Afghanistan has seen a lot of fighting since the Soviet invasion in December 1979. The Soviets ended up building bases in the war-torn country. So did the United States, which has been in Afghanistan since October 2001. Now, the Chinese Communists are reportedly building a base in northeastern Afghanistan, giving them a foothold in Central Asia.
According to a report by Eurasianet.org, the base is being built for the Afghan Armed Forces. Both Chinese and Afghan sources denied these reports, but Fergana News, which broke the story originally, confirmed that the base is being built in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan, which borders Tajikistan. On the other side of Tajikistan, further to the east, is the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China.
The green area of this map shows the Badakhshan region, divided between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. (Wikimedia Commons map by Wereldburger758)
But why would the Chinese be helping the Afghans build a base? There's no altruism at play here. As was the case with Tibet, there has been a long-running separatist movement in Xinjiang, which was taken into China in the 1700s. Uygur separatists have since carried out a number of terrorist attacks to try to win independence for the region.
The Chinese are moving materials for the base construction through Tajikistan and, reportedly, Chinese troops have been delivering humanitarian supplies to local villages along the way. But there is also a distinct chance that this could turn into more than just building a base for the Afghan government.
Afghan commandos from the Sixth Commando Kandak wait for two Mi-17 helicopters to land as they practice infiltration techniques using the Afghan National Army Air Corps Mi-17Õs on April 1, 2010 at Camp Morehead in the outer regions of Kabul. The training was in preparation for future air assault missions needed in order to disrupt insurgent activity and bring stability to the population and the region. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Quillen)
The Russian newspaper Izvestiya noted that China's approach could be similar to that used by Russia in Syria. First, they'll create working relationships with local and national Afghan government officials. Once they've established themselves in the country, they'll have a new base from which to deploy troops and conduct air strikes against the Uygur, should the need arise.
The Chinese are reportedly providing arms, uniforms, and equipment for this base. As such, there is a good chance that advisors from the People's Liberation Army will turn up to help the Afghan military learn how to use the new weapons — while also keeping any potential Uygur rebellion in check.