China To Build Military Bases In Tajikistan

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis 

Military infrastructure being put in place to deal with Afghanistan instability and counterterrorism

Tajikistan has approved the construction of a Chinese military base on its border with Afghanistan in moves to boost regional security. A Pamir Mountain base also operational for the past two years, will also be upgraded to a permanent facility.

The agreement to do so was apparently reached between Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry and China’s Public Security Ministry. That the agreement was being signed by the Public Security Ministry, and not the Chinese military, suggests a focus on counterterrorism amid rising concerns over instability in neighboring Afghanistan. The new base is to be owned by Tajikistan’s Rapid Reaction Group (Special Forces) with the US$10 million costs financed by China. It will be located in the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province near the Pamir mountains. Chinese troops will not be stationed there.

While this base will be under Tajik control, the Tajikistan government has also agreed to transfer full control of an existing facility that both sides have been jointly using. This is a former Soviet base close to the China-Tajikistan-Afghanistan tri-junction overlooking the Wakhan Corridor, which is part of Afghanistan and where at its eastern end China has a 92 km border with Afghanistan. The Wakhan Corridor is administered from the Afghan regional city of Fayzabad, now under the control of the Taliban.

That border is characterized by unstable, slate rock with constant slippages. The entire border is marked by a barbed wire fence, with a Chinese border guard outpost at Keketuluke just 20 kilometers east of the pass. There are border crossings but much of the border area is impassable, prone to landslides and dangerous. Temperatures during the winter can reach -20 and include deep snow drifts. The Pamir base is situated near the Wakhjir Pass and connects through to China’s Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang. The immediate region is only accessible to military personnel. An access road has been built for use by border guards, leading on the Chinese side to the Karakoram Highway 80 kilometers to the east. Access is only really possible by pack animals or heavy-duty SUV and is generally only accessible for seven months of the year (April to October).

Russia and India also have military bases in Tajikistan, although until now China and Tajikistan continued to deny the presence of Chinese security forces in the country. The Tajik base is currently the only Chinese military base in Central Asia. The Taliban took over the administration of Afghanistan following the retreat of US forces in September. They have pragmatic relations with China, however, have struggled to form an effective Government and remain prone to infiltration by even more hard-core Islamic groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIL. While the Taliban appear content to administer Afghanistan, the two latter groups have an agenda to expand an Islamic caliphate into Central Asia and Western China. The military bases China is financing and developing with and in Tajikistan are to provide anti-terrorist activities from these sources.

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