During a 27 to 30 October visit to China, President Ghani pledged to help Beijing in its fight against Uighur militancy. China faces a growing threat from Uighur jihadists based in the country’s western Xinjiang Province (which shares a short border with Afghanistan). Moreover, the most capable Uighur group, the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), has a presence in Taliban-controlled territory both in north-west Pakistan and Afghanistan. Beijing is no doubt concerned that Uighur militants will take advantage of the more permissive security environment that is likely to follow NATO’s withdrawal at the end of the year to bolster their capabilities and ultimately launch more destructive attacks inside China.
Ghani’s pledge to help mitigate this threat will likely involve Kabul providing Beijing with intelligence on TIP activities in the region and increasing its efforts to strike the group’s assets in Afghanistan. In return, Ghani hopes to secure a greater Chinese commitment to protect stability in the country after NATO pulls out, and may ask that Beijing starts providing some weapons and funding for the security forces.
The fact that this was Ghani’s first official visit since becoming President suggests that it also had a wider significance. Economic improvement will be essential to securing greater political stability and so Ghani is likely hoping that the growing security partnership with Beijing will lead to increased Chinese investment in the future. This will also help to compensate for expected cuts in Western financial aid in the coming years. The Taliban sympathises with the Uighur struggle and will also be hostile to any form of foreign support that strengthens the central Government. Consequently, the group is likely to respond to any increased Chinese investment or security force assistance in the country by attacking commercial and political targets associated with Beijing.