a war-torn nation like Afghanistan and also for carrying out reconstruction activity.
China itself has ended up putting all its eggs in one basket. It relied on Pakistan’s external spy agency- the ISI and the Pakistan military to work out a deal with the Taliban. However, you cannot expect an extremist Islamist group to uphold its commitment. The Taliban doesn’t spare anyone including its longtime patron, Pakistan.
The Taliban is on very friendly terms with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that controls the Pashtun areas in Pakistan and wants to establish a separate Pashtun State following the Shariah law. This effectively translates into severing the Pashtun-majority territory of Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban is happy to have Pakistan severed.
Moreover, rising Pashtun nationalism with Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is leading to a revival of anti-Pakistan revisionism in Afghanistan. The Taliban doesn’t recognise the Durand Line, which is the current boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and follows the “Greater Pashtunistan” strategy of combining the Pashtun areas scattered across Afghanistan and Pakistan to form a new state that would comprise both Afghanistan and the entire Pashtun belt.
If the Taliban can provoke separatism in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan, there is no reason why it won’t provoke insurgency in Xinjiang at Beijing’s expense. In fact, there are clear signs of the Taliban betraying China on the Uighur issue. In fact, the ETIM is the Taliban’s bargaining chip, a blackmailing tool which it uses to hold China hostage. The Taliban knows China’s weakest nerve and continues extorting from it.
China has been played quite embarrassingly by the Taliban. The Sunni extremist group has literally robbed Beijing of its money and has still refused to honour the commitment of reining in the ETIM.