Exclusive: Uyghur jailbreak complicates Taliban’s ties with China

18-Oct-2021 Intellasia | The Telegraph | 5:02 AM Print This Post

The Taliban’s efforts to win the backing of China have been complicated by the escape of dozens of alleged Uyghur militants from prison during the collapse of the former government.

The Islamic regime has made wooing Beijing a diplomatic priority since its rapid takeover of Afghanistan, declaring China our “closest ally”.

But attempts to win investment and diplomatic recognition from the ruling Communist Party have been made more difficult by the escape of Uyghur militants from prison during the chaos of the overthrow of the US-backed government in Kabul.

China’s top priority in Afghanistan is rooting out Uyghur militants it says belong to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

“We had 35 ETIM militants in jails all over Afghanistan. All of them escaped after the Taliban takeover,” a former senior security official in President Ashraf Ghani’s administration told the Telegraph. Many hundreds of militants from groups including the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic State group are thought to have escaped during the fall of Kabul.

Beijing blames ETIM for unrest in the Western region of Xinjiang, where state security forces have introduced mass surveillance and locked up nearly a million Uyghurs in camps since 2017 to “re-educate” residents.

The Taliban gave assurances to Beijing that it would not allow Uyghur militants to stage attacks from Afghanistan, and have reportedly rounded up Uyghurs from areas bordering China.

But China’s concerns about Uyghur militancy were likely deepened last week when the Islamic State offshoot in Afghanistan claimed that the suicide bomber who killed more than 50 people in an attack on a mosque in Kunduz belonged to the ethnic group.

In a statement after the attack, Islamic State in Khorasan Province (IS-KP) said it was revenge for the Taliban’s willingness to meet China’s demands to expel Uyghurs.

The Taliban-controlled ministry of interior in Kabul declined to comment on what discussions it was having with China over Uyghurs. A senior Taliban intelligence official attempted to downplay the issue. “We don’t know much about Uyghurs in Afghanistan,” he said.

The former senior Afghan security official told the Telegraph that Afghanistan had rounded up suspected Uyghur militants under both Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani’s governments. They were deported at China’s request after assurances they would not be tortured or executed.

The United Nations earlier this year estimated there were as many as 500 ETIM members hiding in north eastern Afghanistan. The UK government says ETIM is linked to al-Qaeda and aims to set up a caliphate in Xinjiang. America also classed the group as terrorists until November 2020, when it triggered anger in Beijing by revoking the group’s terror designation.

The Taliban have recently refused to condemn Chinese oppression in Xinjiang and instead tried to cosy up to Beijing by saying they will not harbour Uyghur militants.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, told the South China Morning Post the movement would no longer allow Uyghur fighters from Xinjiang, some of whom had previously sought refuge in Afghanistan, to enter the country.

“We care about the oppression of Muslims, be it in Palestine, in Myanmar, or in China, and we care about the oppression of non-Muslims anywhere in the world. But what we are not going to do is interfere in China’s internal affairs,” a senior official in the militants’ political office in Doha previously told the Wall Street Journal.

Raffaello Pantucci, who researches China and terrorism at the Royal United Services Institute, said the issue of how to deal with the Uyghurs was divisive for the Taliban.

He said: “The problem for the Taliban is that they are not unified on what to do about this. There is a general desire to want to work with the Chinese, but I think internally within the organisation there’s some groups who are more supportive of protecting these guys because they have been fighting with them for 20 years.”

The Uyghur bomber in last week’s October 8 blast posed as a shoe shine boy at the mosque gates while worshippers arrived and then slipped inside to detonate when it was full, a Taliban intelligence source said.

A series of blasts again tore through a Shia mosque in the southern city of Kandahar on Friday, also killing scores of worshippers. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing at the Fatimiya mosque in Kandahar province, but suspicion again fell on Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K).

Recent weeks have seen a sharp increase in attacks from IS-K inside Afghanistan, with a string of bombings and assassinations of Taliban figures. The attacks have badly dented Taliban declarations that they are bringing peace and order after years of conflict.

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/exclusive-uyghur-jailbreak-complicates-talibans-183956631.html

 

Category: China

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