China is evaluating its stake in the future geo-political landscape of Afghanistan, following pull out of the NATO forces in 2014. Beijing’s prime most concern centres on maintaining internal security and crackdown against separatism and extremism in its Muslim-majority and far-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Taliban militancy, Islamic terrorist organisations and remnants of the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, pose a serious challenge to Xinjiang's stability—often dubbed as China's "bridgehead" to the West. Xinjiang shares a 5,743 km boundary with eight countries including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Although Beijing has offered to train only a select number of Afghan law enforcement officials by focusing exclusively on counter-narcotics and anti-terrorism techniques, including visits to the Xinjiang province, China has keenly participated recently in the first actual-troop and live-ammunition joint drill of all elements of the “Peace Mission 2012” joint anti-terrorism military exercise of the armed forces of the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This maneuverer was conducted on June 11, 2012 at the “Chorukh-Dayron” shooting range near the Khujand city of Tajikistan. The Joint Campaign Headquarters discussed the problems arising from the joint drill at length and later on revised and improved the campaign plan after completion of the joint drill—thus laying the foundation for the upcoming actual-troop and live-ammunition drill.
During an interview, Zhou Hongtao, deputy chief of staff of the Chinese side of the Joint Directing Department and deputy chief of staff of the Xinjiang Military Area Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), stated that the prospective purpose of the drill was achieved. Besides, the official actual-troop drill of the “Peace Mission 2012” joint anti-terrorism military exercise was concluded on June 14, 2012. The exercise involved approximately 2,000 military personnel from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, and was the first of its kind to be held in Tajikistan. Participating troops showcased a series of military manoeuvres, including air and ground strikes, encirclement and suppression and vertical interception.
Observers to the drill are reported to have stated that the troops demonstrated outstanding military and counter-terrorism capabilities and that this drill would play a significant role in deterring and crushing the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism. In this reference, Beijing wants to make certain that no Islamic separatist group in Xinjiang (whose western tip touches the Afghan border) receives any benefit or support from radical/terror groups, post the US-led withdrawal in 2014.The Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Guo Boxiong, recently visited Xinjiang and assigned the task of ensuring stability of the region to the Chinese military and the armed police. Gou is reported to have underlined the region's importance while asking the military “to remain sober-minded”. Guo also urged the army and armed police to maintain a high level of ideological, political and action unity with the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
China’s Lanzhou Military Region, under which the Xinjiang Province falls, has been undergoing military transportation professional skill record-breaking contest among training elites of the Lanzhou Military Area Command of the PLA. As stated by the Director of a section of the Military Transportation Department under the Lanzhou MAC, a total of 120 training elites from troop units below division level and those stationed along the transportation routes participated in the contest. They were classified into two major categories of professional skills and vehicle-driving skills to participate in the contest respectively. Qu said that the contest aimed at inspecting and improving the training quality of military transportation and selecting, cultivating and establishing a batch of training elites in a bid to promote the all-round implementation of the military-transportation training work and the steady improvement of the support capabilities.
China realises that the threat of militant and terrorist groups operating in the Central Asian Republics will impact upon the future stability in the restive Xinjiang province and the above-mentioned exercises and joint drills with members of the SCO are efforts in that direction, thus ensuring China’s tight control over the Xinjiang Province.
Dr Monika Chansoria, Senior Fellow, CLAWS is presently a Visiting Scholar at the Cooperative Monitoring Center, Sandia National Laboratories, USA
Views expressed are personal