China has confirmed that it is helping Afghanistan conduct joint law enforcement operations in the border areas of that country to counter terrorism, after initially being in a state of denial about the sightings of Chinese military vehicles moving around inside Afghanistan.
The disclosure about joint counter-terrorism operations between Chinese and Afghani law enforcement personnel was made by Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) late last week.
When asked about reports of Chinese troops being inside Afghanistan at a defence ministry press conference last Thursday, the Financial Times quoted him, as first denying any military involvement, but thereafter adding that “the law enforcement authorities of the two sides have conducted joint law enforcement operations in border areas to fight against terrorism”.
An official transcript of those remarks was made available to the media on Friday.
“The report that the Chinese military patrolled in Afghanistan is false,” he said.
An effort Friday to clarify whether there were any Chinese non-military patrols on the Afghan side of the border was met with the same response.
Experts, however, are of the view that in a place like Afghanistan, references to law enforcement and military patrols are rather blurred in terms.
The Financial Times quoted analyst Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), as saying that the first photos of Chinese military vehicles were published on November 3 by Wion, an Indian news website.
Wion, Bronk was quoted, as saying, reported the presence of these vehicles in the Wakhan corridor, a mountainous strip of land between the Pamir and Karakoram mountain ranges that extends all the way to the border with China.
This month, the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, a think-tank, claimed it had “overwhelming evidence”, including statements of diplomats, as well as of an unnamed Chinese official, that Chinese troops were patrolling inside Afghanistan.
However, according to the FT, the article also cited a denial by Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s ministry of internal affairs.
Bronk also said a denial by Beijing that the Chinese military was involved should not be seen as ruling out a military-style operation by the police.
He said published photos of the alleged patrols showed two types of Chinese vehicles – the Dongfeng EQ 2050, similar to the US Humvee, and the Norinco VP 11, a mine resistant vehicle.
Both are military vehicles, claimed Bronk that could be used in a law enforcement capacity.
According to the report, there could be several factors for China to deepen its involvement in Afghanistan are several.
Chief among them is Beijing’s fear and concern of the spread Islamic extremism. A second factor is more economical i.e. Chinese investments in mining and hydrocarbons sectors across Afghanistan at concessional rates. A third factor is the desire to secure its western periphery as the United States withdraws its troops from Afghanistan.
“China’s main focus is counter-terrorism,” Andrew Small, an expert on China at the German Marshall Fund, was quoted by the FT, as saying, adding that of particular concern to Beijing would be the separatist Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), which is headquartered in the Afghan province of Badakhshan that lies adjacent to China.
According to the FT report, if an agreement on joint patrolling exists, it would not be the first such arrangement of an extra-territorial law enforcement that China has had with a border state.
Since December 2011, China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand have completed dozens of joint police patrols along the Mekong River, aiming to crack down on crime in the region.