US Withdrawal From Afghanistan, Deal With Taliban Aimed At Destabilizing Xinjiang: Chinese Experts

With the anticipated withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the peace deal signed between Washington and Taliban can pave way for the return of Uygur militants who can reignite violence in Xinjiang province of China.

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Experts talking to the EurAsian Times stated that if Beijing tries to fill American boots in Afghanistan, it will aggravate China’s rivalry with the US and Washington’s resistance to its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

Days after the Donald Trump administration signed a peace deal with the militant group in Doha, Qatar, the US launched an airstrike against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even though the conditional peace agreement marks the start of the withdrawal of the US troops and the potential end to the 18-year-old war, uncertainties remain high in the war-torn region.

The peace agreement (by Washington) demonstrates the unprecedented political determination of the United States administration to leave Afghanistan. The peace agreement acknowledges the legitimacy of the Taliban forces and its willingness to acknowledge the possibility that the Taliban may regain power in Afghanistan.

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The foremost reason for Washington to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan is because of the fact that the American public has lost all interest in continuing the war in Afghanistan.

Another factor might be the focus of the United States strategy that has shifted from completely engaging in counter-terrorism operations to concentrating on confronting its strategic competitor – China. The National Security Strategy report of 2017 and the National Defense Strategy of 2018 have clearly revealed the substantive shift.

On March 1, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper publicly stated that the peace deal with the Taliban was orchestrated to “reallocate forces” so that higher priority can be given to strategic competition with China.

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In November 2017, the US announced its Indo-Pacific Strategy that coincided with the beginning of talks between the United States and the Taliban. What the Trump administration wants is not only to get rid of the Afghanistan burden, but also to resist spending huge funds on Kabul, and use the savings to reorganize the forces in the Asia-pacific region to contain its strategic competitor – China.

The Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani has expressed disappointment over the US-Taliban peace agreement and has refused to accept the demands of the Taliban to release 5,000 prisoners.

According to experts talking to the EurAsian Times, there is little chance of a true power-sharing arrangement between the Taliban and the existing government in Kabul once the United States leaves.

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Once the Taliban regains power in Afghanistan, it could also bring potential instability in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Province. This serves the interest of the US strategy of great power competition, the Global Times writes.

For long, Beijing has been worried about the existing links between militant groups and Muslim extremists operating in the Xinjiang which is home to the mostly Muslim Uyghur people.

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Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, recently, called on all countries to resist Beijing administration’s demands to repatriate ethnic Uyghurs, saying China’s campaign in the western region of Xinjiang is an “attempt to erase its own citizens”.

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United Nations activists claim that at least 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups have been kept in lockdown in so-called re-education camps in Xinjiang region. To prevent a resurgence of violence in Xinjiang, China is greatly reliant on the success of the US-Taliban peace deal.

The US is now eager to get out of the war-torn Afghanistan region even if it means undermining the very real potential that Afghanistan will be swamped by extremist violence. Allowing Muslim extremist forces to parade towards China could also very well be an intended consequence of the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban.

Oped By NTicku. With Inputs from The Global Times