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Shaymak, Murghab, Kyzylrabot, Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan

China operates a military base in Tajikistan in the Murghab region near the Afghan border in a remote stretch close to the Wakhan Corridor. The collection of facilities and outposts is believed to have been in operation for at least five years. Both the Chinese and Tajik governments have officially denied the base’s existence and few details about its ownership and operation are known. The documents seen by RFE/RL's Tajik Service say that Chinese personnel are operating at the base in Tajikistan, but that it currently is owned by Dushanbe. According to the documents, the proposal to transfer ownership of the base to China was presented by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe when he visited the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, in July.

"This highlights how Central Asia is going to be a major focus of Chinese attention," said Pantucci. "Going forward, Beijing may struggle to avoid getting itself entangled in regional security problems." The documents do not state if Beijing has agreed to the proposal put forward by the Tajik side, but they summarize an offer put forward by Rahmon in which China would provide increased funding to build up Tajik military points along the border with Afghanistan in exchange for Dushanbe transferring full control of the existing facilities to China and not charging any basing fees.

The Murghab district of Tajikistan sits high in the Pamir Mountains, a range sometimes referred to as the Roof of the World. Tourists often visit in summer to see the pristine landscapes and wildlife like the Marco Polo sheep, but few outsiders venture here during the harsh winter. The Murghab River divides Afghanistan from Turkmenistan. Badghis Province's Bala Murghab district is at the Murghab River close to the border with Turkmenistan. Gorno-Badakhshan accounts for some 45 percent of Tajikistan's territory, yet only about 220,000 of Tajikistan's 9 million people live there.

With drones, patrols, and a collection of outposts, China’s unofficial base has been in existence since 2016. Located 12-14 kilometers from the Tajik-Afghan border and 30 kilometers from the Tajik-China border in Gorno-Badakhshan province, the Chinese base overlooks a crucial entry point from China into Central Asia. It is also close to the vital Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan, which is a key way station for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Wakhan Corridor is a thin strip of Afghan territory sandwiched between Tajikistan and the northernmost part of the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. It forms a pan-handle for the Badakhshan province, and acts as a buffer between former the Soviet nation and India. It has a 92 km-long border with Tashkurgan county in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.

The base relied on cooperation between Chinese, Tajik, and Afghan troops, but since the Taliban’s return to power, the Afghan contingent has not been replaced and the facilities now only consist of Chinese and Tajik personnel. The focus of the base is linked to Beijing’s concerns about Uyghur militants operating in Afghanistan and crossing into the country through Tajikistan’s porous borders to launch attacks in China. Chinese personnel have also replaced their Tajik counterparts along lengthy sections of the Tajik-Afghan border where they now patrol on their own.

The south-eastern prong faces the Chinese post with a proper road, bridges and other infrastructure in place. It is connected with a 100 km-long black-topped two-lane road up to the Chinese border outpost at Kumla pass. The base has three main buildings, each of which are two-storys high, with the ground floor open for parking vehicles. Each of the three buildings is 9m wide and ‘C’-shaped, with two wings each being 20m long and the central section 55m long. In addition, there are three storage buildings at least two storeys high, two of which are 45m x 16m in size, and third 22m x 16m. There are also two small generator buildings and a solar grid of 8m x 28m panels for electricity. Tall poles and small dishes are seen on top of the three main buildings, to meet communication requirements.

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Page last modified: 31-10-2021 12:52:47 ZULU