The Taliban's efforts to win the backing of China had a blow struck to their relations after a report from The Telegraph surfaced that dozens of imprisoned Uyghur militants escaped following the collapse of the former Afghan government.
Shortly after the Taliban took Kabul, the militant group prioritized establishing ties with China, which it even declared was its "closest ally."
"We had 35 ETIM [East Turkestan Islamic Movement] militants in jails all over Afghanistan. All of them escaped after the Taliban takeover," a former senior security official in President Ashraf Ghani's administration said.
Since 2017, close to a million Uyghurs have been placed in Chinese camps to "re-educate." According to a BBC report, a leak of Chinese government documents dubbed "The China Cables," originally written in 2017 by Zhu Hailun, the then deputy-secretary of Xinjiang's Communist Party and the region's top security official, instructed those who run the camps to:
- "Never allow escapes."
- "Increase discipline and punishment of behavioral violations."
- "Promote repentance and confession."
- "Make remedial Mandarin studies the top priority."
- "Encourage students to truly transform."
- "[Ensure] full video surveillance coverage of dormitories and classrooms free of blind spots."
In short, when China heard a group of militant Uyghurs escaped out of Afghan prisons, finding them, as the report indicates, remains a "top" priority.
But Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, told a Chinese newspaper the Taliban would no longer allow Uyghur fighters to enter Afghanistan.
"We care about the oppression of Muslims, be it in Palestine, in Myanmar, or in China, and we care about the oppression of non-Muslims anywhere in the world, but what we are not going to do is interfere in China's internal affairs," one senior Taliban official said.
As Raffaello Pantucci, a researcher on China and terrorism, puts it, "the problem for the Taliban is that they are not unified on what to do about this. There is a general desire to want to work with the Chinese, but I think internally within the organization there's some groups who are more supportive of protecting these guys because they have been fighting with them for 20 years."
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