Three Muslim-majority south and central Asian countries have joined a Chinese-led military alliance to counter Islamist militancy, officials said Thursday, in a move that could challenge long-standing US dominance in the region.
Military leaders from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan gathered Wednesday in the north-western Chinese region of Xinjiang to announce the formation of the four-member alliance, the Pakistani Army said.
Known as the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism, the alliance is meant to bring together member states in areas of counter-terrorism and intelligence, the Pakistani Army said.
Pakistan and Afghanistan, both close US allies in the war on terror, have faced violence from Islamist militant groups including al-Qaeda and the Taliban for more than a decade.
Tajikistan has been the victim of its own Islamist militants.
China has been battling an ethnic minority group of Islamist militants in its Muslim-dominant, oil-rich region of Xinjiang near the country's border with Pakistan.
"That's what might have brought all these nations together," said Talat Masood, a former Pakistani Army general and security analyst.
The new alliance emerged amid reports that the relationship between the United States and the powerful Pakistani military was becoming frayed and that Beijing was seeking a direct role in the reconciliation process between the Kabul administration and Taliban insurgents.
"This is how the world operates," Masood said. "Obviously, the Chinese want to challenge American hegemony in the region, and this looks their stamp of authority on some sensitive things."
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington did not consider the Chinese counter-terrorism effort "in any way counter-productive."
"There's a lot of work to be done," Toner said, noting that the US does not view the coordination effort among countries "all of whom are effected by terrorism in the region ... as a negative at all - in fact we view it as a positive."