As preparations continue for the transfer of sections of the Tajik-Afghan border to full control by the border service of Tajikistan, Dushanbe’s search for American financial support for the venture is rapidly escalating. Bilateral talks between the United States and Tajikistan, currently in progress in Washington, include discussions of security issues ranging from counter-terrorism to assistance to Tajik border guards. The Tajik delegation engaged in these talks involves representatives from the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Civil Defense, the State Border Protection Committee, and Tajikistan’s National Guard (Avesta, November 16).
Major-General Nuralisho Nazarov, Chief of Staff of Tajikistan’s Border Guards, confirmed on November 12 that the Pamir stretch of the border will be handed over to full Tajik control by the Russian FSB Border Guard Service by late November. The transfer of the 700-km stretch of border is a significant step towards implementing Tajikistan’s policy of independently protecting its own borders rather than heavily relying on Russian forces to carry out the task in real terms. Despite fears that Dushanbe may struggle with staffing problems relating to such radical steps, Tajik security officials have emphasized their confidence in achieving these aims. Lieutenant-General Lance Smith, Deputy Commander of U.S. CENTCOM, recently sought assurances from the leadership of Tajikistan’s border guards that such plans were realistic, as well exploring ways in which the United States, which has already supplied security assistance aimed at improving the security of the Tajik-Afghan border, could be increased to support these plans (Itar-Tass, November 11).
The whole process, however, would be impossible without the tacit approval and close involvement of Russia, which maintains a vested interest in securing the sensitive southern border as a way of stemming the flow of illegal narcotics from Afghanistan, through Central Asia, into Russia, and beyond to the European market. The original agreements on bilateral cooperation on border issues between Russia and Tajikistan, including details on the mechanics of transferring sections of the Tajik-Afghan border to the control of Tajik border guards, were first signed during Tajik-Russian talks on October 18 as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s high-profile visit to Dushanbe. The details of the transfer of the existing border security arrangements from Russian border guards to their Tajik counterparts are due to finish by the end of 2006. As active as U.S. military personnel are becoming interested in seeking the smooth transfer of control over these border areas, Russian personnel are maintaining close scrutiny over the process. Lieutenant-General Alexander Manilov, Deputy Head of the FSB Border Guard Service, led a Russian military delegation visiting Dushanbe on November 11. The details of the hand over of these areas of border from Russian forces, to independent control of Tajik border personnel has been subjected to meticulous Russian supervision (Asia-Plus News Agency, November 11). Russian calculations, it appears, were based on the willingness of the United States to pay the costs to enable the weak and fledgling Tajik border forces to protect the Tajik-Afghan border.
Manilov has publicly assessed the capacity of the Tajik border guards to successfully carry out its duties along the Afghan border in a much more positive light than previous statements from Russian security personnel. Ignoring the weakness of personnel structures, training methods, border patrolling techniques, lack of equipment, poor coordination with other security agencies, endemic corruption among border personnel, and lack of financial investment by the Tajik government, Manilov suddenly found aspects of Tajikistan’s border service worthy of praise. In an interview with the Khovar news agency in Dushanbe, November 13, he noted improvements in the combat capabilities of the Tajik Border Service, though he remained vague on how this had happened. Despite Moscow’s new-found confidence in Dushanbe’s ability to control its borders, Russian equipment and personnel will remain, even after full control is gained of these border areas by Tajikistan. Manilov said that the bilateral agreement signed between Moscow and Dushanbe in October envisages the “creation of an operational border group of the Russian Federal Security Service. Once the border sections are handed over, its members will start carrying out their duties as advisers and provide practical assistance in border protection, drafting a regulatory legal basis and resolving issues that might emerge in the course of routine service activity.”
Manilov has noted that in conjunction with the transfer of the border, “Our experienced officers started working there as advisers and consultants in order to assist their Tajik colleagues. These are people who know that border section very well and they can show, explain, and teach in a practical way on the spot.” This is critical to understanding Russian strategy generally in the region, and Tajikistan specifically, that calculates that the United States will pay for the overt weakness of the host security forces where necessary, while Russia maintains its traditional influence, albeit in a modified capacity. Those who know the realties of Tajik border security are the Russian servicemen and planning staffs that have actively cooperated with Dushanbe for more than a decade, during which the problems of the Tajik-Afghan border have burgeoned. American money, in the form of greater security assistance that addresses essential elements of the weaknesses of Tajikistan’s Border Service will be welcomed in Moscow. However, these efforts in themselves will not overcome the sheer scale of the problems confronting Dushanbe, as it ponders its newfound practical powers over its own border control.