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China treads cautiously as Taliban complete road link to Xinjiang

AT News

KABUL – The completion of the first road link between Afghanistan and China by the Taliban has sparked concerns in Beijing. Analysts suggest that despite the Taliban’s aspirations for the project to become a crucial link in China’s vast network, Beijing is likely to approach the situation with caution.

The road, located on the Chinese counterterrorism front line, raises security concerns for Beijing, given the presence of terrorists and separatist militants. As of now, there are no customs facilities in the area where Afghanistan meets the autonomous Chinese region of Xinjiang, and Beijing has not indicated any plans to establish a formal crossing point.

The 50km (31-mile) Little Pamir Road, with a price tag exceeding 3.7 million afghanis (US$5.07 million), was initially conceived by the US-backed former government to attract Chinese investment in Afghanistan’s untapped mining resources. Construction began in May 2021 but was soon suspended, and the Taliban regained control of the country three months later.

According to Mohammad Ayub Khalid, the Taliban governor of Badakhshan, the 5-meter-wide road was completed around January 15, with plans for asphalt paving in the near future. While the former government hoped the road would enhance commerce and cross-border transit, observers believe it holds little economic interest for Beijing.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, mentioned discussions between Taliban officials and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a forum in Tibet in October. However, experts argue that the road is more symbolic for the Taliban, showcasing their governance capabilities, rather than holding significant economic value for China.

Zhu Yongbiao, a professor at Lanzhou University, emphasized that the road lacks practical access and economic viability. China, facing security concerns in Xinjiang, considers the Wakhjir Pass a major counterterrorism front line and is unlikely to invest in a project with high costs and limited short-term economic returns.

China’s cautious approach towards the Taliban since the US military’s 2021 withdrawal from Kabul is rooted in concerns about terrorism potentially spilling into Xinjiang. Despite not formally recognizing the regime, Beijing hosted senior Taliban officials last year, signaling a delicate balance between security considerations and trade ties with Afghanistan.

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